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How Not to Negotiate

In response to:

A Special Supplement: Vietnam: How Not to Negotiate from the May 4, 1967 issue

To the Editors:

The error underlying Theodore Draper’s article “How Not to Negotiate” is the mistaken belief that negotiations were possible in February. No negotiated solution is possible in South Vietnam. Once a civil conflict has become well established, with the resulting hardening of factional loyalties and deepening of hatreds, the only possible resolutions are the defeat of one of the factions or the partitioning of the national territory. The first alternative does not admit negotiation because neither faction is willing to negotiate for its own destruction. The second alternative—further partition of Vietnamese erritory—is unacceptable to all parties, even if it were possible to separate the factions.

As to the conflict between the US and North Vietnam, the possibility of negotiation is no greater. The US has taken the official position that it will not end its air and naval attacks against North Vietnam until North Vietnam ends its support of the Viet Cong. North Vietnam has taken the position that the US must end these attacks before any discussion can take place.

Both of these positions are absolute: there is no possible compromise to be achieved through negotiation. If the US ends these attacks while North Vietnam continues its support to the Viet Cong, the US will have totally surrendered its position. If North Vietnam ends its aid to the Viet Cong, it will have totally surrendered its position. Where the only alternatives to the present situation involve the complete surrender of position by one of the parties it is unreasonable to expect negotiation to be successful.

It may be asked, why, if there is no possibility of meaningful negotiation, there should be a continual setting forth of proposals, multi-point plans, and pious avowals of willingness to negotiate? Conversely, why not? Such rhetoric costs nothing (especially when one is certain that the opponent will refuse the terms of the proposal) and may have considerable public-relations value. No national leader wishes to appear unwilling to negotiate for no better reason than that negotiations would be pointless! Declarations of willingness to negotiate are cheap and the concept is popular even when it has no real possibility of resolving the conflict.

William E. Gregory

Rt 3, Box 208

Eugene, Oregon

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