This case study shows the importance and power of forming alliances within a multi party negotiation.
In multiparty negotiations, the negotiation power, or the position of one negotiating party, can be enhanced or weakened by making alliances. The use of alliances is a powerful means whereby any member in a multiparty negotiation can strengthen their own BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement), or weaken the BATNA of an opponent.
The advantage of forming an alliance allows two or more parties to come together on one more issues where they share a common interest. This allows the alliance to present a common front on positions of mutual interest in opposing the position of another party at the negotiation table.
The drawback to forming an alliance is that if a side agreement is reached which addresses some other issue of importance to a member of the alliance; they may simply withdraw their support and thereby weaken the alliance at any given moment. It is important to keep in mind that everybody involved in an alliance be fully aware of all the aims and goals of the parties with whom they are about to form an alliance. It is especially important to keep in mind the most important aims of the perspective partners, and be cognisant of any weak areas that can be exploited by their partners. Otherwise, you end up getting caught in their counterpart’s gambit to divide and successfully exploit your weakened position in return.
Conocco, an American company, had developed plans to commence operations to drill for oil in a national park located in the rain forest of Ecuador. The government of Ecuador agreed to the Conocco’s plans because it was in great need of the oil revenue that the drilling operations would produce. However, the plan was fiercely opposed by a number of human rights groups, and also by various environmental groups. These groups formed an alliance in a common cause to stop the drilling as this was their main intent.
The alliance of the environmental and human rights groups initiated a very powerful and public campaign against the oil drilling plan. As a result, public opposition had swelled against Conocco and the government. To counter what the opposing groups were doing to block their drilling in the rain forest, Conocco sought to break up the alliance formed against them.
Conocco began to hold secret negotiations with some of the more moderate members of the environmental groups by presenting them with what Conocco believed to be a very responsible and environmentally management plan. They were using a divide and conquer tactic. Not to be outdone and perhaps realising what Conocco was trying to achieve, the remaining environmental and human rights groups applied the same kind of divide and conquer tactic. The environmental and human rights groups took a different approach and applied pressure directly against the government of Ecuador to withdraw their support for the project.
Conocco’s tactics were nullified as in the end, Conocco withdrew from the drilling project.
This is a clear lesson in how effective an alliance can be in achieving a compatible objective. It also reveals how such tactics can be countered, and that the alliance members always had to be on-guard for these diversionary manoeuvres by the opponent.