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Analysis of Instruments for Conflict Resolution


©2009 Essay 12 Seiten


In mediation the warring parties search for an acceptable solution under the aegis of a third party who is not party to the conflict and who enjoys the trust of the belligerents. As such he/she is a full partner in the negotiations, which means drawing up the agenda, organising and chairing meetings, proposing solutions and – where the mediator represents a powerful state – employing rewards or sanctions towards
the rivals. The success rate of mediation as a means for conflict resolution is mixed, which is why this topic deserves closer attention. This assignment discusses the effects of ripeness, (im)partiality, non state versus state, multiparty, facilitative and coercive mediation.





In mediation the warring parties search for an acceptable solution under the aegis of a third party (Jeong 2000: 181), who is not party to the conflict and who enjoys the trust of the belligerents (Nathan 1999: 2). As such he/she is a full partner in the negotiations, which means drawing up the agenda, organising and chairing meetings, proposing solutions and – where the mediator represents a powerful state – employing rewards or sanctions towards the rivals (Berridge 2005: 195). The success rate of mediation as a means for conflict resolution is mixed, which is why this topic deserves closer attention.

This assignment is structured as follows. The first section will explain the conflict situations in which mediation is viable. The second part addresses the conditions under which mediation can have positive and/or negative implications for the conflict resolution process. This part discusses ripeness, neutrality of mediators, crisis actor power and multiparty mediation. The final section considers how mediation can work in combination with particular non-coercive and coercive measures1. The paper concludes with an overview of the findings and some suggestions for further research.


There are several kinds of conflict situations which can be addressed through the auspices of a third party.

In general, mediation is an instrument for resolving conflict at the communal and international level. It is especially useful in extremely bitter disputes, particularly those that have lasted for a very long time ‘and are locked into public postures that appear to make compromise impossible without seriously jeopardising the domestic positions of their leaders’ (Berridge 2005: 194). Furthermore mediation can work in situations where the belligerents profoundly distrust each other, where cultural cleavages present additional barriers to communication (Cohen 1997; cited by Berridge 2005: 194) and where at least one of the parties refuses to recognise the other (Berridge 2005: 194). In the latter case, where one party believes that official (track one) intervention would give too much legitimacy to its rival, mediation is often carried out by a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) (Berridge 2005: 203).

There is no agreement what regards the intensity of conflict and mediation success. Some studies suggest that mediation is more successful in cases of low (Carneval and Pegnetter 1985; Bercovitch 1986) to moderate conflict (Glasl 1982) - findings that question the potential value of crisis mediation. Yet Zartman and Touval (1996) argue that mediation bears more fruit in conflicts that have escalated to a high level of intensity (all cited by Wilkenfeld et al. 2005: 7). Svensson (2009) argues that mediation is more often used in situations where no perceived alternatives exist or where other instruments for conflict resolution are regarded as too costly.

Despite these difficult circumstances, mediation is associated with moderate to good conflict resolution success. Walter suggests that ‘governments and rebels are 39% more likely to bargain successfully with the help of a mediator than on their own’ (Walter 2002: 82). Similarly, Beardsley found that while ‘14% of the unmediated crisis dyads experienced a formal agreement, 45% of the mediated ones did’ (Beardsley 2008: 733). Wilkenfeld et al. also come to the conclusion that ‘mediated crises are far more likely to terminate in agreement than are unmediated crises, 66% versus 26%’ and that mediation is positively correlated with a reduction in tensions (Wilkenfeld et al. 2005: 55-56). Thus mediation plays a significant role in helping the disputants reach a settlement.

The next two sections address particular conditions under which mediation can foster or falter the conflict resolution process.


1. Ripeness

First of all, for mediation to be a success the belligerents arguably have to have reached a stalemate (Berridge 2005; Zartman 1995; Zartman 2001; Haas 1988; Mason and Fett 1996; Jeong 2000; Sisk 2009), also referred to as Mutually Hurting Stalemate (MHS) or ripe moment.

If conflict resolution is regarded as a phased process, a MHS occurs in the war and dialogue phases. Ripeness is attained when the parties seek a way out as a consequence of being locked into a conflict from which they cannot escalate to victory and when this deadlock is painful to both of them (Zartman 2001: 8). In the words of Kissinger, ‘stalemate is the most propitious condition for settlement’ (1974; cited by Zartman 2001: 8). Therefore, ‘ripeness […] must be seized, either directly by the parties or, if not, through the persuasion of a mediator’ (Zartman 2001: 9; Zartman 1995: 21). What is more, ripeness is a condition that must be sustained even after a peace agreement has been reached, to prevent a re-escalation into violence (Hampson 1996; cited by Sisk 2009: 195). A mediator can engineer a MHS by stressing the absence of real alternatives and the high cost of the current conflict course (Zartman 2001: 9). This was, for example, Kissinger’s strategy in the 1982 Arab-Israeli conflict (Touval 1982; cited by Berridge 2005: 211).

Nevertheless, ‘correct timing is a matter of feel and instinct’ (Crocker 1992; cited by Zartman 2001: 11) and not all stalemates are thus identified and turned into negotiations (Zartman 2001: 9). This can have extremely negative effects on the conflict resolution process.

Failure to seize the moment often hastens its passing, as parties lose faith in the possibility of a negotiated Way Out or regain hope in the possibility of unilateral escalation. Worse yet, when a moment of joint perception of a hurting stalemate passes without producing any results, parties frequently fall back on their previous perceptions that the other side will never be ready and the only course left is to hope and fight for a total realization of one’s goals, no matter how long it takes (Zartman 2001: 13).

While ripeness thus can be the start of a conflict resolution process, it can never in itself lead to a peace agreement (Ohlson 2009). However, through stressing the absence of alternatives and the cost of conflict, a mediator can use a MHS to change the belligerents’ Resolve.

2. Neutrality versus partiality

There is a heated debate among peace researchers about whether neutrality is important for mediation to be successful.

On the one hand, proponents of social psychology posit that impartiality enables the mediator to be trusted by the belligerents. Thus partisanship would only reduce a mediator’s acceptability and effectiveness (Nathan 1999). Furthermore, the disfavoured party would regard a biased peacemaker with suspicion and hostility and thereby make the dispute more intractable (Smith 1985; cited by Nathan 1999). ‘This logic applies equally to international mediators, particularly in civil wars where the stakes are especially high and feelings of hatred and mistrust are intense’ (Nathan 1999). This was the case in Somalia, where the UN seriously compromised its neutral standing and mediation efforts following the UN bombing of a faction leader responsible for the death of several peacekeepers (Nathan 1999). Neutral mediators, however, have been credited with much conflict resolution success. The civil war in Mozambique, among others, was ended through the impartial intervention of the Catholic lay community Sant’ Egidio. ‘Our strength was exactly not having to defend any vested interest in the country but the one of a solid peace’ (Romano 1998; cited by Nathan 1999). Yet impartiality is perhaps more effective for a weak mediator (Princen 1992; cited by Kydd 2003: 598-599).

On the other hand, those in favour of bias argue that mediators are rarely indifferent to the terms under dispute and that biased mediation is the key to success. ‘Even when they seek peace in the abstract, they try to avoid terms not in accord with their own interests’ (Touval and Zartman 1989; cited by Kydd 2003: 598).

Partial mediation as an instrument for conflict resolution can accordingly be successful in a situation where the parties have incomplete information about the other’s resolve or other factors (Kydd 2003: 597). The one party may have high resolve and is prepared to fight. Here a mediator who is biased in favour of the other party will be more credible. The mediator can persuade this party to make concessions and thereby prevent the conflict from erupting. This is what happened in 1999 when the Russian mediator told Milosevic that a ground offensive by NATO was imminent (Kydd 2003: 597). In this situation a British or US mediator would not have been believed by the Serb leader to be telling the truth.

Another reason why a biased intermediary can be effective is because he/she will be attractive to the party without such close ties. This party will try to lure the mediator away from its traditional relationship to its rival. According to Touval, [t]his may strengthen the hand of such a mediator, once the mediation has started, by enabling it to play on the fears of desertion of the one and the hopes of consolidating a new friendship of the other (Touval 1982; cited by Berridge 2005: 204).

As with ripe moments, the mediator may take advantage of partiality during the conflict and dialogue phase. In fact, biased third-party interventions are associated with shorter conflict duration than neutral ones (Regan 2002; cited by Kydd 2003: 607). The problem is, however, that one party may try to bluff to the mediator (Kydd 2003: 599) or have devious objectives (Richmond 1998). The challenge is to find a mediator ‘who has enough exposure to the other side to acquire new information, yet not so much as to come to share their preferences, and hence lose his/her usefulness’ (Kydd 2003: 607). Nevertheless, biased mediation may be more appropriate in an international conflict setting (Smith 1985; cited by Nathan 1999: 3).


1 This typology was drawn by Rothschild (1997) and is used by Sisk 2009


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
421 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Uppsala Universitet – Department for Peace and Conflict Research
2010 (Dezember)
ripeness neutrality partiality multiparty mediation facilitative strategies coercive strategies smart sanctions power in conflict mediation

Titel: Analysis of Instruments for Conflict Resolution