Here's the link to a congressman grilling South Korean PM:

Transcript is:

C: North Korea requested for the return of the defectors. What is the official opinion?
PM: I don't think it's appropriate to tell you now.
C: What a... they came by their free will and...so... they can be deported back?
PM: um... that issue hasn't been discussed yet (pause) yes.
C: They came for their freedom
PM: But.. I'm trying to say the most honest and correct answer here. I don't think it's appropriate to tell you now.
(more murmurs on the back)
PM: I expect you to know...that not everything can be disclosed.
PM: (The gov.) is not expecting to deport them
C: that is a extremely hard answer to get
C: can't we just show our good will? what was so difficult?
PM: well as you know, the non-ruling parliament members, things are not that simple.
C: Not deporting the defectors is non-negotiable.
C: It shouldn't be traded for something else.
C: You shouldn't even contemplate about this.Be firm.
C: And the gov. should keep pace with US gov's footsteps on NK human rights.

I asked someone else (a law school grad) about this video, and he told me it's good manners to keep one's mouth shut in international negotiations.

So I then asked him why such "manners" matters so much, and he replied: "everything can be a possibility in a negotiation, and opening up might limit what's possible" "opening up a negotiation will allow public opinion to influence the negotiation process, and no one will try to negotiate anything with such party/entity"

And googling further, I came to this google book link:

which says "deployment of such commitment can wind up in stalemate.... Once a position is declared, it's difficult to reverse it (make a concession) without loss of one's reputation".

So my question is: is there more reason to avoid opening up the negotiation other than what the book's paragraph says?

Also, Would immediately replying "no, it's one of our core values to not allow such thing" and then publicly saying what oneself said in a negotation bad manners?

(i.e. Would it be bad manners even when you're not saying what the other side said? Even when what the other side said is public?)

  • I think it is pretty obvious that publicizing something an ally has said they want to keep quite about is not nice. Perhaps you are more interested in the broader "why would negotiations be done in private?"
    – user9389
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 18:54

1 Answer 1


"deployment of such commitment can wind up in stalemate.... Once a position is declared, it's difficult to reverse it (make a concession) without loss of one's reputation".

That's a fairly apt way to put it. And no, there isn't much else to add.

For a prime example of how negotiations via media declarations can go wrong, consider the utter mess the UK is in with respect to Brexit negotiations. If you haven't been following the related headlines, here's a taster.

Long story short, the EU has made its position clear from the get go and hasn't budged since. The UK, by contrast, has been contradicting itself at every turn - to the point of surprising Germans, in the sense that they tend to view the British as pragmatics who get things done.

The thing about Brexit is that, with May, Davis, and Johnson contradicting each other in the media, Barnier and Verhofstadt periodically feel an urge to reject what they're reading in the media. This is both to dispel any misplaced expectations by the UK public, but also to send a clear message to EU27 citizens they're representing. The UK ends up with precious little wiggle room.

Had May, Johnson, and Davis kept their disagreements in private, the negotiations might have been more advanced by now. But May would probably be facing even more rebellion by Tory backbenchers, their coalition members, or the public.

Either way the case perfectly illustrates what happens both when your own team can't get its act together to state a clear negotiation position and when you test the waters by negotiating through the media.

I'd add a last point in passing, which is that when it comes to negotiations, the very worst you can do is negotiate point by point, one redline after the other. If you do that, you may end up agreeing to things you don't care much and end up with precious little leverage when a point you really care about shows up at the bottom of the list - since you've already agreed to the rest. By contrast, if you put everything on the table, including the little points you don't actually care much about, you're in a much stronger position to get your way on the points you really can about.

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