The Ethics of Negotiation in Armed Conflict

April 14 -
 14, 2016

The Conference

When states conduct negotiations in the shadow of armed conflict, the exercise of diplomacy raises certain unique challenges. Conducting relations with “rogue states,” namely sovereign states who disregard human rights or other international norms, for example, raises the concern that we are helping to legitimize governments and practices we otherwise strongly condemn. Nonetheless, as some have argued, there may be an obligation to negotiate with such a state when it comes to grave security issues like weapons of mass destruction. How do the alternatives to negotiation impact the moral considerations involved in dealing with such states?

Like “rogue states,” non-state armed groups come in different forms, from political insurgencies to criminal organizations to millenarian groups. Often these actors are designated collectively as “terrorists,” a term for which there is no academic consensus—and which, it has been argued, hinders prospects for negotiation and fosters entrenched violence. Does negotiating with non-state actors, through official state channels or otherwise, undermine the international order by conferring a legitimacy and authority traditionally granted only to states? Or does legitimacy in some cases attain to non-Westphalian groups? How should states balance the risks of attributing legitimacy to unsavory actors against the possibility of escalated violence stemming from a refusal to negotiate?

When confronted with non-state hostage takers, many governments insist that they will not negotiate, but in practice exceptions abound. Recently, the Obama administration has indicated that it will no longer bar the families of hostages from paying ransom to kidnappers, despite the fact that the U.S. government will not pay ransom or engage in negotiations. What are the implications of this for deterring kidnapping? How will this shift in policy impact official governmental relations with hostage-takers? Does a willingness to deal with hostage-takers encourage their behavior, thereby endangering more citizens? On the other side, however, is it ethical to refuse to negotiate with kidnappers in the name of deterrence? Or do private citizens, family members, or associated organizations have a right to negotiate for the kidnapped? Would the costs to society of materially supporting hostage-takers outweigh these rights?

Finally, democracies face expectations of transparency and open public debate. In a democracy, what role should the public play in deciding whether to negotiate? Is secrecy necessary for diplomacy to be effective in certain cases—as with Kissinger’s trips to China? How might the role of secrecy change with respect to not only other states but also non-state armed groups?

This program has been approved for 7.5 ethics CLE credits for Pennsylvania lawyers. CLE credit may be available in other jurisdictions as well. Attendees seeking CLE credit should bring separate payment in the amount of $150.00 ($75.00 public interest/non-profit attorneys) cash or check made payable to The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.



Location: Fitts Auditorium, University of Pennsylvania Law School3501 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

4:30 pm – 6:30 pmInaugural Keynote Panel: Negotiating Hostage Situations
Moderator:  Professor Claire Finkelstein

Panelists: Ambassador Daniel C. KurtzerAmbassador John LimbertDr. Adam Dolnik

Following on recent stories and policy developments concerning hostage situations, this expert panel will discuss the ethical and legal dimensions of negotiating with hostage takers in the context of transnational conflict. Is it ethically permissible to negotiate with hostage-takers, especially when there is reason to expect that such negotiations will encourage further hostage-taking?  Is it ethical to refuse to negotiate with hostage-takers in the name of a policy of deterrence?  Are the types of hostage-taking tactics, such as barricading, kidnapping, and hijacking, relevant to the question of whether to negotiate? Is the strategic or political motivation of the hostage-takers relevant?  Does the act of negotiating with such groups lend legitimacy to their movements and organizations?  Are there obligations owed to a nation’s citizens when they are taken hostage?  Are there obligations owed to a government’s representatives captured while serving?  Do private citizens, family members, or associated organizations have the right to negotiate for those taken hostage? What role does rational choice theory play in hostage negotiations?Free and Open to the Public
6:30 pm – 7:30 pmCocktail Reception


Location: Bogle Chairman’s RoomNational Constitution Center, 525 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

8:30 am – 9:15 amRegistration and Breakfast
9:15 am – 9:30 amWelcome Remarks: Professor Claire Finkelstein
9:30 am – 10:45 am Session 1: Bargaining with the Devil: When Is It Unethical to Negotiate?
Moderator: Professor Claire Finkelstein

Looking to historical examples to frame the conversation, this panel will explore some of the essential questions concerning when it is morally acceptable to negotiate.  Should the US and Allied forces have negotiated with Hitler?  Should the US or other parties negotiate with ISIS?  At what point is negotiation no longer an option?  What actions might disqualify a potential negotiation partner?  Where is the line drawn between negotiation and force, if it is drawn at all, and is it drawn on moral or pragmatic grounds?
10:45 am – 11:15 amBreak
11:15 am – 12:30 pm Session 2: Negotiating with Non-State Actors
Moderator: Mr. Jamil N. Jaffer

This panel will address the challenge that non-state actors, such as ISIS, pose to the Westphalian view of sovereignty reflected in the international legal order and modern international affairs.  Do states have moral or legal obligations to negotiate with these groups in the same way they might with traditional states?  Does it matter whether a non-state actor is engaged in an insurgency for political control over a state or is engaged in terrorist tactics to advance a broader ideological platform?  Does it matter whom the group targets, e.g., military personnel or civilians?  If non-state actors are organized in fractious ways, should their military defeat or surrender take priority over a negotiated settlement?  How might these considerations shape the decision to negotiate?
12:30 pm – 1:30 pmLunchKeynote Address: Professor Steven Brams  The Win-Win Solution: Guaranteeing Fair Shares to Everybody
1:30 pm – 2:45 pmSession 3: Negotiating Across Religious, Cultural, and Moral Differences
Moderator: Professor Kevin H. Govern

This panel considers the challenges raised by religious, cultural, and moral differences between negotiating parties. How do different cultures understand and value the choice between negotiating, providing training and advisory assistance, and using force? What special challenges emerge when a state that adheres to just war principles, the Law of War, and human rights as provided in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights confronts a state or non-state actor that does not? More broadly, what are we to make of the fact that no state or non-state actor consistently conforms to a fixed set of principles about libertarian human rights or when or how to fight? How can parties to a negotiation work within a shared framework given the significant cultural, religious, moral and legal differences that exist between and within states and that shape conflicting concepts of legitimacy?
2:45 pm – 3:00 pmBreak
3:00 pm – 5:00 pmKeynote Speaker: Ambassador Dennis Ross
Location: Kirby Auditorium, National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Free and Open to the Public – More Information Here
6:00 pm – 7:00 pmCocktail Reception – Invited Participants Only
Location: The Racquet Club of Philadelphia, 215 S 16th St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
7:00 pm – 9:00 pmDinner – Invited Participants Only
Location: The Racquet Club of Philadelphia, 215 S 16th St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Keynote Address:
 Professor Stuart Diamond


Location: Bogle Chairman’s Room, National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

8:30 am – 9:15 amBreakfast
9:15 am – 10:30 am Session 4: The Utility and Morality of Secret Negotiations
Moderator: Professor Brendan O’Leary

Following the work of Robert Putnam, this panel explores how transparently and democratically conducted negotiations occur on two levels, the domestic and the international. How does this dynamic disrupt the negotiation process, given how strong minority viewpoints can steer conversations and how otherwise unrelated issues can become attached to a negotiation?  Is it problematic, particularly in a democracy, to conduct negotiations in secret or behind closed doors?  Should democracies reject secret negotiations on principle? Or are there moral and ethical considerations that would lead a state to conduct negotiations in secret, knowing that its democratic process could stand in the way of peace or the greater good?  Could Kissinger’s secret trips to China, for instance, have transformed US-China relations the way they did if they had been conducted under public scrutiny? Did such secret diplomacy nonetheless undercut democratic values?
10:30 pm – 11:00 amBreak
11:00 am – 12:45 pm Session 5: Preventive Diplomacy
Moderator: Professor Marie Isabelle Chevrier

This panel considers whether states have an obligation to negotiate before resorting to the use of force.  What if they have strong reason to believe in the imminence of an attack by another state or a non-state actor?  Do third-party interventions or mediations infringe too greatly on the political independence of states, particularly in a civil conflict where a population’s right to self-determination may be at stake?
12:45 pm – 2:15 pmLunch
Keynote Address: Mr. Niall O’Dowd
2:15 pm – 3:30 pm  Session 6: Negotiating Around Armageddon: Are Nuclear Negotiations Special?
Moderator: Mr. Richard Nephew

This panel explores whether negotiations in the nuclear context—from the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960’s to the recent deal with Iran—take on special considerations all their own. Should the potential for mass destruction change the way we think about negotiations in this context? In the event of a nuclear standoff, does the potential for global annihilation require us to find a deal at any cost? 


Professsor Steven Brams

New York University

Ms. Andrea Cayley

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Professor Seth Cantey

Washington and Lee University, Department of Political Science

Professor Marie Isabelle Chevrier

Rutgers University – Camden

Mr. William Craven

Federal Systems, CEO

Professor Malcolm Dando

University of Bradford, UK

Professor Stuart Diamond

University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business

Professor Adam Dolnik

Hostage Negotiation Expert

Professor William A. Douglas

Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies

Dr. Nicholas G. Evans

University of Pennsylvania

Professor Douglas Frenkel

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Professor Karen Feste

University of Denver, Joseph Korbel School of International Studies

Ms. Arlene Fickler 

Attorney at Law

Professor Claire Finkelstein

CERL, University of Pennsylvania Law School

Ambassador Peter Galbraith

Former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia

Professor Kevin H. Govern

Ave Maria School of Law

Mr. Paul G. Haaga, Jr.

Former Acting President and CEO of NPR

Mr. Jamil N. Jaffer

George Mason University School of Law

Mr. David S. Jonas

Fluet, Huber + Hoang PLLC and Georgetown Law

Ms. Ilsa Klinghoffer

The Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League

Ms. Lisa Klinghoffer

The Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League

Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer

Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs 

Ambassador John Limbert

US Naval Academy

Professor Sharon Lloyd

University of Southern California, Dornsife College of Arts and Sciences

Professor Duncan MacIntosh 

Dalhousie University, Department of Philosophy

Dr. Andrew McAninch

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Professor Avishai Margalit

Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University, Department of Philosophy

Professor Christopher W. Morris

University of Maryland, Department of Philosophy

Professor Laurence Neil Nathan

University of Praetoria, Department of Political Sciences

Mr. Richard Nephew

Columbia University, SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy

Mr. Niall O’Dowd

Founder, IrishCentral

Professor Brendan O’Leary

University of Pennsylvania

Ms. Helen Pudlin

Chair of the Board of Trustees,The Wistar Institute; University of Pennsylvania Law School

Ambassador Dennis Ross

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Professor Paul Sharp

University of Minnesota Duluth, Department of Political Science

Professor Bruno Verbeek

Leiden University

Dr. Anthony Wanis-St.John

American University, School of International Service

Ms. Jennifer Arbittier Williams

Assistant U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Mr. W. Craig Williams

Assistant General Counsel, PECO Energy Co.; former Ethics Advisor (Deputy Legal Counsel), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colonel U.S. Marines (ret.)

Mr. Jules Zacher

Attorney at Law, Council for a Livable World

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Toros, H., Tellidis, I., 2013. Editor’s introduction: Terrorism and peace and conflict studies: investigating the crossroad. Critical Studies on Terrorism 6, 1–12. doi:10.1080/17539153.2013.765697

Toscano, R., 2013. The Ethics of Modern Diplomacy. Ethics and international affairs: extent and limits 47–88.

Verdirame, G., 2013. What to Make of Jus Post Bellum: A Response to Antonia Chayes. Eur J Int Law 24, 307–313. doi:10.1093/ejil/cht007

Vertigans, S., 2011. The sociology of terrorism: peoples, places and processes. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY.

Wanis-St. John, A., 2006. Back-Channel Negotiation: International Bargaining in the Shadows. Negotiation Journal 22, 119–144. doi:10.1111/j.1571-9979.2006.00091.x

Weber, T., 2001. Gandhian Philosophy, Conflict Resolution Theory and Practical Approaches to Negotiation. Journal of Peace Research 38, 493–513.

When Ransoms Pay for Terrorism, n.d. . The New York Times.

When Should We Talk to Terrorists? [WWW Document], n.d. . United States Institute of Peace. URL (accessed 6.30.15a).

Winter, P., n.d. Ethical Compromise Between IR Actors. E-International Relations.

Wither, J.K., 2009. Selective Engagement with Islamist Terrorists: Exploring the Prospects. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 32, 18–35. doi:10.1080/10576100802563370

Wright, L., 2015. The Secret Effort to Save the ISIS Hostages. The New Yorker 48.

Zartman, I.W., 2011. Engaging Extremists: Trade-offs, Timing, and Diplomacy. US Institute of Peace Press.

Zartman, I.W., 2003. Negotiating with Terrorists. International Negotiation 8, 443–450. doi:10.1163/1571806031310815

Zartman, I.W., 2001a. Preventing Deadly Conflict. Security Dialogue 32, 137–154. doi:10.1177/0967010601032002002

Zartman, I.W. (Ed.), 2001b. Preventive negotiation: avoiding conflict escalation, Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Md.

Required Readings


Keynote Panel: Negotiating Hostage Situations and Prisoner Exchanges

Lawrence Wright, 2015. “Five Hostages.” The New Yorker.

John W. Limbert, 444 Days: Memoirs of an Iran Hostage (interview), 444 Days — The End Game (interview)Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

Guy O. Faure, 2015. “Negotiating Hostages with Terrorists: Paradoxes and Dilemmas.” International Negotiation 20, 129–145

Debra Nussbaum Cohen, 2015. “Klinghoffer Daughters Recall the Horror That Put a Face on Terrorism.” Haaretz.


Session 1: 

Bargaining with the Devil: When Is It Unethical to Negotiate?

Robert H. Mnookin, 2010. Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight (New York: Simon and Schuster).

G. Richard Shell, 2010The Morality of Bargaining: Identity versus Interests in Negotiations with Evil,” Negotiation Journal; 26, 4;p. 456 – 480

Walter C. Clemens Jr., 2011. “Can – Should – Must We Negotiate with Evil?,” 26 Pacific Focus 316-335.

Laurence Neill Nathan, 2016. “How and Why African Mediators Compromise Democracy”

Avishai Margalit, 2010. On Compromise And Rotten Compromises (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

Chris-Adelle Khaw, 2016. “Hostage negotiations with terrorists: How and when is it justified?”

Session 2: 

Negotiating with Non-State Actors

Daniel Byman, 2009. “Talking with Insurgents: A Guide for the Perplexed.” Washington Quarterly 32, 125–137. doi:10.1080/01636600902775565

Harmonie Toros, 2008. “We Don’t Negotiate with Terrorists!”: Legitimacy and Complexity in Terrorist Conflicts.” Security Dialogue 39, 407–426.

Seth Cantey, “Walking the Talk: Prospects for Negotiation with al Qaeda and the Islamic State” — Abstract

Claire O. Finkelstein, 2016. “Reason and Morals in Hostage Negotiations” — Abstract

Duncan MacIntosh, 2016. “Should Terrorists Negotiate with Us? Non-Ideal Theory, the Problem of Extorted Justice and a New Preemptive Role for the Diplomatic Cadre” — Abstract

Lunchtime Keynote

Steven Brams, 2000. From The Win-Win Solution: Guaranteeing Fair Shares for Everybody. (Preface and Chapter 5 required, Chapter 5 optional.)

Session 3:

Negotiating Across Religious, Cultural, and Moral Differences

Willfried Bolewski, 2008. “Diplomatic Professes and Cultural Variation: The Relevance of Culture in Diplomacy.” The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations.

John W. Limbert, 2008. “Negotiating with the Islamic Republic of Iran :raising the chances for success—fifteen points to remember.” (Washington: United States Institute of Peace).

Rudolph C. Barnes, Jr., Religion, Law and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy

Kevin H. Govern, “Joint Military Commissions: A Model For Post-Conflict Negotiations In The Balkans And Beyond” — Abstract


Session 4: 

The Utility and Morality of Secret Negotiations

Anthony Wanis-St. John, 2016. “Back-Channel Negotiation: A Review of the Theoretical Literature on Secrecy and Negotiation.” 

Anthony Wanis-St. John, 2016. The Expeditionary Negotiator.  Abstract

Eamonn O’Kane, 2015. “Talking to the Enemy? The Role of the Back-Channel in the Development of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.” Contemporary British History 29, 401–420.

Dean G. Pruitt, 2008. “Back-channel Communication in the Settlement of Conflict.” International Negotiation 13, 37–54.

Robert D. Putnam, 1988. Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level GamesInternational Organization 42, 427–460. (Optional but relevant background piece.)

Session 5:

Preventive Diplomacy

Michael Walzer, 1977. From Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations.

Michael J.Glennon, 2003. “Why the Security Council Failed.” Foreign Affairs.

I. William Zartman, 2001. “Preventing Deadly Conflict.” Security Dialogue 32, 137–154.

Eileen F. Babbitt, 2014. “Mediation and the Prevention of Mass Atrocities.” The International Politics of Human Rights: Rallying to the R2P Cause. Eds. M.Serrano and T. Weiss, Routledge.

Session 6:

Negotiating Around Armageddon: Are Nuclear Negotiations Special?

Graham Allison, 2015. “Lessons Learned from Past WMD Negotiations.”

Antonia H. Chayes, 2006 Security in an Age of Anxiety”: What Can Verification Offer?,” 30 The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 87–100.

Jules Zacher, “The Agreement With Iran: Another Example of Nuclear Weapons Treaties Continuing Nuclearism

Contact us

For any questions regarding the conference or registration, please contact: Jennifer Cohen at [email protected]

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