Saturday, November 28, 2009

Iran's Economic Vulnerabilities

The Iranian nuclear issue is a problem of deeply layered complexity. Internally, Iran faces domestic economic problems, including lack of infrastructure financing and development in hydrocarbons, an upcoming expansion of its employable workforce, a population seeking less personal restraints, and a conservative political ideology that sees problems as zero sum rather than integrative. Support for Hamas in Gaza illustrates the prevailing attitude of non-engagement. Negotiation and cooperation are not the processes of choice for Iranian leaders because they appear "too soft" and "capitulating" to the western powers. Economic sanctions will strengthen internal political resolve to resist while the population suffers. The likelihood of a significant change in the government seems slight even with sanctions. Despite general unhappiness around lack of personal freedoms, the people still support a stable, if suboptimal, government. So what is to be done? First, keep Iran engaged in conversations with respectful disagreement. Second, no threats--if sanctions are needed, implement them incrementally after brief warnings. Third, take a very long term perspective on the problem by creating a policy that looks forward 10 to 15 years. Fourth, work towards solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict recognizing that Hamas will attempt to block peace. Fifth, move away from hydrocarbon dependence to change the dynamics of the world energy economy. An integrated, nuanced set of solutions is the real answer; not political hyperbole with no chance of success.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Anger and Fear Affect Our Perceptions and Our Decisions

We have all experienced levels of anger and levels of fear in mediation, and we have witnessed our clients in fear and in anger. What effects do these emotions have on us, the way we receive and communicate information, and on the way we make decisions?

Neuroscientists tell us that most of our behaviors and decisions are driven by evolution and by habit. Cognitive control originating in the pre-frontal cortex let's us direct our behaviors and make decisions to achieve longer term goals in unique situations. However, the metabolic cost is so high, we reserve this cognitive, conscious control to truly unusual situations where habit will not work so well. Without getting too technical, the right pre-frontal cortex has some ability to suppress anger and fear, but not a lot. It is quickly overwhelmed if other parts of the brain are supercharged with activity (e.g., high emotions). The ventromedial pre-frontal cortex is the seat of our value signals and is activated by the things we like. This part of the brain turns down when facing losses and turns up when facing gains.  Not surprisingly, people demonstrate a high variability of impulse control around gains and losses--some are disciplined, many are not.

How do fear and anger fit into this picture? Anger turns down the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex so that we tend to take more risks. The evolutionary biologists hypothesize that this gives us a greater perception of individual control that, in turn, gives us sufficiently more confidence to work, fight, or run our way out of difficult situations. What is even more amazing, is that we don't have to feel angry for this effect to take place. Residual effects of anger can last for hours. If your client had an angry moment with a spouse or child in the morning before the mediation, his or her ventromedial pre-frontal cortex will still be turned down at the mediation. Your client could look as cool as a cucumber, and still not have clear decision-making processing working in the brain. A great example of this is how President Obama handled negotiations with Chrysler executives one morning. Earlier, he had become angry over reports of the Air Force One flyover of Manhattan for photo-ops. He had cooled down by his late morning meeting with the Chrysler people. However, they did not walk away with the deal they wanted. It's very likely that his earlier anger made his risk assessment of a Chrysler bankruptcy different than what he might have assessed with a calmer morning.

Another effect of anger is to increase confirmation bias. This well-known distortion in decision-making says that we will tend to seek information that confirms earlier beliefs and ignore or discount information that is inconsistent fwith earlier beliefs. Anger intensifies the confirmation bias so that we cannot hear information about weaknesses in our case.

Fear, on the other hand, works much differently. Fear tends to make us overestimate risks due to a greater perception of situational control. In other words, in a fear condition, our brains tend to view the world as controlling events, not ourselves as individuals. With a lower sense of control, we tend to look at risky decisions conservatively.

Since the pre-frontal cortex is a metabolic hog, we lose self-control over fear and anger over time. Our loss of control is caused by cognitive energy depletion in the brain, and eating carbs will not boost energy right away. We have all seen tempers flare, positions become more entrenched, and cooperation flag later in the mediation. This is simply the effect of tired, energy-depleted brains.

One of the many reasons mediation is so useful is that the mediator becomes the pre-frontal cortex in the room. Mediators provide the cognitive functioning that is lost in the emotions of anger and fear and provide a functioning brain when everyone else's brains are in in low energy states. Anger and fear are normal experiences in conflict and in litigated disputes. Understand how these emotions affect perceptions and decisionmaking and you will have a greater insight into the negotiation.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What is China To Do?

The Chinese, as imminently practical business people, see the handwriting on the wall. If global climate change is not addressed through greener, low carbon emissions technology and industry, sustained economic growth will be impossible. Involving itself in the National Center for Sustainable Development in Washington, D.C. therefore seems to be a move based on enlightened self interest. No one likes to be told what to do--people as well as nations. However, people and nations will adopt behaviors that reward them in the future and will help them grow and prosper. On climate change issues, the focus should follow the Chinese. Let us find ways to make climate change regulation, financing, and technology transfers fulfilling to national interests rather than as a bitter pill to swallowed. Often times, mediation can help parties move beyond their positions to find interests that can be satisfied. Perhaps, bil-lateral and multi-lateral mediations would be of assistance to those nations, such as the United States, that are feeling coerced into solutions. Perhaps the National Center for Sustainable Development could team up with Mediators Beyond Borders to introduce mediation into the decision making process. With mediation, we can get away from the zero-sum positions and work towards sustainable, economically beneficial solutions to global climate change,.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Monday, November 16, 2009

Is Democracy Promotion the Answer?

I think it is time to re-examine both the realist and liberal theories of international relations. First, both are based on flawed assumptions of human nature and behavior. Second, neither theory takes into account cognitive biases, belief structures in the human brain, the human fear response system and the myriad of other discoveries about behavior. Instead, both the realists and liberals assume rational, self-interested players. For example, the idea of democracy promotion assumes that every human would rationally prefer to live under an elected form of government. Maybe, maybe not. I argue that a more sophisticated perspective is needed. Democracy promotion sounds good, moral, and right. In the absence of context, however, it is a meaningless policy that universally applied is doomed to fail miserably. Let us look at each country, nation, and region which we wish to assist and determine whether the population is emotionally prepared, sufficiently motivated, and cognitively aware enough to succeed at a democratic experiment. If not, let's decide how to help them prepare themselves for democracy. Let us determine whether there are leaders sufficiently developed to take on the ambiguities, uncertainties, and anxieties of democratic governance. In the meantime, we can encourage development of local rule of law to create simple property and contract rights and create a sustainable local economy. Without this deeper inquiry, we and the people we wish to help will suffer in frustration and failure.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

COP15 Will Fail Without a Different Process

The run-up to the COP15 Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen is illustrating the problem of using 18th century diplomacy for a 21st century problem. What is needed is an inclusive problem-solving process that is based on principles of interest-based negotiation, rather than distributive negotiation.

Diplomacy is based largely on representative negotiation through power projection. The Teddy Roosevelt aphorism, “Talk softly, but carry a big stick,” summarizes the concept. In diplomatic negotiation, the powerful generally get their way over the less powerful unless the less powerful help the powerful to create coalitions. For example, the U.S.-Israel coalition can be seen as protecting U.S. strategic interests (read oil here) in the Middle East. Thus, Israel may have influence in U.S. policy over and above its relative size, power, and resources. If an important small coalition partner becomes intractable on an issue (say, for example, the issue of West Bank settlements), the more powerful partner may be caught in a bind. This type of negotiation, involving economic, political, and physical security, is called distributive negotiation. In this type of bargaining, one person loses, while others gain. Generally, the person with more power tends to win, and terrorism can be seen from a negotiation perspective as a response to this power-based way of doing business in the world.
Power-based, winner-take-all negotiations is ill-suited to global climate change issues. Decisions will have to be made consciously, collectively, and carefully or mother Earth will make them for us. Thus, projecting power into the COP15 Conference may result in short-term protections for the powerful and long-term devastation for everyone. News reports in past few days already show that the conference is heading in this direction.

Yesterday, Jennifer Dloughy of the Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau reported that the Senate Finance committee, composed mostly of senators from extraction and heavy manufacturing industry states (read high carbon output states), took testimony from economists that carbon limitations would eliminate jobs and industries. She reported:
“Even so, manufacturing would sustain heavy job losses under the climate change proposal, predicted Margo Thorning, chief economist for the American Council on Capital Formation, a conservative think tank. Thorning estimated that even with new jobs created in “green industries,” there would be a net loss of 80,000 jobs in 2020, with more than half of them from the manufacturing sector.

Kenneth Green, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, another conservative think tank, said the proposed cap-and-trade program “will cause significant economic harm and will kill and export jobs, for little or no environmental benefit.”

At the same time, the less powerful nations coming away from the Barcelona talks, are demanding that the developed industrial nations pay 1.5 percent of their gross domestic economic output to finance carbon free industrial development in under-developed nations. The declaration states:

“{We}Call upon developed countries to provide public money amounting to at least 1.5 percent of their gross domestic product, in addition to innovative sources of finance, annually by 2015 to assist developing countries make their transition to a climate resilient low-carbon economy. This grant-based finance must be predictable, sustainable, transparent, new and additional – on top of developed country commitments to deliver 0.7 percent of their gross national income as overseas development assistance.”

Here we have the problem of global warming framed as a distributive problem: Loss of jobs and payment of money from the rich to the poor. As a mediator and peacemaker, I predict total failure at COP15 unless the question is reframed and the process redirected.

An interest-based process would look quite different. First, skilled and experienced mediators should be retained to develop and manage the negotiation process. Diplomats like to think they are good negotiators, and truth is that even good negotiators need the help of neutral outsiders to help them. Second, the parties to COP15 should commit to problem-solving processes rather than winner-take-all negotiations. The current debate is positional (loss of jobs) rather than interest-based (economic security and certainty for constituencies and stakeholders). Once positions have been broken  down into interests (e.g., what are the interests that underlie a position), the parties would be asked to engage in problem-solving processes. The identified interests are seen as the universe of the problem and must be satisfied for good agreements to be reached. All of this would be done under the control and management of mediators. Parties would never be asked to give up power. They would only be asked to participate in good faith in the process. Ultimately, each nation would have to decide for itself whether the proposed agreements and solutions make sense. However, by following an interest-based process, the orientation shifts from “I win-You lose” to “We have a joint problem that we can solve together so that all of our needs are met.”

COP15 is a crucial test of global cooperation for the benefit of all beings and life on this planet. If business is done as usual, the test will be failed. I urge the attendees at COP15 to step away from old processes that have failed us in the past to try something different. Only then will there be a chance cooperative change on climate issues.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Resisting the Urge to Gossip

Gossip is an informal means of sharing information and gathering power that has probably been around since hominids started talking to each other. In the modern organization, vindictive gossip is often an indicator of underlying chronic conflict. The antidote is simple and complicated: leadership not management. We manage things and lead people. So the idea that "managers" can "manage away" the problem of gossip and the underlying conflict will only prolong and exacerbate the problem. What can leaders do to slow down gossip? First, leaders have to model the behavior and action they wish their organization to follow. In my organizational conflict work, I am amazed at how people in leadership positions think that they are above the rules. They usually do not realize that the higher they are, the more people there are to take their social clues from leadership actions and behaviors. Second, be aware of and sensitive to conflicts in the organization. Most conflicts are subtle and hidden, and a good leader will realize this. Look for the person that is bitter, jealous, unhappy, frustrated, or acting victimized and find out what is going on. By acknowledging the conflict, oftentimes the problem will solve itself. Finally, be transparent, authentic, and open about everything. Even if information cannot be revealed, say that and explain why. Vindictive gossip is a good indicator of deeper problems needing leadership attention. Don't stop the gossip; work on the conflict.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Africa's Seat at the Table

The economic reforms suggested by Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade, including western performance on commitments for debt-relief and grants, are important steps in the transformation of Africa. The real key, however, will be the transformation of African leadership. Trans-national highways and railroads will remain impossible dreams as long as corruption and self-aggrandizement by some African leaders continues. Political stability and vision go hand in hand with economic relief, and no investor will take undue risks with mecurial heads of state, non-participatory governments, and absence of the rule of law. If the African national leaders can come together and plan with vision, despite tribal, ethnic, and regional differences, investors may feel more confident that the people of Africa are ready for transformation. Without a unified vision and amidst corruption, violence, and human rights abuses, that confidence will not be well-placed. There are many people willing to help the Africans come together and overcome their differences when the Africans are truly ready to help themselves. So the first step is not western aid, it is African vision, African hope, and African inspiration. Do that and the world will follow.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Standing Against the 'Wrong is Right' Goldstone Resolution

I am impressed with the Goldstone Report. The Mission members are credible international public figures with deep experience in international law and human rights violations. The methodology was well-designed. The standards against which the facts would be measured were based on conservative, well-accepted rules of international criminal and human rights laws. The conduct of the investigations was impartial and fair, despite the refusal of the Israeli government to cooperate in any fashion. Every interested institution, nation, or individual was given notice and opportunity to be heard, fulfilling basic due process rights. The report was thorough and detailed. Finally, the reporters understood and stated the limitations of the Mission clearly.

If the world seeks peace in the Middle East, reports like this must be weighed carefully. The passions, prejudices, beliefs, and biases of the extreme partisans of Israel and Palestine must be acknowledged and redirected if the atrocities in Gaza, the West Bank, and in Israel are to stop. At some point, the world will have to stop taking sides and say enough is enough. The U.S. Congress will have to have the courage to take the lead in this effort. Until then, the violence will continue.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost