What is more important in international mediation power or impartiality? - Politics Essay Example

The second half of the 20th Century have given us many examples of both successful and failed mediation attempts, more so of the latter - What is more important in international mediation power or impartiality? introduction. Mediation without conflict resolution can arguably be classified as failure. Therefore, the question must be asked as to why these other mediatory attempts succeeded and what qualities did the mediators have that enabled success?

This essay proposes that the importance of international mediation rests within the successful conclusion of a settlement and therefore regards the resources and clout of a power mediator as necessary in motivating parties to settle and subsequently, in order to make them successful, implementing them. So, by looking at the use of various strategies and tactics within two highly regarded successful periods of international mediation surrounding the Arab/Israeli conflict, this essay is going to critically assess the importance of both power and impartiality in regards to conflict resolution.


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Bercovitch’s ‘contingency approach’ states that in international mediation “only an appropriate mediator is likely to be effective” (2011: 30), and therefore it could be assumed that when the conflicting parties extend their resolution efforts to a third party, they themselves will have an idea of what type of mediator they are looking for, which implies that the importance of power over impartiality and vice versa is only relevant to specific conflicts.

However, while this is indeed evident in the examples of this text, the value of ‘leverage’ is necessary in motivating the implementation of changes a conflict resolution will undoubtedly require, regardless if they were achieved through impartiality or carrot and stick methods. This ultimately leads the author to the conclusion that if successful conflict resolution requires power on a scale larger than impartiality, and that settlements are the crux of mediation, then power is more important to international mediation than impartiality.

Mediation, in its most basic sense, turns a “dyadic relationship into a triadic interaction” (Bercovitch, 2002: 5). Contention arises due to the various beliefs of what actions this third member of the relationship should take in order to create a settlement. The general consensus, from the likes of Bercovitch, Skjelsbi??k and Touval, is that mediators are actors who, as to further the efforts of conflict management between conflicting parties, enable communication when at times it might be impossible for the belligerents to do so.

They agree that, as third parties, it is their role to prevent or stop destructive behaviour and facilitate a settlement, but not through means of force (1982: 5, 2002: 5, 1991: 100). However, the idea of the mediator supplementing the parties’ own efforts in the face of failure (Pruitt, 2002: 42), can be seen as a focal point of tension within the study of mediation that theorists then begin to debate as to what lengths this should be done.

For example, Moore writes in contrast, that mediation itself should be impartial with no authoritative decision making (Zartman, 2007: 166). When attempts are made to unify the various labels that define the roles of mediators, they are relatively similar and can be split into two camps: those of power mediators, and those of impartiality. These two perceived roles of mediation form the heart of the debate within this essay: which role is more important within international mediation, and therefore toward the creation of a successful conflict resolution.

So far, the argument that has arisen is based around scholarly differences that fail to isolate why the use of power or impartiality would be important. In this sense it would be wise to point out the notion that Touval believes mediators are “like brokers… in it for a profit” (1982: 321). This self-interest amongst mediators comes in many forms and ultimately can suggest why some mediators focus on power or impartiality; it is their best way to achieve aims outside of conflict resolution.

For example, the US could be seen as attempting to negotiate peace in a region in order to further its sphere of influence, or with the example of Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy in the early ’70s, as attempts to isolate regional influence of the Soviets and solve the oil crisis; aims stemming directly from the Eisenhower Doctrine (Shlaim, 2000: 189).

The UN, of course, would also want to play its hand at mediation, but perhaps with the intention of furthering the legitimacy of the organisation, for instance, when the Secretary-General at the time, Perez de Cuellar, mediated for Britain and Argentina during the Falklands War (Touval, 1982: 323, Skjelsbi??k, 1991: 106). It should be noted that in the aforementioned example, de Cuellar exhibited impartiality by the reluctance to emphasise his own Latin American heritage.

In these two examples it would be wrong to assert that the two bodies mentioned would use the same strategies to achieve not just a successful resolution, but their own aims as well. The United States, in regards to Kissinger, would fall under the banner of a ‘power mediator’ due to the nation’s international clout, but more importantly, its extensive resources both militarily and economically, which allowed the nation to have the potential to rebalance the state of affairs that surrounded the conflicting parties (Skjelsbi??k, 1991: 100).

On the other hand, a smaller nation such as Norway could possibly be viewed by the belligerents as an ideal mediator with its lower stakes in the conflict, as well as its ability to hold good offices and, by the opposing fact, that its international clout would allow secrecy to be more easily maintained than a greater power. In regards to the differing views, it would seem that the main objectives of any mediation are likely to remain the same, regardless of how the third party go about achieving them (Bercovitch, 2002: 16).

If this is the case, then at this point it could be argued that the importance of either power or impartiality is irrelevant on the basis that the conflicting parties would choose a mediator that suits their needs, fully aware of the type of role that the third party is most likely going to play. Nonetheless, while the parties of a conflict may indeed feel, for the purpose of, for example, communication facilitation, that an impartial mediator is required, the inevitable need for the implementation of whatever settlement is decided, this essay argues, will need the backing of power for it to become sincere.

This will be debated at a greater depth later using the 1993 Oslo Accords. However, it would now appropriate to analyse the negotiations at Camp David, and surmise what importance power had in the overall process against impartiality. The 1978 Accords were a product of 18 months’ worth of diplomacy between Israel and Egypt, along with various intermediaries such as Morocco and Romania, but most importantly, the United States (Touval, 1982: 288).

The relationship between Israel and the US had hit a rocky path with the election of Carter and the subsequent Brookings Institution report (Shlaim, 2000: 349). It was clear that the US had their own agenda within the Middle East; a case of self-interest that Touval, as mentioned earlier, suggested was rooted within the act of mediation in general. To ascertain whether power or impartiality plays a greater importance in mediation, first the actions of the main intermediary, the United States under Carter, must be analysed.

Some argue that the role of the US as a mediator between Egypt and Israel can be seen to have progressively developed into one of impartiality. Having placed some of the authors of the Brookings Institution study group report into high levels of his administration, Carter was arguably showing Israel of a new direction in terms of Middle Eastern affairs (Shlaim, 2000: 349). In addition, with the ever growing relationship between Carter and administrations, the weighing scales of favour between Israel and Egypt were seen to be evening out.

It could be argued then, by scholars such as Moore, that the appearance of impartiality aided greatly in the parties’ acceptance, and ultimate success, of the Camp David Accords. This essay however takes a more pragmatic approach by acknowledging that the incentives that potentially rested with having Washington in your favour were a much greater pull to the parties than having an impartial United States.

Directive strategies used by the United States, such as offering both Egypt and Israel $2bn in return for a signed ceasefire agreement highlight this (Bercovitch, 2004). Siniver astutely suggested that the US could actually have been seen as impartial on the basis that both Begin and Sadat were unhappy with many areas of the peace treaty that Carter proposed, and therefore neither felt favoured in an overly biased way (Siniver, 2006: 819).

However, this essay takes the opinion that power in the form of Carter’s ‘rewards’ to Sadat for his trust, for example, show a very strong illustration of the allure that a power mediator’s resources can have over motivating settlement. Furthermore, the author disagrees with the suggestion that the apparent impartiality of the USA was an incentive for both Egypt and Israel to accept them as a third party; neither Rabin nor Begin would ever have viewed the impartiality of the US as the opening of a door to mediation, far from it.

The favour and support of a great power has always been a basic tenant of Israeli foreign policy (Shlaim, 2009: 14). If anything, the fact that the US role was never questioned, despite Carter suggesting ideas that were wholly against those of Jerusalem, was due to Begin and his administration wanting to gain their favour once more; this itself emphasises power over impartiality. Nevertheless, Touval points out that both Egypt and Israel were not strictly at the behest of Washington.

There were still many bilateral talks between the two nations which in many ways hampered the negotiations (1982: 304). Additionally, it must be noted that the meetings with Hassan al Tuhami in Morocco before the Accords, acting as a supposedly impartial communication facilitator, did aid in creating an atmosphere between the belligerents that ultimately allowed greater success within Camp David.

The consensus of the author thus far is that power, in the form of international clout and resources, played a much more important role in mediating the agreements between Israel and Egypt than a perception of impartiality. However, this essay does acknowledge that, to an extent, the bilateral talks that ignored the US may indeed have been a product of the fact that both parties were so focussed in gaining favour of the US (Touval, 1982: 322) that a greater grasp of impartiality in the first place may have led to a more focussed triadic relationship.

Nevertheless, the resources of Carter’s administration acted as great motivation for both parties to eventually conclude three major agreements that, even if they were to fail in the long run, were still historical in that it was the first time that Israel had been able to broker peace with an Arab state (Touval, 1982: 284). So far, this essay has given repeated conclusions of the importance power has over impartiality, however, when looking at the 1993 Oslo Accords it would be wrong to say that on the face of it that this is still the case.

Communication-facilitation, a strategy that while open to any mediator, tends to be used by smaller states to a more potent extent than by those who could be classed as power mediators. Arguably this is due to it being one of the strongest weapons, so to speak, in their limited arsenals. Such facilitation was used to a great effect during the Oslo Accords, and in fact can be argued to be one of the critical reasons the talks have been labelled as a success.

The main issue between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the state of Israel was the simple fact that communication was prohibited due to their reluctance to accept each other’s existence; any official process was blocked by illegality (Bercovitch, 2011: 141). Eventually, the Israeli hand was forced and the dilemma of concessions to Assad in Syria or the negotiation on interim self-government for Palestine led Rabin to Oslo (Shlaim, 2000: 512). Impartiality conjures up the idea of fairness, neutrality and equality.

Norway was exceptional in this regard, as Bercovitch states; they were treated to the same hotels, given the same cars and mostly the same food. This did more than show a lack of partisan, but gave the PLO representatives the confidence of being placed at an equal standing to those of Israel (2011: 145). Furthermore the stature of Norway as a nation had allowed secrecy surrounding the meetings to be maintained thus enabling true and honest talks that did not have to reflect any existing outward opinions and could promote cooperation and accentuation of common interest (Bercovitch, 2011: 145).

Keramati, on the other hand, refutes the opinion that the Accords were impartial: only specific groups were invited; cherry picked to a point where one side was not fit for interstate mediation nor were the potential agreements ever going to be possible to implement (2010: 79). This essay suggests that perhaps Keramati is focussing too much on a retrospective view of what did not come out of the Accords rather than noting the barriers that had been broken down by the simple occurrence of such meetings.

In addition it is perhaps also easier in hindsight to say that certain representatives were not fit for mediation after the process has been completed; a comparative analysis of Bernadotte and Bunche could form a debate on its own in this regard. What the Oslo Accords enabled then, was to turn an Israeli government avidly against the idea of Palestinian cooperation to the acceptance that recognition of the PLO was not just the way to go, but inevitable (Shlaim, 2002: 514); it should be noted that impartiality was indeed a factor of this.

The Oslo Accords themselves did present a strong case for the importance of impartiality in terms of persuading the parties to pursue talks; however, the culmination of the talks did not produce an agreement per se, but rather a warrant to future negotiations. Furthermore, while interim self-government for the Palestinians does exist today, the aims of the negotiations explicitly mentioned the formation of a future Arab state (Taheri-Keramati, 2010: 78/9).

This of course is not the case. With this in mind, it must be said that the Oslo agreements achievements, with great influence from the perception of impartiality, has not overflown into the greater success it should have been: a partial if not full conclusion to the Israel/Palestine conflict. While it could be argued that this has been down to power mediators not furthering on from where the Accords left off, the author would agree that that had not strictly been the case.

Nevertheless, it should be remembered that this essay has argued that the success of conflict resolution is the justification of international mediation. While the Accords were indeed an achievement in their own right, they were not in the greater sense of solving the conflict that still remains today, whereas power played a great role in the Camp David negotiations and the success of those agreements still remains clear.

Penultimately, before this author finalizes the assertion that power, overall, can be seen as more important in international mediation, it must be noted that the debate extends far beyond just the strategies and tactics stated in this text. This essay is a debate surrounding Power over Impartiality, but nevertheless, the timing of mediation, the changes in attitudes of belligerents and the supposed ripeness of conflict all play essential roles into the success of conflict resolution that has been stated to be fundamental in concluding which of the two roles is more important in mediation.

There is debate in the field whether there is a correct time in a conflict to enter mediation; some, like Zartman, argue that there is and that crises are best treated “only when they’re hot” (Kleiboer, 1994: 109). Alternatively, others are of the opinion that, while time does play a part, it is mainly due to the disputants reaching a stage where they themselves feel it is appropriate to bring in an intermediary. It is at this point where it is argued mediation is most likely to succeed (Mitchell, 1981: 281, cited in Skjelsbi??k, 1991: 100, Siniver, 2006: 813)

Finklestein raises the idea of change over time when looking at decisions prior to, and at, the Camp David Accords; he questions the Israeli government’s willingness to exchange peace for Sinai towards the end of the 1970s, yet its refusal to do so before the Yom Kippur War (2003: 165). It is important to note, in regard to timing and the ripeness of mediation that the October War had shown each of the two states what the extreme costs of potential further conflict could involve (A similar argument can be used towards the potential conflict fatigue in the region that allowed for the acceptance of the Oslo Accords to begin).

Furthermore, while the build up to the meetings at Camp David can definitely be seen as a result of Kissinger’s actions as a mediator earlier in the decade (Siniver, 2006: 818), Shlaim also infers that the Yom Kippur War itself strongly aided in building the foundations due to the conflict having a much more double sided conclusion than the Six-Day War. It led to a promotion of realistic attitudes on both sides and a willingness to cooperate and the confidence gained by the Arab states, in contrast to their extreme military defeat in ’67, created a different atmosphere within the region (2000: 321).

In addition, the change in perceptions and attitudes between leaders over time would have a huge influence on matters (Kleiboer, 1994: 110). This is evidenced by Miers’ Labour centred Alignment party refusing to accept Jarring’s suggestion of Peace for Sinai but Begins right-wing Lukid party opening up to the idea (Shlaim, 2000: 323/4); the shift left in government in the early 1990s from Likud to Labour equally expresses the same point in relation to the Oslo Accords.

While these are all extremely valid, if not crucial points in regards to the study of mediation, the author remembers the purpose of this text and has merely attempted to highlight the complexity of the subject as a whole. Regardless, this essay remains a focus on the debate surrounding the importance of power vs. impartiality in relation to international mediation. Having put the theory of two mediation strategies to the test using the Camp David and Oslo Accords, this text concludes that power is more important than impartiality.

That isn’t to say, however, that the latter has no relevance, but the need to create successful conflict resolutions has been shown to be aided greatly by the clout and resources of a power mediator, moreover, agreements through the facilitation of pure impartiality have exposed the weaknesses of not having the power of an external mandate to implement any potential agreements.

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