Entry points in international mediation – Ripeness in Syria?

The professional mediation community tries to make sensitive assessments about when and how and even if to intervene in a conflict situation. Albeit some argue that any intervention should be done with a mandate and keeping the Do No Harm principles in mind, others argue that interventions need to take place for the sake to uphold human rights in conflict environments.

In Syria, we have seen a range of attempts to intervene in a deadly civil war. Two UN Special Envoys later (Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi) who were struggling to find the right entry point, the situation seems to be shifting in favor of a window of opportunity for an intervention in Syria. Many refer to this moment as the moment of ripeness, after after some key conditions have been met, both the parties and the situation is amenable to resolution. The notion of ripeness may have its criticism (tautology being its main impediment), yet practitioners in the field of political mediation are still using the terminology and so it may make sense to take a new look at the shifting balance of forces and power in the geopolitical context of Syria. This article on Al Jazeera’s website captures the shifting and moving forces quite eloquently.

What Saudi-Iranian rapprochement means for Assad – Al Jazeera English.

Mediation knowledge – The role of third parties in mediation processes

The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) has provided an interesting article and reminder about the effectiveness of third parties in mediated processes.
A very good and useful article to continue the debate on how to link process and outcome in such a way that we have an implementable agreement at the end of a long day.

Here is the link to the article: http://www.peacebuilding.no/var/ezflow_site/storage/original/application/7330b36de0c227f5d97adec09d202440.pdf

A Culture of Intervention – towards a new debate

Since the end of the Cold War era, the international community has gained a bit more space to maneuver in the quite opaque realm of interventions in conflict environments. On the one hand, we find the most potent powers to assume and to exert military power in order to quench or to stop a local conflict (think Libya, think Somalia). But at the same time, realities and politics suggest that the international community does not just stop with ending a conflict but that there is much more external intervention into structures and contexts of societies to the extent that a recurrence to violence can be mitigated.

The issue is not the intervention into a conflict area itself – as a matter of protecting human rights, one needs to agree that intervening in order to stop and alleviate suffering is a sound proposition. Rather, the question should be to what extent does a culture of intervention transform the local societies being subjected to this intervention and what dynamics and complexities take place throughout the nation-building process, initiated by the intervention of the international community.

To this day, the impact of intervention in terms of the creation of democratic conditions to render peace sustainable remains unexplored and often times elusive. This is mainly due to the fact that research and practice is looking at two independent variables without a more systemic understanding of the linkages between the practice of a culture of intervention and the creation of a new society. But new societies change also the culture of the intervener and we need to get a better understanding of these dynamics if we want to move towards a new culture of intervention and reflect better on the responsibility to protect and international humanitarian law.

In the coming posts, I am opening the debate through a new series looking at understanding the dynamics taking place between the intervener and the intervened.

You comments and feedback are always welcome.



Sisyphos’s task in the DRC

While working on a mediation support task during the Kampala talks, it became quite evident, that the surprising-not-so-surprising victory of the FARDC over the M23 rebel movement would be a momentous event, not necessarily followed by a thorough process of addressing the root causes of the conflicts in the Eastern DRC. Whilst the strategy might have its benefits, a mix of military support, African solutions, and a wider regional framework for peace and support, it still requires the DRC government to prove that its governance structures in both the political and military sphere are able to address security issues while providing the impetus for economic development and thus peace and security to prevail. However, the initial honeymoon phase of change and transition has already turned into a deja vu exercise of weak institutions and re-arming of rebels (M23 factions are being re-supplied and forming again in the Eastern part of the DRC. ADF and other groups are re-positioning themselves, making the changes for the upcoming elections a daunting task.

Jasons Stearns’ article from December 2013 has a range of interesting points and hints that could form the basis of a renewed analysis and view of the DRC conflict.

Ending Congos Civil War | Foreign Affairs.

Negotiating the pitfalls of civil wars – the notion of strategic deceit

Whilst mediation is being hailed as viable tool and solution for overcoming violent conflict and bringing parties to the table (even in the most violent of conflicts), there has to be a moment where parties do get together to find alternate ways to solving their issues.

The Syrian case is a good case in point when it comes to understanding the notion of ripeness, readiness, windows of opportunity, and, moreover, the limits of mediation. The inherent dynamics of the conflicts at the micro-level and the geopolitical sphere are so intrinsically connected to the actors that any attempt to bring parties together will have to deal with some of the most contentious parameters in mediation. Actually, the entire conflict resolution community is witnessing the advent of a new type of intervention into violent civil wars, one that the community is not ready to address.

What eludes us peacemakers is the notion of strategic deceit – the tactic that one side may be willing to negotiate with the ultimate goal of gaining time and momentum among followers, factions and friends in order to sabotage the final agreement. Syria wouldn’t be the first case. Angola during the 1980’s witnessed the same negotiation dynamics. As long as strategic deceit is an option in the arsenal of the parties involved to the conflict, the notion of peace is mere utopia. To overcome strategic deceit, peacemakers need to work horizontally and vertically across many factors, communities and disciplines.

This article by Transconflict is a perfect resume of the challenges and opportunities in the Syria case.


The trajectory of the Geneva II negotiations – either towards convergence (resolution) or divergence (non-resolution) – will affect the outcome of one of the most violent and protracted conflicts in the Middle East.

Negotiating the Syrian crisis – a compromise remains far off | TransConflict.