REVIEW published in POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY 11:3 (Fall 2002)
by David A. Welch
George Ignatieff Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies
University of Toronto
Justice and Fairness in International Negotiation by Cecilia Albin. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 268 pp. Cloth $59.95, paper $21.95
In this excellent addition to the Cambridge Studies in International Relations series, Cecilia Albin asks why and how notions of justice and fairness matter in international negotiations. Her goal is not to articulate or to test any particular theories of international justice, but instead to explore the contours of moral psychology. Hers is an empirical task, not a philosophical one.
Albin asks a series of questions and runs them through four complex international negotiations in various issue areas. Her questions include, What motivates international negotiators to take justice or fairness into account? How do they understand those concepts in the particular circumstances of particular negotiations? How do they deal with competing conceptions of justice or fairness? How do negotiators’ concerns with justice or fairness interact with considerations of power, self-interest, or domestic politics? To what extent, and in what ways, is it important to satisfy negotiators’ concerns for justice or fairness if the agreements they reach are to be effective? Her cases include negotiations to combat acid rain, to manage international trade (specifically, in the Uruguay Round of the GATT), to lay the foundations for a durable Israeli-Palestinian peace in the Oslo Accords and after, and to extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Albin’s case studies are detailed, thorough, and richly informative, and they yield a number of fascinating insights. For example, Albin discovered that “Virtually all practitioners interviewed denied that [considerations of justice and fairness] had been the primary concerns prompting their entry into and conduct during negotiations” (p. 218), but that these considerations nevertheless had a powerful effect on their decision making at every stage, influencing both substance and process. Substantive notions of justice and fairness predictably varied widely from case to case, reflecting the circumstances of particular issues and problems, while procedural concerns for impartiality, reciprocity, and mutual advantage were evident in all cases. Albin convincingly shows that these concerns interact in interesting and complicated ways with concern for narrow material self-interest, and are not simply reducible thereto. Moreover, “ideas about justice and fairness can have almost any conceivable impact. They may serve as external referents guiding the bargaining dynamics, or become subject to negotiation themselves. They influence the positions and proposals brought to the table, the exchange and evaluation of concessions, and the formulation of agreements. They may trigger the onset of dialogue and facilitate its progress, or cause deadlocks and stalemates which bring the entire process to the brink of collapse. They may constrain the freedom of action of parties, or be used and abused tactically in the pursuit of individual advantage. They may prompt parties to sign or comply with an agreement, or provoke condemnations which threaten its very existence and effectiveness” (pp. 228-9).
Albin’s study represents an important corrective to two unfortunate tendencies: the tendency for empirical political scientists to ignore the role and importance of moral considerations in political behavior, and the tendency for normative political theorists to ignore the nuances and complexities of real-world moral judgments when attempting to articulate abstract principles. On this latter head, while Albin does not assign herself the task of refereeing between competing theorists of international justice, she notes that her findings give more aid and comfort to Brian Barry than to anyone else. Negotiators are more likely to be motivated by concern for justice and fairness, and to abide by the terms of agreements they reach, if they feel that others take their concerns seriously, negotiate in good faith, and demonstrate a willingness to compromise for the sake of reaching an agreement, even if the end result does not quite satisfy some ex ante set of abstract principles or demands. In short, here—as in so many other places—the perfect is the enemy of the good. Small wonder philosophers have found international justice such a tough nut to crack.
Cambridge University Press , 2001.
negotiation, justice, fairness, norms, air pollution, GATT (Uruguay Round) Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arms control, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty