Martti Ahtisaari, winner of the 2010 Great Negotiator Award from Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, co-sponsored by the Future of Diplomacy Project in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School.
Program on Negotiation/HLS
Nobel Peace Prize winner Ahtisaari accepts Great Negotiator Award, offers insight into conflict resolution strategies in Kosovo and Aceh
September 30, 2010
Author: James F. Smith, Communications Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: The Future of Diplomacy Project
Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland who earned a Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his serial successes in helping to defuse several of the world's thorniest conflicts, shared a number of surprising trade secrets as he accepted The Great Negotiator Award at Harvard University this week.
Ahtisaari told an audience of faculty and students that at the outset of each negotiation, he stated clearly to all sides what he expected the outcome to be - and then gave the parties wide scope to reach that outcome. He also said he invoked his own values of fairness and justice to guide him rather than worry about meeting some impossible standard of objectivity.
Ahtisaari was awarded the Great Negotiator Award on September 27, 2010 between two panel discussions that examined his role in developing a final status for Kosovo between 2005 and 2008, and his mediation between rebels in the Indonesian province of Aceh and the national government toward the Helsinki Agreement in 2005.
The award was created a decade ago by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, and was co-sponsored for the first time this year by the new Future of Diplomacy Project in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. Previous award winners have included Richard Holbrooke, former United States ambassador to the United Nations, artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and Senator George Mitchell, for his stewardship of the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Kennedy School Professor of Practice R. Nicholas Burns, Faculty Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project, co-presented the award and moderated the Kosovo panel. As US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008, Burns had been closely involved with the final status process. Burns said Ahtisaari deftly coped not only with an intransigent Serbian government but with fractious parties within Kosovo and complex dynamics involving the European Union, the United States and Russia. His abilities as a negotiator were underscored by the fact that he had retained credibility among all players.
Panelist Frank G. Wisner, who was the US special envoy to the Kosovo talks, said of Ahtisaari: "what struck me, and what makes his diplomacy quite extraordinary, are his clarity in objectives, and his flexibility in tactics."
Wisner said that while Ahtisaari made it crystal clear to the Serbian government that it would never again rule Kosovo, he left the parties to deal with an array of issues on minority rights for Serbs living in Kosovo, including religion and other important points, helping to avert a return to violence.
In serving as an unofficial mediator for the Aceh conflict, Ahtisaari said he told the parties that the goal would be "special autonomy," the most that Indonesia was willing to concede. But he also recalled confronting the Indonesian government with evidence of rights violations by the military, which soon stopped, clearing the way for progress in the talks.
Ahtisaari said the key is to know what outcome you want, and then to figure out how to get there.
"In all the places I have been involved, in Namibia, in Aceh, in Kosovo, I have known from the beginning what the outcome is going to be. If you don't, and you don't make it clear where you are coming from, you can waste the rest of your days," Ahtisaari said.
Harvard Law School Professor Robert Mnookin, the Director of the Program on Negotiation, said in presenting the award: "We teach here at Harvard that great negotiators are purposeful. [..] We also teach that great negotiators combine the virtues of empathy and assertiveness. I happen to know that you are an extraordinary listener."
"You have the capacity to put yourself in shoes of people with very different perspectives," Mnookin added. "You see the world through their eyes. At the same time, you are prepared to be assertive and straightforward. In both these respects, we are learning a great deal from you."
Case studies prepared on both the Aceh and Kosovo negotiations by Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School will be used to educate students in diplomacy and negotiation at Harvard University in the future.
For more information about this publication please contact the Future of Diplomacy Project Executive Director.
For Academic Citation: