Background

Mediation is effective: since the end of the Cold War, mediation has been used in about 50% of all international crises.1 The probability of reaching an agreement is five times greater when using mediation than not using mediation. The probability of a long-term reduction of tension is also 2.4 times greater for mediated conflicts than non-mediated conflicts.2

What is “mediation”, and what are relevant phases, topics and actors of today’s peace processes? How far can mediation be grasped by theory, how much is it more a question of experience or even art?

What is Mediation?

We understand ‘mediation and facilitation’ as a way of assisting negotiations between conflict parties and transforming conflicts with the support of an acceptable third party. Negotiations are understood as a process of joint decision making. The mediator usually has either an informal or formal mandate from the parties to a conflict. Three broad types of mediation can be distinguished:

Facilitative mediation or ‘facilitation’: The mediator facilitates communication between the parties in order to enhance mutual understanding and to prepare decisions or joint action. Mediators may also organize and host talks. Facilitative mediation is less concerned with the actual content of peace negotiations.

Formulative mediation: The mediator structures the process and facilitates dialogue, but also makes substantive suggestions or proposals, based on what has been said. Such proposals should reflect the common ground between the conflict parties, and space should always be left for adaptation by the parties.

Manipulative mediation: Here the mediator directly influences the negotiation process, content and even the outcome. ‘Sticks and carrots’ may be used to induce parties to pursue a particular strategy or result.

Phases of a Peace Process
Generally, a peace process can be divided into three phases. In the pre-negotiation phase a third party will try to build up trust to each of the conflict parties, trying to understand their positions, interests, perceptions and value systems. The mediator may also discuss the framework of potential talks (e.g. the venue, issues, timing, par­ti­cipation, overall aim etc.). In the negotiation phase the parties are actually sitting at the table, talking with each other, working through the issues and then (possibly) signing an agreement. In the implementation phase the agreement is put into practice. Each phase may take many months, years or even decades.

Topics of a Peace Process
The use of mediation and facilitation in a peace processes requires the consideration of a range of relevant topics. Such topics include:

Security: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), Security Sector Reform (SSR).

Wealth-Sharing and Economy: wealth sharing arrangements, reconstruction, business and peace, sustainable development.

Dealing with the Past: transitional justice mechanisms, human rights issues, international justice.

State-Building and Power-Sharing: elections, new constitutional arrangements (for instance federal systems) and institution building.

Civil Society, Social and Cultural Clauses: public participation, religion and politics; resettlement of IDPs and refugees.

Actors in a Peace Process
The complexity of today’s peace processes calls for a careful consideration of the numerous conflict actors and their interaction with each other (multi-track approach), as well as of the multitude of mediators that are trying to assist the process (multi-mediator approach).

The multi-track approach: Track 1 refers to processes in which top leaderships of the conflict parties are engaged with each other, i.e. representatives of the government and the leadership of armed non-state actors. In track 1.5 processes, the top leadership of one or both conflict parties are engaged in the peace process, but in an informal setting and/or in their personal capacity. In track 2 activities, elites and decision-makers (e.g. civil society re­pre­sen­tatives, religious leaders, business leaders etc.) are involved, but not the top leadership of the conflict parties. In track 3 activities, grassroots actors are involved. In multi-track activities, multiple actors from at least two tracks participate in peacemaking activities.

The multi-mediator approach: One can distinguish the following third parties:

Intergovernmental organizations (e.g. the UN).

Regional organizations (e.g. the African Union).

States, sub­divided into large powers such as China and the US, neighbouring states to a conflict such as South Africa, India, and small states such as Norway and Switzerland.

NGOs, subdivided into local NGOs (e.g. Serapaz, Accord) and international NGOs (e.g. St. Egidio, Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, Crisis Management Initiative, Carter Center).

Eminent persons or religious leaders, e.g. Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Martti Ahtisaari, or Desmond Tutu. Recently, scholars have pointed at the relevance of business actors in mediation processes.

The Mess and ‘Art’ of Mediation:
Although mediation can be analyzed in a systematic manner, the practice of mediation is more complicated and messy than any theory so far presented. There is no universally valid blueprint for mediation. There are no easy or predetermined solutions in peace negotiations. As symbolized by the Fischli & Weiss images that illustrate this website, mediation is a carefully balanced and fragile ‘piece of art’ and the challenge is to build and maintain this balance with skill and determination.


1) International crisis is “. a change in type and/or an increase in intensity of disruptive (i.e. hostile verbal or physical) interactions between two or more states, with a heightened probability of military hostilities that, in turn, destabilize their relationship and challenges the structure of an international system – global, dominant, or subsystem.” Brecher, Michael/Wilkenfeld, Jonathan. A Study of crisis. 2nd ed. (with CD Rom). Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 2000. Zitiert in: Beardsley, Kyle C./Quinn, David M./Biswas, Bidisha/Wilkenfeld, Jonathan. Mediation Style and Crisis Outcomes. In: Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50(2006), Nr. 1, S. 58-86.2) Beardsley, Kyle C./Quinn, David M./Biswas, Bidisha/Wilkenfeld, Jonathan. Mediation Style and Crisis Outcomes. In: Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50(2006), Nr. 1, S. 58-86

Further reading Resources