From diplomatic effort in general and the 1954 Geneva negotiations in particular, what lessons can we learn about necessary conditions and understandings that are essential for conflict negotiations to succeed?
The Geneva Conference of 1954 was a meeting of state diplomats from China, the Soviet Union, Korea, Vietnam, the United Kingdom and the United States. The conference was held to discuss and resolve issues regarding the partitioning of Korea and Vietnam, as well as the demilitarization of those areas. The conference was able to pass successful resolutions for a number of reasons.
First, the diplomats met within the structure of a universally trusted and respected organization: the United Nations. The United Nations served as a neutral grounds for discussion and negotiations. Historically, neutral grounding and neutral structure has been critical to the diplomatic process.
In addition, each participating nation was highly motivated to reach resolution. These nations had suffered extreme losses in World War II and were very much invested in finding their way to a peaceable future. For diplomatic conflict negotiations to be successful, it is important that each party be highly motivated.
The major lessons that can be learned from these negotiations are that both sides in a negotiation need to have an interest in the success of the negotiations and that both sides need to believe that the negotiations are the best way for them to advance their interests. These conditions did not exist in the case of the Geneva Accords of 1954.
In order for such negotiations to work, both sides must really want them to work. While it is true that both sides wanted a unified Vietnam, it is not at all clear that both sides wanted to accomplish this through peaceful means. Therefore, it is not clear that both sides wanted the negotiations to succeed.
Perhaps even more importantly, it is not clear that either side thought the negotiations were the best way for them to get the upper hand. The Vietminh might well have thought the negotiations were their best hope. They might have thought that they were likely to win any election held throughout Vietnam. However, the US did not feel this way. This is one reason they did not sign. For them, it might have seemed likely that the Vietminh’s popularity outstripped that of Bao Dai and that Ho Chi Minh and his organization were sure to win the elections. Therefore, the US would have had little confidence that negotiations were going to lead to an acceptable outcome from their point of view.
In short, then, negotiations like these will only succeed if both sides feel that negotiation is their best way to achieve their aims.