Long-standing international disputes often seem unsolvable because the parties involved are too deeply invested in their positions. However, a third party may help them to focus on the basic concerns underlying their positions, and thus to reframe the issues in ways more amenable to negotiation.
Herbert C. Kelman describes the process, which he calls interactive problem-solving, in a series of articles published in recent years. That series has earned the 1997 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.
Kelman, the Richard Clarke Cabot professor of social ethics and director of the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Harvard University, has developed a process that enables conflicting parties to explore feasible, just solutions that address both sides’ needs and fears.
Based on fundamental principles of social psychology and human behavior, Kelman’s approach emphasizes human needs such as security and identity and encourages “joint thinking” to generate mutually satisfactory solutions. The third party serves as an unofficial facilitator, creating conditions under which creative ideas can emerge from the interaction between the parties themselves. Since participants are politically involved and influential, they are able to transfer the insights and ideas gained from this interaction into the political process in their own communities.
Kelman’s application of the process in workshops with Israeli and Palestinian academics and political figures has helped lay the groundwork for recent breakthroughs in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
A past president of the International Studies Association, the International Society of Political Psychology and several other professional associations, Kelman has been a key researcher in international affairs for four decades. His 1965 book, International Behavior: A Social-Psychological Analysis, is considered by many to be the definitive text on the social psychology of international relations.