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  1. #1
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    Default Conflict Resolution

    A pair of articles from The Economist, 3 Jul 08:

    The discreet charms of the international go-between
    .....The Kenyan talks provide a good example of the sort of skills that a new kind of international mediator can bring to the age-old work of conflict resolution. For as the nature of the world’s conflicts has changed in the past decade or so, so the demand for a new type of mediator has grown too.

    The CHD, for instance, founded by just four people only nine years ago, now has a staff of over 70. The UN has traditionally provided a forum for the discussion and resolution of international disputes. However as Kreddha, a Dutch-based mediation group, argues: “There are no equivalent mechanisms for intrastate dispute resolution...despite the fact that most violent conflicts today are not international but intrastate in character.” The new mediators provide the new mechanisms.

    Many of these contemporary conflicts involve insurgents, secessionists or even “resource-warriors”, like those in the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria, who clash with governments. Rival politicians can be brought into open conflict by elections, such as in Kenya, or now Zimbabwe.

    The new kinds of disputes involve non-traditional parties such as international mining or oil companies pitched against indigenous people, as well as national governments tackling more established terrorist groups. One study has shown that over the past 15 years military victories have resolved only 7.5% of conflicts, while negotiations have prevailed in 92% of cases; “the challenge is thus not being a skilful warrior but a skilful negotiator.”......
    Mediation and Faith: Not a Sword, But Peace
    ....Helping warring parties (who may or may not profess a religion) to come together is not quite the same as inter-faith dialogue, though the two things can overlap. Faith-based mediation often involves putting to work in hard secular places the virtues that at least some religious people possess (discretion, modesty, empathy, a non-judgmental cast of mind, an ability to overcome cultural barriers).

    Since the early 1990s, Sant’Egidio mediators have helped broker deals in places like Mozambique, Guatemala, Kosovo and, most recently, Côte d’Ivoire. Africa and Latin America are the main fields that Christian peacemakers plough. What many world leaders want to know is whether such groups bring anything unique to the business of reconciliation.....

    .....The Netherlands Institute of International Relations found 27 Christian, Muslim and multi-faith peace groups to look at for a study issued in 2005. Their strengths, it reported, included “long-term commitment, long-term presence on the ground, moral and spiritual authority, and a niche to mobilise others for peace”. But there were weaknesses, such as “a lack of focus on results and a possible lack of professionalism”. A further risk, the institute said, was that the impulse to proselytise would obstruct the search for peace.

    Peacemaking by Christian evangelicals in south Sudan seems to have been mired at times by an unhappy mix of missionary work and mediation. That is a qualification to the view, set out in a 2001 report from the Congressionally-funded United States Institute of Peace, that “faith-based organisations have a special role to play in zones of religious conflict.” In the Middle East, any progress has stemmed from secular initiatives. But that, says Sharon Rosen, could be a reason why progress is so scant.....

  2. #2
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    Non-state third-party mediators, third-party assisted back-channels, and so-called second track diplomacy can perform a very valuable role in supporting conflict resolution efforts.

    Having done quite a bit of the latter, however, there are potential drawbacks too that practitioners need to be aware of.

    One is the problem of a multiplicity of unofficial channels, credible commitment, and poor signal-to-noise ratios: it is not always clear who is speaking for whom, and how much backing political ideas actually do or do not have. Moreover, they can at times undercut each other, or undercut more official "real" negotiations.

    (The Annan mission didn't have this problem in Kenya, of course, both because of his profile and becuase everyone knew that was the main game in town.)

    The second is the danger that international community will support NGO and second track efforts simply because they can't think of anything better to do—and in the process abandon them with equal ease, or use them as an excuse not to undertake the difficult diplomatic heavy lifting themselves.

    On a side note, I few weeks ago I ran an Arab-Israeli negotiations simulation with Chatham House in the UK. Most of the participants were current or former officials/negotiators, with a healthy sprinkling of subject matter academic experts. Half way through we had to suspend one subset of the simulation—the simulated negotiations had become real that one of the teams wanted to call back to their capital for instructions.

    Here is an unpublished post-mortem of one of the projects I was involved with here, on the Palestinian refugee issue.

  3. #3
    Council Member J Wolfsberger's Avatar
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    Default Only if ...

    .. both sides are interested in a peaceful resolution, and there is a potential for a mutually acceptable long term outcome. If one side is committed to, say, the death of every member of the other side, they will only participate in the conflict resolution processes as a useful charade to keep outsiders out.

    I believe conflict resolution can have a useful role in many disputes. But it seems that many people have expectations it cannot possibly fulfill. I can't conceive of conflict resolution processes serving any useful purpose in situations such as Zimbabwe, Darfur or Rwanda.

    The trick is to know when it is and isn't appropriate.
    John Wolfsberger, Jr.

    An unruffled person with some useful skills.

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