The Equalizer in Intractable Conflicts

William Ury

Director of the Global Negotiation Project, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: The alternative to violence there is what's interesting to me in the Mandela cases, as much as he was a third sider he still had this ace up his sleeve, that if things aren't going the way they should

A: Right, in negotiation we call it your BATNA. Your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, and to me this why again some of the roles of the third side are using a power struggle; the ability to me to or of peace keepers who may have to use force minimally to be able to control a situation in some situations. So it's not all about sitting down and talking, you actually have to use all the instruments in a world that is sometimes prone to violence to be able to allow for the peaceful transformation of that conflict. So yes. Mediation alone will not change that power balance, and when you are representing the powerless or less powerful, you need to have power tools at your disposal. One of the key lessons, one of Mandela's key tools was the ability to mobilize global political opinion, to bring to bear sanctions, financial sanctions, and all of that. And as well as to bring about mass demonstrations on the streets, to paralyze, to bring about strikes, in other words - those instruments are sometimes necessary because one of the key roles in the third side is the equalizer. In order to have a fair and equitable negotiation you have to equalize, at least in that moment, the balance of power. And all of those instruments actually depend often on being able to rally mass public opinion and that's the third side. You know, there was an article in the New York Times during the Iraq War which said that -- speaking of the mobilization around public opinion of world - it said, you know there's now another superpower in the world. And that's global public opinion. And that's the third side. The third side is the voice of humanity or the voice of community saying "no" to violence as a way of solving problems and "yes" to other forms, which include power. Which aren't just negotiation, but include power but more peaceful ways of dealing with very real differences. It's about surfacing the conflicts; it's not about suppressing them.

Q: Global opinion then is like the witness writ large very interesting

A: Yeah it is. I mean, Gandhi understood this, too. He very cleverly played world public opinion and public opinion in India and here was a guy who never had any social power but what he did was, he had a real grasp of being able to mobilize the container, the circle, the third side.