Bargaining Power and Negotiations

In classic “Negotiations Theory”, the most optimum solution to any bargaining or negotiation situation is to strive for a ‘win-win’ solution, i.e., find a solution that satisfies the needs of all the parties involved. However, how many times in real life have we – and I used the word “we” in a general, holistic sense- have thought about the needs of the other party in a negotiation. It’s basic human nature to want to only care about one’s needs, other be damned.

This is the exact premise that applies in international relations today; and it isn’t exactly a surprise. Each country when negotiating a trade treaty, a military or agreement of any kind with a friendly country, looks to maximize its gains without really thinking about the other country’s need. After all, no politician will be successful, if he goes to his people and says, “It’s okay if we didn’t get all we wanted, the other nation also got some benefits.” What’s really interesting in international negotiations isn’t the actual bargaining power, but the perceived bargaining power.

For instance, everybody and their uncle thinks that China has some influence over North Korea. Often, U.S., South Korea, and Japan are at China’s door asking for it to put pressure on Pyongyang to not perform its usual mischievous tricks. China in turn milks this when discussing trade and Yuan appreciation with U.S. Reality, however, is completely different. China has no more influence on North Korea, than does any other nation. There is some truth to the notion that NK and China share some history as they were or are Communist nations. It’s a different matter that China is trending more towards a Socialist governance rather than a Communist one. North Korea in reality brings no bargaining power to the table, but the perception of it as a renegade and a notorious nation gives it a perceived bargaining power to negotiate at the table.

To me this notion of perceived bargaining power hasn’t been more evident than in the case of India. The Flotilla incident is very fresh in our memories and here is a comparison of different approaches of India and Israel towards terrorist organizations [or in India’s case the reaction it would take]. India’s reaction, or lack of it, is a direct result of it buckling to international pressure. It is common knowledge that most terrorist attacks in India happen from across the border in Pakistan. To be clear, the people of Pakistan are not to be blamed for the attacks, as much as the Pakistan military is. The Pakistan military has always had the policy, after ’71 war, to not directly engage India in a war, but in a guerilla-warfare type proxy war, and provide resources to home-grown terrorist to bleed India via a thousand ‘paper-cuts’.

During Kargil war, there was ample justification for India to wage a war against Pakistan. At the very least, there could have been surgical strikes against the terrorist organization hiding across the border. Despite the national sentiment, India buckled or caved under international pressure. Argument proposed then and now is, that India needs to focus on its internal problem if it ever harbors any ambition of being considered a world superpower. In reality, India’s internal problems can’t be solved with a complete focus of its resources to it’s domestic issue, which can’t happen with all the external distractions that India often faces from its friendly neighbors.

Prior to 9/11, U.S. didn’t care much about India-Pakistan conflict, because there was no genuine terrorist threat from Al-Qaeda. Now, with cat among the pigeons, U.S. can’t afford to have India-Pakistan to go to war against each other. Pakistan, clearly can’t control the Taliban in NWFP, yet it parades the line to U.S., ” You need our help against Taliban and Al-Qaeda.” In return, Pakistan gets billions of dollars of bailout. This is happening while U.S. is sinking knee deep in debt. What’s India’s role in this, well nothing. What has India to offer to the whole Taliban solution. Apparently, nothing. Or so Pakistan would have you believe.

The money and weapons that U.S. provides to Pakistan, aren’t exactly being used against Taliban. Pakistan made the deal with the devil years ago, and now is paying the price. Deteriorating economy and infrastructure, along with frequent civilian casualties are one sign of it. So when I read stories like these, I can’t help but scoff. Frankly, U.S. can’t even guarantee that those weapons will be used against its troops, that’s how much in shambles the Pakistan Army is in.

The blame lies squarely on India, for not developing any perceived bargaining power. As the world’s 7th largest country, and a rapidly developing economy, India has no bargaining power today at the world stage. Perhaps, being overtly aggressive like Israel wouldn’t have achieved the aim, but the current policy hasn’t done anything, either. Repeating the same thing over and over again, and excepting different result each time, is stupidity, and that pretty much characterizes India’s foreign policy. And this is only with respect to Pakistan, forget the actual threat – China.


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