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Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Adil Najam

1. Conceptual Explanation to International Multilateral Negotiations

Contextually, both war and diplomacy—two staples of international politics—have been historically understood as dyadic interactions and it is no surprise that the negotiation element that underlies both is so often cast in bilateral terms. Conceptually, the case has been made that it is defensible, if not outright necessary, to reduce multilateral negotiations to bilateral analysis in order to make meaningful analysis. Moreover, many multilateral situations do ultimately boil down to—or can be reduced to—seemingly dyadic interactions, particularly through the process of coalition formation.

Indeed, many international multilateral negotiations and conflicts do tend to ultimately bilateralize. More recently, however, the arguments for reducing the analysis of multilateral situations into a set of bilateral interactions have become diluted. Ever since the Congress of Vienna in 1815—but especially in the aftermath of World War II, the emergence of the United Nations, global decolonization, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and advances in communication technologies—international interaction has become progressively more multilateral.

International affairs, whether at the state level or at the level of the corporation, is increasingly a creature of the multilateral setting and even when practiced bilaterally, it is often ‘played out’ at the multilateral stage—to the glare and scrutiny of an ever-more-inquisitive world media. Global conference diplomacy is now quite the norm for international policy-making; and so is international multilateral negotiation. While the primacy of the bilateral remains, international negotiation has tended to become increasingly multilateral. Importantly, or conceptual understanding and ability to analyze multilateral negotiations has also advanced.