by Sally Abrahms
Richard Holbrooke was the premier architect of the 1995 peace agreement that ended the war in Bosnia and a skillful negotiator credited with resolving the bitter dispute over dues owed in arrears by the United States to the United Nations. Last night, at a dinner held in his honor, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations received the prestigious 2004 Great Negotiator Award, presented by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.
Created five years ago by PON, the annual Great Negotiator award recognizes an individual whose achievements in the field of negotiation and dispute resolution have had a significant and enduring impact.
Holbrooke is known for his unorthodox negotiating style. In The New Yorker, writer Michael Kelly says, “He has yelled at Foreign Ministers and cursed at a President.” According to a State Department official quoted in a Washington Post article, “He’s like Muhammad Ali—he’s yakking and talking; he’s jiving. The first time you see it you think it’s just bull; in fact he’s psyching out the other person and reading the reaction.”
Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, a colleague of Holbrooke’s in the Clinton cabinet, introduced the honoree by noting, “It is a better world because of what this man has done as a negotiator.” Summers said he has learned from Holbrooke that “negotiating may seem obvious and easy but it isn’t…you must know what you want to accomplish and why and stay focused…and a basic toughness, cynicism and deep distrust need to be harnessed to achieve most idealistic ends.”
When presenting the award at Pound Hall, HLS Professor and PON Chair Robert Mnookin called Holbrooke a “peacemaker extraordinaire” who saved thousands of lives in Bosnia. Mnookin added, “Ambassador Holbrooke has taught us many lessons, that great negotiators are prepared but also know how to improvise; they have courage, are resolute, persistent, and focused; and they know when to negotiate, when to refuse to negotiate and with whom to refuse to negotiate.”
In his acceptance remarks, Holbrooke said, “This award honors the art of negotiation. I say ‘art’ intentionally because it is not a science and never will be. Negotiation is like jazz,” he maintained. “It is improvisation on a theme. You know where you want to go, but you don’t know how to get there. It’s not linear.”
Earlier in the day, Holbrooke answered questions in a panel forum from Harvard faculty and the public about his negotiation strategies and their effectiveness in the Bosnia and the U.N. cases.
Holbrooke’s background in international conflicts is extensive. After joining the Foreign Service in 1962, he was sent to Vietnam for three years. Later, he worked on the Vietnam staff in the White House for President Johnson, wrote a volume of the Pentagon Papers, and was an American delegate to the Vietnam peace talks in Paris. He also held the position of Peace Corps director in Morocco.
Holbrooke was assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under Carter. During Holbrooke’s tenure, the U.S. established full diplomatic relations with China. From 1993-1994, Holbrooke served as the U.S. ambassador to Germany, then as assistant secretary for European and Canadian affairs. More recently, he held the position of U.S. ambassador to the U.N., was a member of President Clinton’s cabinet from 1999-2001, and became special envoy to Bosnia and Kosovo.
Currently, Holbrooke is vice chairman of the private equity firm Perseus. He has held executive positions at other prominent Wall Street investment banking firms, including Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse First Boston.
Holbrooke is the former managing editor of Foreign Policy, author of “To End a War,” about the Dayton Peace Agreement negotiations, and co-author of “Counsel to the President,” Clark Clifford’s memoir. He has received twenty honorary degrees, and made note during his acceptance of the Great Negotiator award from the Program on Negotiation that it was the first time he has been so recognized by Harvard, which added to the significance of the honor. In addition to his other accolades, Holbrooke has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Last year, the Great Negotiator Award was given to Stuart Eizenstat, the former U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Other past recipients were Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.’s special envoy for Afghanistan (2002), Charlene Barshefsky, U.S. trade representative during the Clinton administration (2001), and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell (2000).
The Program on Negotiation is a world-renowned research center committed to improving the theory and practice of negotiation and dispute resolution. It is a consortium of faculty, students and staff from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, and other Boston area universities. PON provides education and training, conducts research, and works to increase public understanding of successful negotiation and conflict management practices.