Back-Channel Negotiation: International Bargaining in the Shadows
Back-channel negotiations (BCNs) are officially sanctioned negotiations conducted in secret between the parties to a dispute. These extraordinary negotiations operate in parallel with, or replace, acknowledged front channels of negotiation. Back channels are like the black markets of negotiation; they are separate tables where bargaining takes place in the shadows. When front-channel negotiations fail, they are sometimes eclipsed by successful BCNs even though the same principals, conflicts, and sociopolitical contexts are involved. This article asks: Why do decision makers deploy back channels? What is the impact of BCN on international peace processes? The Palestinian–Israeli peace process, in which both back and front channels have been used consistently, provides the basis for comparing channels and offering initial answers to these questions. The author concludes that while BCN can facilitate breakthrough agreements, it can also damage a peace process by helping to reinforce some of the uncertainties that gave rise to the use of back channels in the first place.