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Inaction Inertia in International Negotiations: The Consequences of Missed Opportunities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 July 2014


In international disputes, forgone settlement offers are frequently lamented, but their impact on the dynamics of ongoing negotiations is largely overlooked. In the psychological literature, however, the consequences of missing an advantageous action opportunity have been studied extensively in the context of the inaction inertia phenomenon. According to this literature, forgoing attractive action opportunities renders decision makers susceptible to regret and increases the likelihood that subsequent opportunities will also be missed. This article explores the explanatory potential of the inaction inertia effect in the context of international negotiations. Findings based on laboratory experiments and analysis of the negotiations between Israel and Hamas over the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit strongly suggest that the concept of inaction inertia can enrich the understanding of failures and deadlocks in international negotiations. The article defines the conditions that are instrumental in identifying inertia-induced deadlocks and discusses factors that encourage the termination of inaction inertia and promote dispute settlement.

© Cambridge University Press 2014 

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Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy; Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, School of Psychology (emails:; Data replication sets and online appendices are available at 10.1017/S0007123414000118. We wish to thank the editor and reviewers for their encouraging and helpful comments. We are also grateful to Moty Cristal for his useful remarks in the initial stages of the project. An earlier version of this article was presented at the ISA ISSS-ISAC Joint Annual Conference, 4–6 October 2013, George Washington University, Washington D.C.


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