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Negotiation in the New Strategic Environment: Lessons from Iraq

Negotiation in the New Strategic Environment: Lessons from Iraq - Cover

Authored by Mr. David M Tressler.

August 2007

122 Pages

Brief Synopsis

In stability, security, transition, and reconstruction (SSTR) operations like the U.S. mission in Iraq, negotiation is a common activity. The success or failure of the thousands of negotiations taking place daily between U.S. military officers and local civilian and military leaders in Iraq affects tactical and operational results and the U.S. military’s ability to achieve American strategic objectives. By training its leaders, especially junior ones, to negotiate effectively, the U.S. military will be better prepared to succeed in the increasingly complex operations it is conducting—in Iraq as well as the ones it will face in the new strategic environment of the 21st century. This monograph analyzes the U.S. Army’s current predeployment negotiation training and compares it with the negotiating experience of U.S. Army and Marine Corps officers deployed to Iraq. The author argues that successfully adapting to the nature of the contemporary operating environment requires changes that include increased training in negotiation. Based on interviews with U.S. officers, the author identifies three key elements of negotiation in SSTR operations and offers recommendations for U.S. soldiers to consider when negotiating with local Iraqi leaders; for U.S. military trainers to consider when reviewing their predeployment negotiation training curriculum; and for the Army and Marine Corps training and doctrine commands to consider when planning and structuring predeployment training.


U.S. soldiers in Iraq—from junior to senior leaders— conduct thousands of negotiations with Iraqi leaders while pursuing tactical and operational objectives that affect the strategic import of the U.S. mission in that country. As long as U.S. troops operate under conditions like the ones they currently face while at the same time conducting a counterinsurgency and stability, security, transition, and reconstruction (SSTR) operation in Iraq, negotiation will be a common activity and an important part of achieving mission objectives. Lessons from experience negotiating in Iraq can be helpful in future operations.

This monograph argues that the negotiations conducted in Iraq have tactical importance, operational significance, and strategic implications because of the daily role they play in the missions U.S. soldiers conduct while attempting to secure neighborhoods, strengthen political institutions, acquire information and intelligence, and gain cooperation. The aggregate effect of so many successful or failed negotiations has an impact on the ability of the U.S. military to accomplish its operational mission there efficiently and effectively as well as meet American strategic goals.

The armed services have centers for lessons learned, combat training centers, and a variety of schools for continued training and development of their soldiers and leaders, but there has been no formal study of the negotiating experience that U.S. military officers and noncommissioned officers have gained and the lessons they have learned over the course of their tours in Iraq or Afghanistan that applies the broader field of negotiation theory and its literature to the practical needs of the U.S. military in conducting those negotiations. This monograph attempts to fill the gap by (1) analyzing negotiations described in narrative interviews with U.S. Army and Marine Corps officers recently returned from deployments to Iraq, and (2) examining the predeployment training currently conducted at the U.S. Army’s National Training Center.

The author argues that insofar as negotiation is a critical skill, the U.S. military’s improvements in postconflict capabilities have not kept pace with its otherwise impressive improvements in warfighting. The U.S. military must better prepare itself for the new roles its soldiers—particularly junior leaders—have been asked to play in Iraq and will undoubtedly continue to play in the new strategic operating environment. Those new roles will continue to demand proficiency in the warfighting skills soldiers need when combating armed enemies and protecting themselves against attack. At the same time, SSTR and counterinsurgency operations include such constant interaction with local civilian and military leaders that negotiation may very well be a mission-essential task. America’s strategic success in the future may depend on an expanded range of training that includes negotiation skills. More time spent preparing the military’s leaders for the negotiating they will inevitably do while deployed to Iraq is critical for mission success. Failure to adapt could be costly.

In the worst case, poorly executed negotiations actually do harm to the U.S. military’s mission by embittering Iraqis and turning previously neutral civilian leaders into enemies or creating more disputes than existed before the negotiation, all while failing even to solve the problems or achieve the objectives that were originally the subject of the negotiation. At their best, U.S. military negotiators achieve U.S. objectives while meeting the interests of their Iraqi counterparts, build stronger working relationships with Iraqi leaders, and engender good will among the Iraqi population.

The U.S. Army has integrated negotiation into its predeployment training. This reflects the widespread recognition that civil-military relations and nonkinetic skills, including negotiation, now play an important role in the operating environment and in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM’s complex mission of stabilizing, securing, transitioning, and reconstructing a country mired in conflict. While this training is an important development, it is not sufficient.

The skill and practice of negotiation continues to occupy a very minor role in predeployment training. It is far from proportional to the amount of time that soldiers and commanders actually spend negotiating with Iraqi civilian and military leaders or proportional to the tactical, sometimes operational, importance of those negotiations. Most officers interviewed said they were not prepared for the negotiating they had to do to accomplish their missions. As a result, this monograph offers training recommendations that are consistent with, and would enhance and complement, the U.S. military’s current predeployment training in negotiation.

The monograph provides an analysis of negotiations between U.S. military officers and local civilian and military leaders in Iraq’s SSTR operation. Based on the officers’ experiences, the monograph identifies three key elements of negotiation that exercise particular force in SSTR operations. First is the context in which negotiations take place and which make these negotiations especially unique and demanding. Second, cultural difference is an important, but relative, factor in such context; it can significantly affect the conduct and outcome of a negotiation, or, more surprisingly, have little effect. Third, the element of power is shaped by a variety of factors unique to military SSTR and counterinsurgency operations.

Based on these findings, the author offers recommendations for U.S. officers to consider when negotiating with local Iraqi leaders; for U.S. military trainers to consider when reviewing their predeployment negotiation training curriculum; and for the armed forces training and doctrine commands to consider when planning and structuring predeployment training. These recommendations integrate the extensive body of negotiation theory and research with the lessons learned from the experience of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps officers interviewed. They include (1) negotiation tactics and techniques that may enhance the effectiveness of U.S. soldiers negotiating with local civilian or military leaders in SSTR and counterinsurgency operations; and (2) ways to supplement current U.S. military training for soldiers preparing to deploy to SSTR operations such as those in Iraq.

The last section of the monograph provides an outline of a recommended program of instruction for trainers and officers that will provide them the skills to negotiate more effectively in SSTR operations and train other leaders to do the same. The program of instruction incorporates proven negotiation principles, techniques, and methods, as well as the specific techniques and approaches that this monograph identifies as being particularly relevant to U.S. military negotiators in SSTR operations.

Transformation of the U.S. military requires adaptation to (1) the types of operations it may continue to be called upon to perform, and (2) the shift of strategic responsibility down to the junior leaders on the ground. Negotiation is more likely than ever to be a significant part of military operations. As it does, negotiation training, education, and research will become more important for the United States Armed Forces. Improvement in military-civilian negotiating will promote more tactical and operational, if not strategic, success in the increasingly complex missions of the 21st century.

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