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Updated: 17 Aug 2017

Power and Negotiation (book review)

power and negotiation


A collection of case studies examining international negotiations and treaties. Would be of particular interest to academics and historians but offers little practical advice.

Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Categories: Business, Historical, Academic
Publication Date: 2006-11-29

by I. William Zartmen & Jeffrey Z. Rubin, Editors

This book is the seventh of a series which has been developed and edited by the Program on the Processes of International negotiation (PIN) which is based at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (HASA), located in Laxenburg, Austria. The foundation for this program is focused on international negotiations.

Power and Negotiation contains a series of articles written by academics and professional consultants who are based throughout the world. The premise of the book is to discuss the study of power imbalance as it is applied to the practice of international negotiation. Specifically, it addresses how weaker negotiating parties negotiate with stronger parties and can still be able to come away with something substantive. It is a question and conundrum that has plagued negotiators since time immemorial, and still presents an imposing challenge in the close quarters and ever changing climate of the international community.

This book will be of particular interest to international negotiators, especially those in government, foreign affairs, diplomatic services, and the public service as the main focus is on international relations. The case studies covered in this book primarily addresses negotiations at the international political level, ranging from international trade to border disputes.

The only concern about the book is that it is too centred around the sonorous tone of academia. This approach tends to lose the reader in too much theory and oft times, vague and tedious analysis of the situation under discussion. Practical advice and information is found wanting, although the reader is treated to several broad examples of how power asymmetry influences the strategic and tactical approaches of the negotiating parties.

The book utilises nine cases studies drawn from around the world to examine how differences in their power base affect the negotiated outcome. Surprisingly, a weaker negotiating party may be able to turn the advantage in their favour and achieve greater gains than anyone might have expected. Nonetheless, there are two perspectives examined in the book. The first deals with asymmetry in power between two negotiating parties. The case studies include; Canada-US Free Trade Agreement; US-Indonesian Aid Negotiations; Andorra-European Trade Agreement Negotiations; Nepal-India Water Resource Relations: Arab-Israeli negotiations; and the Multilateral Negotiations at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro.

To add contrast to what transpired in unequal power negotiations, the book also examines two cases of near power symmetry which includes the Mali-Burkina Faso Conflict and the Korean War Armistice Negotiations. The book concludes with two chapters, one of which is titled Lessons Learned. In many ways, this was the most informative chapter in the whole book and where most of the practical and useful advice can be found. It is tantalisingly short and leaves the reader wanting more. The final chapter contains a final wrap-up by the editors of the book.

This book would be of particular interest to students of international relations and historians. It does not offer a lot of generous insight for those who are more interested in global marketplace negotiations, and offers a limited value to a negotiator who wants to learn how to address an imbalance of power in their everyday negotiations.

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