In the case of armed or diplomatic conflicts, mediation is of vital importance, as the Russian-Ukrainian conflict demonstrates. But what exactly is it and how can it help?
In two and a half months of war, there have already been several attempts at mediation in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict: the Turkey, Israel, as well as several Arab States et Europeanwithout forgetting the EU as such or even UN have sent representatives to Moscow, kyiv, or both capitals; recently the pape also offered to mediate.
Mediation is at the heart of diplomatic action. But what is it exactly?
La mediation is the intervention of a third party in the search for the settlement of a dispute. It is not content, in general, with initiating a dialogue between States (or between a State and an armed opposition movement): it also proposes solutions. Any mediation assumes that the parties concerned agree on the choice of the mediator and rely on a third party to play this role.
It is important to choose the moment of mediation carefully: if it occurs too early, it will be considered as a form of interference; if it intervenes too late, it will be of little help.
Mediation exposes the mediator. But who is he? He can be the representative of a power that is foreign to the issues at stake; it can come from an imperial power that wants to impose a form of moral pressure so that a solution emerges; or it can be a moral or scientific authority (the Holy See, an academy, etc.).
Mediators can be classified into two groups. The first group is made up of States, whether they act alone or collectively, in particular via the international organizations which are largely their offspring. The second is made up of private actors and NGOs.
Why does a state mediate?
La state mediation can be explained by three reasons, which are not mutually exclusive:
- The will to resolve the crises that threaten global stability. This is particularly the case of the numerous mediations attempted for decades in the conflicts of the Middle East.
- The prestige linked to mediation. A head of state can derive great personal satisfaction from offering mediation. Let us remember the prestige former President Clinton gained from his mediation in Northern Ireland.
- The concern to settle disputes “between oneself”: the mediating powers want in a way to rule out any offer of external mediation; this explains why the three mediators in the dispute over the Transnistria (a self-proclaimed republic located in eastern Moldova) were Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE, with the US and EU as observers. But would we still dare to speak of mediation for this neighboring territory of Ukraine when Moldova's security has become very fragile?
Some States have specialized in mediation. This is the case, in particular, of Austria and Switzerland. No doubt this is due to their neutral status, even though Austria is a member of the EU and is therefore bound by the solidarity clause of the Union Treaty. Switzerland has accompanied, in recent decades, more than thirty peace processes in more than twenty States. In particular, it has hosted mediations between Armenia and Turkey and between the Georgia and Russia.
Other states have also mediated. This is the case, for example, of Algeria during the hostage crisis from the United States Embassy in Tehran or from the Norway in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which leads to the mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO as well as the signing of Oslo accords in 1993. Norway withdrew one valuable experience, which she used, for example, in her mediation offer to settle the internal unrest in Guatemala (agreements in 1995), or for end the civil war in Sri Lanka
The role of the UN Secretary General
An example worth mentioning is that of the intervention of Secretary General Perez de Cuellar in the case of the Rainbow Warrior (1985). We remember that this boat belonging to the ecological organization Greenpeace, which was preparing to carry out an action directed against French nuclear tests in the Pacific, had been sunk by agents of the French secret services in the port of Auckland, in New -Zealand. The dispute between France and New Zealand was settled thanks to the mediation of the UN Secretary General who worked out a solution providing for the transfer and detention of the two secret agents on a French military base in the Pacific.
The second group of mediators is that made up of private individuals or NGOs, within the framework of what is known in English as the “Track II Diplomacy”. There is a heterogeneous group of individuals motivated by political interests, prestige or even a certain form of altruism.
We can just as easily cite the wealthy businessman Armand Hammer that the community of Sant'Egidio, nicely described by Dominique de Villepin as "true UN of Trastevere", who worked for peace in Mozambique as well as in Niger and Guinea-Conakry. We could also quote former President Jimmy Carter, who spent a lot to offer its mediation in conflicts in Africa.
While mediation has long been the work of a single state, today it is often carried out by a group of states, whether the Quartet (EU, US, Russia, UN) for the Middle East or by a group of international organizations such as the International Contact Group on Libya which brings together the United Nations and the African Union.
The ideal mediation depends on the conflicts
What are the qualities of the ideal mediator? Several scenarios must be distinguished:
- Mediation by the Holy See, well suited to disputes between two traditionally Christian states (for example in 1984 between Argentina and Chile over the Beagle Channel or between Cuba and the United States).
- The mediation offered by small states, because the latter obviously do not compete with the great powers and following a mediation proposal from a small country can be seen as a way of enhancing the prestige of the great power. Let us think, for example, of the mediation, already mentioned, of Algeria in the hostage crisis at the United States embassy in Tehran.
- A successful form of mediation is that of the UN in cases of complex disputes which are not issues for the great powers (for example, in East Timor).
- Finally, mediations conducted by private individuals or organizations are particularly suited to situations where one of the parties in conflict fears that mediation by a third State will give too much influence to its rival. Also Jimmy Carter could intervene successfully in the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the late 1980s. Although the talks did not immediately lead to peace, there was a ceasefire that lasted more than a year. This mediation led to the organization of a referendum under the aegis of the UN and to theindependence of Eritrea in 1993.
The qualities for a successful mediation
A certain number of qualities are expected from the mediator.
First, he must be impartial and express no preference, even if he does not feel the same affection for each of the parties in conflict. Impartiality is the sine qua non for enjoying the trust of the parties. This is all the more important since he must be able to offer a compromise that is of equal benefit to the States involved.
Second, the mediator must be able to exert influence. This may have its origin in the successes already achieved by the mediator in the past and the fact that there is no viable alternative at a given time; this is what undoubtedly led to Algeria being chosen as a mediator during the American hostage crisis in Tehran in 1980. The influence can come from the spiritual radiance of the mediator, as in the case of the Holy See. But it is truly effective when it is based on the ability to offer tangible compensation or sanctions, including the reduction of economic and military aid, as was the case in the Camp David negotiations in 1978. Both Israel and Egypt received financial compensation from the United States in exchange for their flexibility. In addition, the influence of the mediator can be multiplied if a series of other international actors (States, international organizations) support this mediation.
There is another condition for successful mediation: being able to carry it out over a relatively long period of time. Prolonged involvement allows familiarization with the dispute, and avoids false expectations. From this point of view, international organizations have the advantage of being able to work on the long term, their mediation not being subject to electoral cycles (which affect the work of governments).
The example of mediation between North and South Sudan
The American political scientist Zartman formulated on this subject the theory of the "damaging impasse for all" (“mutually hurting stalemate”). If the two conflicting parties are at an impasse, this is the “right time” to mediate.
By way of illustration, we can cite the conflict between North and South Sudan in the early 2000s. The American mediator (Colin Powell) was able to convince the parties in conflict that they could not win. The United States thus pushed the mediation process forward by holding out to the government in Khartoum the possibility of lifting the American economic sanctions.
The Sudanese leaders then decided to embark on the path of a peace agreement negotiated with the South. American leverage combined diplomatic-economic incentives with the threat to intensify the sanctions regime if Khartoum refused to negotiate a compromise. Or conversely, the promise to lift sanctions if the Sudanese government showed flexibility and entered into a real peace negotiation.
Forms of mediation
In this regard, it should be noted that mediation is often also a matter of incentives used by the mediator. These can be economic. Also during so-called negotiations of Lancaster House on Zimbabwe's independence in 1979, the United Kingdom and the United States used financial incentives (promises of economic support to the new state and the lifting of UN sanctions) to convince the white minority (who received land guarantees) and the delegation led by Mugabe to reach an agreement. The lifting of sanctions in the case of the negotiations on Iran's nuclear capability follow the same logic.
Mediation often requires diplomatic forcing. This is to exert maximum pressure on the parties. In Dayton, in 1995, the Americans had locked up the actors in the Bosnian conflict until a hard-fought agreement was obtained.
Finally, remember that mediation is a one-time process. It is not meant to last. It does not replace measures to restore peace and rebuild the normative framework.