Mediation continues to be one of the most important tools for preventing and resolving international crises and bringing violent conflicts to an end. Despite growing evidence that mediation is not only effective but that it is also one of the most cost-effective tools available, many would argue that it is not being used often enough and that when it is being used there are obstacles which can prevent it from being successful. Multiple failed mediation attempts in Syria, for example, painfully illustrate that mediation does not work each and every time it is used.
David Carment and Evan Hoffman are the editors of a new book entitled International Mediation in a Fragile World and we asked them a number of questions on the current state of global affairs and how mediation can be used to address some of the most serious issues we’re currently facing. They share their insights below.
Many of the conflicts the world currently faces are extraordinarily complex in the sense that they involve intense violence (often directed towards civilians), a mix of state and non-state actors that transcend geographic boundaries and appear to lack any common ground to base a negotiated settlement on. Is mediation useful in these types of cases?
Carment: It can be but it is not sufficiently resourced by countries who have a stake in making the world a more stable and predictable environment such as Canada. By several accounts the world has seen an uptick in conflict this past year. Not all of these conflicts are amenable to mediation to be sure. Those involving humanitarian crises are usually nested within a broader set of strategic objectives (for example stopping the diffusion of conflict or the collapse of regimes). So, at a minimum, their level of violence could be significantly reduced.
Hoffman: The complexity of today’s conflicts doesn’t make mediation irrelevant. To the contrary, in many of these situations the only viable solution will be found via dialogue. So, mediation should really become the “go-to” approach in most of these cases while other policy options are being considered.
How does mediation advance Canadian interests?
Carment: Canada has a vested interested in revitalising multilateral support for mediation and conflict prevention. The most recent World Bank report clearly shows that a little time invested in mitigating violence pays dividends financially down the road. Not only are there savings to be realised in terms of lives saved but in enhancing reputations as well. Prime Minister Trudeau and Foreign Minister Freeland need to start walking the walk in the most extreme cases of violent conflict. This includes Yemen, DRC and Libya. As authors in our volume show Finland, Sweden and Norway invest heavily in training their diplomatic corps so they can be effective mediators. These countries have also staked their reputations in building cultures of prevention within their foreign policy service, Canada lags behind in both instances.
Hoffman: Canadian interests are in some ways not unique to us. For example, we (like many other countries in the world) desire peace, stability, security and prosperity. We achieve these through pursuing various different foreign policy goals. This is where we differ from some other countries, perhaps, because Canadians tend to have a set of values that are more peace oriented. Mediation should become a major cornerstone of our foreign policy in that it would allow us to achieve a lot of our foreign policy goals and in a cost-effective way that also closely aligns with our values.
It isn’t realistic or feasible to have Canada always act as a lead mediator. What other roles can middle power countries such as Canada take to help support lead mediators?
Carment: There is an essential role for small and medium powers to play in mediation, as William Zartman shows in his chapter. There is also an important role for non-state actors as Robert Rotberg shows in his chapter. Canada can do more to strengthen civil society capacity for mediation. But it can also be a more active and direct player itself. Some of the best peace initiatives have been brokered by countries smaller than Canada. These were often possible because the mediator was perceived as impartial. Unfortunately, under the current and past Canadian governments our biases have begun to show through limiting, for example, a mediating role for Canada in Venezuela, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Ukraine. In other instances, North Korea, for example, while having a seat at the table might promote our international standing, the real effort will come from those who have leverage over the NK regime such as Russia, China, and the USA.
Hoffman: Agreed: there are numerous, important mediation support roles that Canada could take. A mediation process is inherently complex and because of that the lead mediator needs a range of support services in order to successfully fulfill their mediation duties. Perhaps the most obvious need is for money to support the process and Canada could consider launching a new funding program, for example, that would support lead mediators as unexpected needs arise. Additionally, this funding pool could also be used to support the efforts of local mediators as this is a promising, low risk method of stabilizing conflict situations.
What would be the next steps for Canada to make mediation a greater component of its foreign policy?
Carment: Readers would benefit from reviewing the advice of three Canadian diplomats who were interviewed for the volume because of their extensive mediation expertise. I always impress upon my students the need for strong analytic and diagnostic skills before initiating any mediation effort. The same is true for the current government which would benefit greatly from enhanced early warning capabilities matched to an extensive resource data base through which Canadians can be deployed as experts for the purposes of field monitoring and evaluation. Canada should also work to strengthen regional organisational capacities for mediation.
Hoffman: This could easily be achieved. First and foremost it is necessary to have a clear political commitment that we want to make mediation a priority. After that we would need to undertake an inventory of sorts to gain a better sense of our current capacities and Canadian expertise in mediation (which, by the way, is quite impressive). Then, by drawing upon those experts we could develop a new mediation policy to guide our efforts.
What can people expect from your new book on international mediation?
Carment: Timely and relevant evaluation of mediation effectiveness from experts and practitioners from around the world.
Hoffman: Anyone interested in the topic of international mediation will find something of value in the book. We’ve captured a lot of different views and knowledge in the book, including some really interesting interviews with 3 former ambassadors that had been involved in different mediation efforts.
More info on the book can be found online here https://www.amazon.ca/International-Mediation-Fragile-World-Carment/dp/1138297070
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