Tuesday, May 26, 2015Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Tommy Koh, For The Straits Times

Confessions of a lucky negotiator

Success in negotiations between states involves the use of many skills, including an ability to develop genuine friendships with foreign diplomats. But as one veteran negotiator points out, a good deal of luck is also involved.

Published on May 7, 2014 12:37 PM
Professor Tommy Koh, rector of Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore. -- ST FILE PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW

In June last year, I received a letter from the president of Harvard University, Professor Drew Gilpin Faust. She informed me that, on behalf of the Programme on Negotiation (Law School) and the Future of Diplomacy Project (Kennedy School), Harvard would like to invite me to visit the university in April this year, to receive the Great Negotiator Award.

Receiving an award from Harvard is hard work. At Harvard, I had to meet Professor Robert Bordone and his class at the Law School, Professor Jim Sebenius and his class at the Business School, and Professor Nick Burns and his class at the Kennedy School. I was also invited to speak at the Belfer Centre of the Kennedy School at lunch on Asean and the great powers.

On the fourth day, I was questioned for three hours at a public hearing by Prof Sebenius, Prof Burns and Ms Susan Hackley, managing director of the Programme on Negotiation, as well as by professors and students from Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brandeis and the Fletcher School for Law and Diplomacy.

The following were some of the most frequently asked questions:

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Background story

I had to play many roles: as the manager of a complex negotiating process, as the coordinator of many parallel negotiations, as the chief problem solver, as the choreographer of a complex dance, as a conductor of an orchestra, and, most of all, as the unifying and optimistic leader of an enterprise.