As we approach a seemingly inevitable restart of the Six-Party talks, many different experts are sharing what they think might happen when representatives from the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and South Korea try to cajole North Korea from brinksmanship to the brink of nuclear disarmament. But I would venture to say that no one at the moment has a more pragmatic sense of this setting than Nicole Marae Finneman, Director of Research and Academic Affairs at the Washington, D.C. based Korea Economic Institute (KEI).
Over the past year and a half, through the prism of 730 individual participants and roughly 115 different locations ranging from Princeton to the United States Air Force Academy, Finneman (pictured below) has facilitated students through a carefully scored simulation of the Six-Party talks. Perhaps not surprisingly, she says the rarest outcome is one that is best for all participants, where each team winds up with a range of points between 70 to 90 rather than between 35 to 70, and with the North Korea players exchanging serious concessions on nuclear verification for aid.
“Watching those participants in the role of North Korea discover, then internalize and try to use the significant upper hand they have at the actual negotiating table is what fascinates me the most,” Finneman reveals via e-mail interview with @LiberateLaura. “Almost exactly half of the time, they [North Korea] walk away.”
“On the scoring system, status quo isn’t so awful for them, though they could definitely get a better outcome through negotiation.” (For example, a status quo gives North Korea 60 points and South Korea zero.)
Finneman says she has also noticed recurring negotiating traits based on the age of her participants. Older male players tend to interpret their roles more dominantly than their female counterparts, while at the younger college level the balance of power belongs more to the women, who usually take the lead in organizing the process.
Finneman does not allow participants to choose their country, randomly assigning the half-dozen geopolitical goodies. Regardless, the person(s) acting as North Korea almost always have an “Ah hah!” moment that connects them with what Kim Jong-il has known for years – namely, that they are in the driver’s seat.
A grant from the Korea Foundation funds Finneman’s busy travels, with trips to North Carolina, Hawaii, Minnesota and Michigan set for the near future. She is also sometimes joined by illustrious invited guests such as Dr. Han S. Park, the University of Georgia professor who played a prominent role in the back channel efforts to release journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. Finneman will in fact be catching up again with Park next month.
“Each representative of his or her country [at the fictional summit] is given a different point system that assigns value to the different challenges,” Finneman explains. ”So for example, on the nuclear front, verification levels are carte blanche, Full IAEA access, by invite only; in terms of abductees, there is full apology, allowing a commission to investigate further, acknowledgment. And so on.”
“Each possible outcome has an assigned value,” she continues. “The negotiator’s goal is to walk away with as many points as possible, and through negotiation may have to obviously loosen up on one issue to receive the points it desires on another… All told, though I’ve never done the math, I believe there are roughly 50 technically possible outcomes, though I’ve only seen about 12–15 happen.”
So there you have it, the concrete possibility of more than a dozen different outcomes when the real Six-Party talkers sit down together (before or alongside some related U.S.–North Korea bilateral sweetening). And no matter what happens, you can bet that Finneman – whose separate consulting firm also offers negotiating training and simulations – will have a better sense of how things are developing than many of the more widely quoted experts.