Jovan Kurbalija   29 Jun 2002   Diplo Blog

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Ambiguous formulations are used in diplomacy to allow for a degree of consensus when parties to a negotiation cannot come to an agreement. Drazen Pehar explains

If two parties have strong and contradictory interests, and if it seems that neither side is ready to concede a part of its maximum demand, and/or if the negotiations are running short of time and the parties can not discuss such concessions in more detail, then the issue of conflicting interests can be resolved by, so to speak, simulating a compromise in a very rudimentary form. The mediators may come up with a formula which is open to at least two different interpretations; which can carry at least two meanings, A and B, one to gratify the interests of party A and another to gratify the interests of party B…ambiguities make sure that, on the one hand, the parties retain their own individual perceptions as to “how things should proceed” and that, on the other, one common language is adopted, which both parties may later equally use. ("Use of Ambiguities in Peace Agreements," Language and Diplomacy, Malta: DiploFoundation, 2001) 

Norman Scott, in his paper on ambiguity in conference diplomacy, points out that while a party may push for precise language to “serve the purposes of his own side in stipulating claims or limits to commitments” it may seek ambiguity “to allay anxieties on either side or to secure a margin for subsequent interpretation.”

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