WASHINGTON — The United States is initiating a closed-door negotiation that could open up new areas to whale hunting for the first time in decades, part of an attempt to end a long-standing impasse over whaling limits with Japan, the world's most avid whaling nation


Often organizations and entities hold private talks. What are some of the political motivations for not holding a talk public? What can be gained by the various parties, and why is this often a thing? .


3 Answers 3


Closed door negotiations allow politicians to speak freely to each other without having to consider the inner-political consequences of every word they say. When negotiations are public, then there is always the risk that some journalist might take something a politician said in the heat of the moment out of context and publish it as their official position.

This can not just harm the politician, but also their constituents. For example, when a politician makes an empty threat "Do what we say or we might stop exporting widgets to you", then that could immediately ruin the whole domestic widget industry. The politicians making that threat might be bluffing, while the other side is too afraid they are not, so this scenario never happens and everyone at the negotiation table is aware of that. But when that statement went public before the negotiations were finished, the damage could already be done.

  • That is the default argumentation, yes. But the harm that the current system does is reason to reconsider it - maybe, we as society have to learn how to interpret the journalists and not act on every headline. In the Netherlands, there are no open debates in politics, those that are, are only for form and have no substance. Despite that the country is ruled and we have no idea about the exact reasons why things happen. It's really not democratic in this way. Also a recording could also made available to the public with a delay. I'd like to see all conversations with lobbyists for example.
    – Harmen
    May 28, 2021 at 17:59

Closed-door negotiations of international agreements are not unusual - for example trade treaties such as TPP were negotiated in secret.

The nominal reason given is that a better agreement could be negotiated, without the domestic public reaction to each round of proposal being known to the counterparties.

The less straightforward reason is that some groups with significant political power who didn't get a seat at the table, would then be able to obstruct the agreement to ensure their needs are met, whereas if they were presented with a fait-accompli at ratification, they'd accept it.

  • 1
    I understand that at the heat of an negotiation, it doesn't help that everything comes out for the public. But to be transparent as a government, it needs to be published so it can be checked and verified. So, a audio or video recording of the negotiation and publish that with a delay would satisfy both demands. There is no good way for the public or journalists to check politics at the moment and I feel it hurts societies. If it needs to be secret, my suspicion is that it isn't beneficial for the public.
    – Harmen
    May 28, 2021 at 18:02

Negotiation often involves compromise. "If we do this, would you then do that? No? Is our this just not enough or is it unacceptable to you? What else would you want?" In the end, when there is a compromise both sides can live with, they can tell their constituents that concessions were necessary to achieve their goals.

  • This often mixes quite different sectors, for instance the EU bans certain US chickens and the US taxes certain EU pickups. So talks about automobiles must also involve poultry.
  • One could say that one domestic constituency is played off against another. In the Chicken Tax example, auto workers won over farmers. If the negotiations were public, the farm lobby and the car lobby would disrupt the proceedings.
  • Keeping "If we do this, would you then do that?" behind closed doors could be even more crucial, because it might be just a probing. A politician might not even want to do it, but would like to know how important it is for the opposite side, and whether it would be enough for them or not. But a journalist reporting on it might declare that as an intention to actually do it.
    – vsz
    May 28, 2021 at 17:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .