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Ask The Negotiator
Anthony Wanis-St. John
We are delighted to have Dr. Anthony Wanis-St. John as this month’s guest respondent for the Ask the Negotiator column. Dr. Wanis-St. John is Assistant Professor at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University.

His research has appeared in many journals including the Harvard Negotiation Law Review, International Peacekeeping, and Negotiation Journal. He is a co-author of Expand the Pie (Castle Pacific, 2003)

Dr. Wanis-St. John has served as adjunct professor at Clark University, the University of Massachusetts, and for the Armenian Diplomatic Training Program at the Fletcher School. He is a consultant for the World Bank on international dispute resolution programs in Latin America as well as a consultant providing executive negotiation skills with organizations such as Conflict Management Group and the Program of Instruction for Lawyers at Harvard Law School.

Professor Wanis-St. John is a graduate of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. His doctoral research focused on the secret negotiations between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the government of Israel and was supported by a fellowship with Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. Dr. Wanis-St.John was born in Cairo, Egypt.

And now, this month’s letter…

United Nations Conflict Negotiator … Career Considerations

From: Jay (USA)

Dear Negotiator:

i am thinking of a career change and it’s like being thrown into the middle of country whose language you don’t speak! i have been working as a psychologist for several years and instead of going back to do my doctorate i am thinking that negotiations sounds like a romantic notion at present. in recent years i have become increasingly interested in political issues and i suppose my ideal position would be as a conflict negotiator with the united nations. any assistance for this foreigner without a interpreter is much appreciated.

Dear Jay,

Being a negotiator at the United Nations is one of the toughest negotiation jobs in the world, and would require all the skills of a psychologist, all the tact of a career diplomat, and all the hands-on knowledge of a professional manager. Some of the best UN negotiators include people like UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, Count Folke Bernadotte, Ralph Bunche. The first two gave their lives for ending international conflicts around the world.

While the notion of being a jet-setting UN negotiator may have a lot of ´romantic´ appeal, the negotiators themselves are in a rather un-romantic situation. They have little or no resources. They don´t have millions of dollars of foreign aid to throw around. They have no aircraft carriers or battleships waiting off-shore as they land in foreign capitals. It´s not like Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation who could open fire with photon torpedoes when his battlefield negotiations with the Cardassians were not going well.

Millions of people´s lives are often affected positively or negatively by their failures or successes. And today´s international crises can combine political, military and medical and environmental dimensions. A brief look at the long, deadly civil war in the Sudan, for example, shows that war not only kills innocent people directly, but creates environmental disasters that worsen food shortages and epidemics. Civil wars have come to be a major international concern and some say that up to 90% of the fatalities are innocent civilians. A lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of people involved in international conflict management.

That said, working for the UN is a long process of building a career (often with your own country´s government first) and then looking for a way to get ´loaned´to the UN. US citizens are said to be so over-represented at the UN that it´s tough to get a career job there. There are competitive entrance exams however, and short term consulting appointments for a luck few too.

How do UN diplomats accomplish so much with so little? After all, they have been instrumental in ending civil wars in Africa for the past fifty years, international wars in the Middle East, reconstructing war-torn countries, sending peacekeeping troops to keep fragile peace processes going or to ‘enforce’ the peace when combatants break a ceasefire. The UN has in fact played a dramatic role in creating and sustaining a world that is a little less violent and a little less dangerous for civilians, even if it has not succeeded in all cases.

The UN is the organization created by the victorious countries of the second world war for the purpose of keeping a stable world order along the lines they envisioned. It has remained useful and vibrant even though the world has changed dramatically since that time. So UN diplomats (usually a special group known as Special Representatives of the Secretary General) find themselves in great demand. They do it, first of all, by developing their own level of interpersonal negotiating skills. Today´s Schools of international affairs ( I am a graduate of Fletcher, Tufts University, and a professor at the Whitehead School, Seton Hall University) often teach negotiation analysis and skills because they have realized that conflict management is no longer about having deadlier weapons than one´s adversaries, even though the older schools still teach about the conduct of war.

In addition to the interpersonal skill of negotiating, UN diplomats understand intimately the value that the UN has in terms of being able to mobilize ‘non material’ assets such as shame, honor and prestige. Countries who violate UN norms do so at risk of international condemnation while those who uphold those norms benefit from the UN´s global reputation for being a prestigious, beneficial, and honorable organization.

In today´s world, a lot of what UN negotiators used to do is done on a wider scale and more frequently by people who are not even employed by the UN. Non governmental organizations (Intérnational Committee of the Red Cross), religious organizations (Catholic Relief Services), development agencies (US Agency for International Development) as well as private agencies now interact directly with national governments over critical and timely issues such as human rights, refugee relief, conflict resolution and rebuilding. You don´t have to wait 40 years in the UN bureaucracy now to do exciting, global work. Opportunities for international civil service are no longer the monopoly of governments or even the UN. With a professional masters degree in international affairs, some internship or work experience in an international subject, and the right intentions, myriad opportunities exist for creating an exciting career.

Best wishes,
Anthony Wanis-St. John

Dr. Wanis-St. John has been a frequent co-author of articles in The Negotiator Magazine. These articles include “The Strategic Convergence of Negotiations and Sales (November, 2002), “Power Gender and Negotiation” (January, 2003) and “A New ICON for Negotiation Advice” (April, 2003). A review of Expand the Pie appeared in the March, 2003 edition of this magazine. You may contact Anthony Wanis-St.John by E-mail at [email protected].

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Copyright © 2003, Anthony Wanis-St. John
Copyright © 2003, The Negotiator Magazine