UNITAR Organizes Course on Multilateral Negotiations
16 February 2018, New York, USA – UNITAR organized a training course on “Multilateral Negotiations: Strategies, Techniques and Results”, taught by the Yale University Professor Roy S. Lee and attended by over 70 delegates.
The seminar focused on the ways of reaching a consensus to accommodate divergent interests and concerns. Drawing on his experience at the United Nations for nearly half a century, Professor Lee stressed the need to “find the right language that would cover different concerns”. He gave the example of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would not have seen the light of day, were it not for the use of the term “complement”, instead of “supersede national jurisdiction”.
Professor Lee reminded the audience that political commitments are sometimes more important than legal commitments because the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has no jurisdiction over a State unless the latter accepts it. He argued in favor of the Paris Agreement, which gives each State Party the freedom to choose its own emission reduction percentage, unlike the stricter Kyoto Protocol, which imposed an overall 5% target on developed countries.
Among the other strategies that can be used to convince States to ratify a legal instrument, Professor Lee mentioned allowing them to withdraw from it after a certain number of years, which can be bargained. He also referred to the strategy of leaving some amendments inactive as a way of ensuring that the rest of the legal instrument is accepted, giving the example of the amendment of the crime of aggression, which is only binding for the countries that ratified it, not all of the States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC.
Professor Lee went on to outline the main requirements for fruitful multilateral negotiations. He stressed the need for diplomats to attend informal meetings, as it is at this early stage, not during formal meetings, that most - if not all - of the decisions are made. He further explained the vital importance of having good co-facilitators and co-chairs. He indicated that while negotiating through interest groups is important because not all countries necessarily have a position, the co-chair or co-facilitator can also ask for a research on the view of some countries from certain regions to ensure that their views are reflected as well.
Turning to the main challenges that may arise, he mentioned host country-appointed Presiding Officers who may, sometimes, be unfit for the job; their changing views due to a government change; the drafting committee usurping the rights of the negotiating committee; and the time-consuming renegotiation of a previously agreed-upon text because delegates have changed.
Time was also allotted for Q&A sessions where participants were able to ask for clarifications and share their opinion. One of the debates that ensued revolved around whether or not the Paris Agreement was a good deal.
Perhaps one of the most memorable pieces of advice given by Professor Roy S. Lee, who described reaching a consensus as an art, was the importance of choosing the right package, as well as an adequate, less precise language.
Photos: participants of the workshop