skip to content

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Heller Faculty Notes

Bringing responsible negotiation to areas of conflict

A conversation with Professor Alain Lempereur

Born in Belgium in the heart of the European Union, Professor Alain Lempereur, who is the Alan B. Slifka Professor of Coexistence and Conflict Resolution and Program Director of the Master’s in Coexistence and Conflict (COEX), received his undergraduate degree in philosophy and his law degree from the University of Brussels. At Harvard, as a Fulbright Fellow, he received a doctorate in the Science of Jurisprudence (SJD), with a specialty in negotiation and mediation.

Prior to coming to the Heller School in the fall of 2011 to lead the COEX program, Lempereur taught at some of the prestigious French “Grandes Écoles,” including ENA, ENPC and ESSEC. While in Paris he created IRENE, which means “peace” in Greek and stands for “Institute for Research and Education on Negotiation in Europe.” He was also a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and is currently member of the Executive Committee of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

What do you want to accomplish at Heller?

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It is not enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it is not enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” She recognized the need to move from good intentions and convictions to actions and results. Like my predecessor Mari Fitzduff, the founder of the Coexistence MA program at Brandeis, my hope is to strengthen the peace profession, to provide practitioners with the knowledge and tools for effective conflict analysis and intervention.

In the Heller COEX program, our students become catalysts in the change from conflict to peaceful coexistence. They learn how to analyze the roots of conflict and develop the strategies and methods – including responsible negotiation and leadership, which I teach – to address conflicts in constructive ways.

The COEX alumni are engaged peace professionals who leverage their skills in their countries of origin and around the world to build legitimate political bodies, a security sector protecting all citizens, a vivid civil society, an inclusive economy of development, and justice mechanisms promoting reconciliation.

Our COEX program is the hub of a community of lifelong learning and practice.  It starts with faculty involved in peace practice, it continues with students who are mostly international mid-career professionals and it perpetuates through a network of alumni and partners who work towards peace in the field.

Could you tell us about your personal trajectory?

I see myself at the crossroads of three fields – philosophy, law and negotiation.  I love philosophy, but I often found it too abstract and disconnected from the daily reality of people. As to law, I found it too adversarial and authoritarian in its practices, pushing people away from each other through means often at odds with its own coexistence ends.  For me, negotiation is a powerful approach to bridge these two fields of philosophy and law. Negotiation establishes a new philosophy of law empowering people, a practical way of advancing a philosophy of coexistence, which aligns ends and means.

I see my research, training and practice as serving this philosophy of coexistence. For example, one of my books, The First Move, proposes a responsible negotiation process where connection between people comes first and effective problem solving is next.  My courses, which espouse a participatory model, help students translate in their daily practices how to mobilize negotiation responsibly and to empower others. My fieldwork as a mediator is also inspired by this responsible approach to negotiation.

How do you overcome the usual cynicism about conflicts?

Practicing negotiation often requires a good deal of optimism to overcome cynicism. But we always need to remember that change is possible. At one point of history, a conflict might be seen as intractable to most people. Later on, it might be resolved by those same people or others. And a generation later, it can be regarded as a remote souvenir.

For instance, France and Germany fought each other with hatred for decades, with millions dying in wars. Their conflict looked so entrenched. Since WWII, however, responsible leaders have leveraged perpetual negotiations to create strong democratic institutions and a safe environment for both nations. Together France and Germany became good neighbors and the backbone of stability in Europe. Today, they are the best allies in the European Union for joint development and prosperity. Who would have thought this possible in 1945? Peacemakers should act now, and never be shortsighted.

Optimism - that a conflict can be solved peacefully - is anchored in this kind of achievement. And peace professionals know this, and learn how to boost the chances that unhealthy conflicts can be transformed into sustainable coexistence. Conflict is part of human nature; that is the bad news. But negotiation is also part of human nature; and that is the good news. Coexistence is something we have been trying to work out since the cavemen. A little more responsible negotiation here and there can help us move together in the right direction. Conflict transformation is a relatively new but growing field. It developed at the beginning of the Cold War, with a high-stakes goal: avoiding nuclear annihilation. More than ever, this field is necessary for humanity, and real professionals are needed to make it stronger.

Can you discuss your own mediation work?

For example, I was involved in Burundi between 2003 and 2007. My mentor and friend, the late Ambassador Howard Wolpe, former adviser in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, established the Burundi Leadership Training Program. He hired me and a colleague, Liz McClintock, to facilitate unlikely meetings between Hutu and Tutsi leaders. I am proudest of our work with the Burundian security sector. We contributed to a peaceful integration of the regular army and of the rebel groups who had been fighting for years. Bringing them together was already an achievement, facilitating their exchanges was fantastic. Afterward, they were able to build the new Burundian army composed of both Hutus and Tutsis. From 2006 until 2011, I was involved in a similar initiative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The International Dialogue on Peace Building and State Building also allowed me to facilitate stakeholders’ meetings in the DR Congo, the Central African Republic, East Timor, Sierra Leone and Togo, between 2009 and 2011. The purpose was to gather representatives from conflict-affected countries and development partners in order to jointly learn and catalogue the lessons from post-conflict.  Rules of engagement have been developed to guide peace building.

Can you tell us about a current project?

My current research aims at defining the criteria of responsible negotiation. If negotiation is part of life, it takes all shapes and forms. It is sometimes one-sided, positional, uncaring. But negotiation can also be conducted in responsible ways: bringing people together to build trust, working out an empowerment process, and finding fair solutions to problems. The Heller School community, with its strong values, is a great place to develop such research and exchange with colleagues on such topics.

Knowledge Advancing Social Justice