Wartime negotiations are clearly some of the most crucial conversations people can ever have, millions of lives depending on their outcome. This is probably why Hollywood movies often have them as pivotal plot scenes to get you riled up. In ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, an unsurprisingly tense exchange occurs between Balian, the leader of the Christian crusaders’ army, and Saladin, the Saracen king. They come together between their two exhausted forces after about three straight days of fighting and show some negotiating skill.
Balian threatens to destroy everything, the whole city and the Saracens, if Saladin keeps fighting: “…Every Christian knight you kill will take ten Saracens with him. You will destroy your army here and never raise another. I swear to God that to take this city will be the end of you.” Balian has power over what Saladin wants; Jerusalem and an intact army. He has created value in avoiding more bloodshed by showing that it would result in a Saracen downfall. Saladin’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) is a sacked city (although Jerusalem nonetheless) and military powerlessness.
Saladin replies that to be foolish enough to continue the battle would mean the deaths of every Christian man, woman and child in Jerusalem, “If my army will die, so will your city.” Balian’s BATNA is certain death for everyone he cares for, perhaps accompanied by posthumous Christian military glory. Both parties seem in a weak position to negotiate so far, as neither has a particularly better BATNA, so neither has the ‘source of bargaining power’ (Korobkin, 2003).
They have made clear that they know what the other will lose and so conclude that an agreement that avoids both outcomes would be most profitable. Balian doesn’t know how Saladin values the lives of the Christian people and disvalues his downfall, because he still wins Jerusalem. So he lets Saladin do the talking, to put the price of all of their lives plus the city on the table. He basically asks for an offer better than both of their armies getting destroyed, so the ball is pretty much in Saladin’s court. This was a good move, because he could've made a horrible 'anchor' offer that made Saladin rub his hands together with glee.
As Balian has already threatened to destroy the city, Saladin realises that the city of Jerusalem itself means much less to Balian. So he shrewdly finds what the Christian values most of all and offers it to him; he offers safe passage to Christian lands to every person in Jerusalem if Balian surrenders.
You do wonder why they didn’t just realise all of this and agree before having hundreds of their men killed. But perhaps the threats they make during their negotiations would have been far more damaging if made earlier on (Fisher, 1983) and really, the fighting was necessary to make them realise what they risked losing were it to continue.
So obviously (spoiler) Balian accepts and both armies awkwardly walk past each other, leaving with their lives. At first glance, it seems that Balian and his people have lost the most, but in comparison to his BATNA, their leader chose the best option and so negotiated well. Saladin, however, seems to have been a better negotiator. He knew what and how Balian valued and used this to his great advantage. He spared the lives of all his men as well as getting an undamaged (kind of) Jerusalem AND a cool closing scene. The end...
Fisher, R (1983). Negotiating power: getting and using influence. American Behavioural Scientist. 27(2), 149-166.
Korobkin, M (2003). Bargaining power as threat of impasse. UCLA School of Law, Law & Economics Research Paper. 04-6, 867-871.
By Alek Lagowski