Transforming Power Relationships: Leadership, Risk, and Hope

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Political Theory


Chronic communal conflicts often embody prisoner's dilemmas. Both communities prefer peace to war. Yet neither trusts the other, viewing the other's gain as its loss, so potentially shared interests often go unrealized. Achieving positive-sum outcomes from apparently zero-sum struggles requires a particular kind of risk-embracing leadership. To succeed leaders must (a) see power relations as potentially positive-sum, (b) strengthen negotiating adversaries when tempted to weaken them, and (c) demonstrate hope for a positive future and take great personal risks to achieve it. Such leadership is exemplified by Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk in the South African democratic transition. To illuminate the strategic dilemmas Mandela and de Klerk faced, we examine the work of Robert Axelrod, Thomas Schelling, and Josep Colomer, who highlight important dimensions of the problem but underplay the role of risk-embracing leadership. Finally we discuss leadership successes and failures in the Northern Ireland settlement and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.