Talking to the Enemy: Explaining Diplomatic Strategy in Conflicts with China

September 2019 No Comments

Talking to the Enemy: Explaining Diplomatic Strategy in Conflicts with China

Speaker: Mastro, O. (Georgetown University)

Date: 9 September 2019

Speaker Session Preview

SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. Oriana Skylar Mastro (Georgetown University) as a part of its SMA INDOPACOM Speaker Series. Dr. Mastro first explained the motivation behind her research. The US does not have a good understanding of how to end conflicts or how to bring enemies to the negotiating table, according to Dr. Mastro. Moreover, individuals often have varying views on how to best get an enemy to agree to talks. Therefore, Dr. Mastro sought to answer the following question: After a war breaks out, what factors influence belligerents’ decisions about whether to talk to the enemy, and when may their position on wartime diplomacy change? She defined diplomatic posture as “a belligerent’s willingness to engage in direct talks with its enemy at a given point in a war,” and explained that there are two types of diplomatic posture: open (where the warring party is willing to talk directly with the enemy in a given period of time unconditionally) and closed (where either the warring party is unwilling to talk directly to the enemy or is unwilling to do so unless preconditions are met). When conducting her research, Dr. Mastro examined every war fought since World War II and recognized that 1) there is a near universal tendency to have a period at the beginning of a war where there is only fighting and no talking; 2) states’ diplomatic posture varies over time and over conflicts; 3) expected strategic costs of conversation determine diplomatic posture; 4) when leaders’ cost valuation is high, they chose closed diplomatic postures; 5) when leaders’ cost valuation is low, they chose open diplomatic postures; and 6) states will only go to the negotiating table when/strategic costs are determined by likelihood of adverse inference and the enemy’s ability to respond given adverse inference. Dr. Mastro also provided a historic case study—China during the Korean War—to bring forth several of the conclusions she derived from her research. To conclude, Dr. Mastro provided a series of recommendations, including that US policymakers and defense planners must 1) rethink the US’s approach to wartime diplomacy, 2) integrate diplomats into contingency planning, and 3) rethink the role of mediators.

Speaker Session Audio File

Download Dr. Mastro’s Biography, Book Description, and Slides


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