How Mediation Works in International Conflicts

As is the case with every relationship, governments sometimes conflict. When this happens, they may require the help of a third-party mediator to steer the conflict toward a peaceful resolution. Governments and political groups the world over are becoming more accepting of mediation, due to its capability of providing greater benefits than going to war. Learn more with the below infographic.

infographic - how mediation works in international conflicts

Text: How Mediation Works in International Conflicts

What is Mediation?

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) defines mediation as “a mode of negotiation in which a mutually acceptable third party helps the parties to a conflict find a solution that they cannot find by themselves.”

Mediation is sometimes referred to as assisted negotiation. It does not involve a judge or require testimony, and it is not limited by rules of evidence. Instead, mediation is informal, flexible and private.

Three Phases of Mediation

Mediation consists of these three distinct phases, including an introduction, problem-solving and closure phase.

The mediator sets ground rules while suggesting a schedule. The mediator also oversees meetings, giving each side the opportunity to state their perspectives and their preferred solutions to the conflict.

The parties discuss relevant issues, their interests and possible solutions. Each party is able to speak with the mediator in private to discuss its position.

Both parties state their terms for resolving the conflict before drafting a document detailing the terms of their commitments.

Advantages and Benefits of Mediation

The mediator is able to guide the process, thanks to receiving confidential information from each party. This helps the mediator oversee a resolution that benefits everyone involved.

Relationships between parties stay intact. The parties are able to communicate directly and actively participate throughout the process, leading to creative and mutually beneficial solutions.

Effective Mediation Strategies

Adopting one or more of the following strategies can help mediators when they’re acting as intermediaries.

Procedural Strategies

According to the Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base Project, the mediator controls the agenda, timing, media publicity, release of information, meeting place and arrangements, and the amount of formality and flexibility at the meetings. This strategy is capable of reducing stress and disruption between parties with no history of peacemaking.

Procedural Strategy in Practice

From 2002 to 2004, the Organization of American States, the United Nations Development Program and Jimmy Carter opened a dialogue between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias, the government and the opposition. According to USIP, the mediation’s purpose was to reconcile a deeply divided society and preserve democratic processes while preventing violent conflict.

Communication-Facilitation Strategies

This strategy involves the mediator taking a more passive role while focusing on facilitating cooperation and communication between parties.

Communication-Facilitation Strategy in Practice

After the Kenyan post-election riots of 2007–2008, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) reported that “a truth commission was established to examine not only the immediate violence but its root causes as well.” According to USIP and ICTJ, the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission consisted of four Kenyans and three foreigners.

Directive Strategies

With this strategy, the mediator attempts to influence the discussion and the solution either by threatening parties with diplomatic sanctions or by providing support or incentives, possibly in the form of humanitarian aid.

Directive Strategy in Practice

Representatives from the European Union (EU), Japan, Norway and the United States attended the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka in June 2003. The purpose of this conference was to show support for the reconstruction and development of Sri Lanka by offering $4.5 billion USD in financial support.

Other Strategies and Methods

Preventive diplomacy is another strategy that can be useful for resolving conflicts. The United Nations’ (UN) 1992 Agenda for Peace defined preventive diplomacy as “action to prevent disputes from arising between parties, to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur.”

Apolitical organizations are nonprofit and private voluntary organizations that help resolve international conflicts by mediating informally. One example of an apolitical organization is the International Crisis Group, which is dedicated to analyzing, researching and advocating for the sake of resolving conflicts.

Mediation in History

Throughout history, international relations between numerous countries have been salvaged through the mediation of a third party. Britain, Nigeria and Peru have each benefited from mediation.

A Historic Example of Mediation

During the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), Quakers Adam Curle, John Volkmar and Walter Martin mediated between leaders by working as messengers to alleviate tensions between the parties. This helped cultivate a feeling of resolution at the end of the war.

Charting the Course of Mediation

Methods of digital communication are rapidly developing, pushing governments to use the latest technologies to improve their conflict prevention tactics.

The Omnipresence of Media

Before the internet, mobile phones and other means of digital communication were invented, mediation sessions were protected from instant media coverage. Instead, negotiating parties often agreed to keep discussions private.

Recently, opposing parties and the general public have been able to use social media to discuss developments as they happen.

However, hosting press conferences can encourage a more cautious media involvement during mediation by ensuring greater control over what information is given to the public.

Digital Mapping

A large volume of historical data can be effectively organized by an interactive digital map, which could be made available to both politicians and the public. Digital mapping can increase impact, encouraging respective governments to decide on a resolution.

Governments are engaging more and more in preventive diplomacy, mainly due to increased reporting on social media and other digital platforms. Maintaining a firm grasp on modern mediation techniques and the latest technologies is crucial for government officials.

Learn More

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