The Role of Process in Arms Control Negotiations

Gerald M. Steinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Arms control efforts tend to proceed through highly formalized and very visible direct negotiations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. There is evidence, however, that even when political and technological conditions might otherwise produce agreements, this formal process itself tends to impede the flexibility necessary for compromise and successful negotiations. The examination of the role of process in negotiation is based on the analysis of the particular structures of decision making adopted by the participants, and of the modes of communication they use to convey information, offers, and responses. Given the number of bureaucratic actors generally involved in arms control, full participation by all in a decentralized decision-making process can be expected to lead to slow and inflexible negotiating positions. Similarly, direct communication is likely to highlight concerns for status and bargaining reputation which impede concessions and agreement. In analyzing the Test Ban and Salt I negotiations from this perspective, centrally controlled decision- making, combined with informal and closely held communication, is shown to have contributed to the eventual success of the negotiations. While the formal negotiations of the Test Ban and SALT process frequently became blocked, the informal back-channels, from which most bureaucratic actors were excluded, led to concessions and progress. Centralized decision making and the informal ‘off the record’ communica tion of proposals and responses, in these cases, facilitated agreements. While these procedures are not cost free, particularly for pluralistic and open societies, they suggest that formal processes of negotiation should not automatically be sought in the context of arms control efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-272
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1985
Externally publishedYes


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