Leveraging Ambiguity in Foreign Relations

Protective ambiguity: Mikhail Gorbachev, George H.W. Bush and Helmut Kohl gather in 2005; Russian President Vladimir Putin demonstrates new weapons to Russian parliament

Uncertainty in global economic or security affairs is often associated with risk. “And yet, ambiguity can be ‘constructive,’ bringing clear benefits in the field of negotiation and conflict resolution,” observes Mikhail Troitskiy, a political analyst in Moscow. “Ambiguity can be a force for common good if practiced consensually, that is, if all sides in a negotiation agree to a moderately ambiguous deal in order to end the talks on a positive note and avoid escalation of their conflict.” All sides must assess their positions, whether they are prepared for a range of unpredictable events that could unfold, while determining just how much ambiguity can be tolerated by future leaders or constituents. Such agreements that de-escalate conflicts allow parties to conserve resources and status. In US-Russian relations, three examples of agreements featuring ambiguity include German reunification, the New START Treaty and the Minsk agreement on eastern Ukraine. Flexibility increases prospects for resolution. – YaleGlobal