The Crucial Role of Mediation in Resolving Disputes

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The Crucial Role of Mediation in Resolving Disputes

Tuncay Unal, PhD

Global Center for Security Studies

Conflict resolution is a comprehensive field dedicated to peacefully and constructively addressing disagreements, disputes, or conflicts among individuals, groups, organizations, or nations. To successfully navigate these challenges, adhering to specific principles prioritising harmony and respect is imperative. In this context, mediators are pivotal, bridging communication gaps between conflicting parties to guide them toward a consensus that satisfies all involved. This role involves leveraging various strategies, such as active listening, empathy and targeted problem-solving, all customized to meet each conflict’s unique circumstances and complexities.

Ury, Patton and Fisher (2011) emphasize separating people from the problem. They focus on mutual interests instead of positions, generating various possibilities before deciding and insisting that the result be based on some objective standard. Fisher, Kopelman and Schneider (1996) advocate for a collaborative approach to negotiation, where parties should work together to find a solution that satisfies the interests of all involved rather than competing against each other.

Zartman (1991) mentions the difficulties of resolving conflict and suggests that regional conflicts present themselves in various forms, indicating different strategies for their reduction and management. He believes that fully resolving these conflicts often exceeds human capabilities, requiring time to mend the breaches caused by such disputes. According to Zartman, the primary objectives involve diminishing the means through which conflicts are fought and transforming violent conflicts into disputes that are addressed through standard political and diplomatic channels. To him, if conflicts are regarded as a clash of wills, the approach to management is to discover or devise a strategy that transforms perceptions of the conflict from a win-lose scenario to one where all parties can achieve gains (a win-win situation). If conflicts are understood as a balance of costs and benefits, managing them hinges on identifying or creating a ripe moment emerging from a situation where all parties are in a mutually hurting stalemate. And if conflicts are interpreted as episodes of regime change, then managing them involves facilitating a smooth transition from a failing regime to a stable successor.

Numerous studies, including those by Bercovitch (2009) and Touval and Zartman (2001), have acknowledged the significant impact of the political landscape on the mediation process, characterizing mediation as occurring within the broader sphere of international politics. Some researchers argue that the primary incentives for states and inter-governmental organizations to participate in mediation are politically driven or aim at obtaining “rewards” that benefit their constituencies, as highlighted by Mitchell (1988) and further supported by Touval and Zartman (2001).

While mediating between states and terrorist groups can be critical for resolving conflicts and reducing violence, it is fraught with challenges and requires careful consideration of the ethical, practical, and political implications. So, this process should be planned after careful consideration since any wrongdoings may cause a deteriorated political environment that can cause many people to lose their lives between conflicting parties. The importance and challenges of such mediation can be summarized as below:

Importance of Mediation

  1. Preventing Escalation: Mediation can prevent conflicts from escalating into full-scale wars, which can have devastating consequences for civilians and regional stability.
    Direct engagement through neutral intermediaries can offer pathways to de-escalation by addressing underlying grievances, fostering dialogue, and identifying mutually acceptable solutions. Mediation can facilitate a shift from violent confrontation to political engagement, thereby reducing the likelihood of further violence (Zartman & Faure, 2005).
  2. Humanitarian Relief: Mediation between states and terrorist groups can play a crucial role in facilitating humanitarian relief by opening channels of communication that enable the safe delivery of aid to affected populations. This form of negotiation can help to ensure that humanitarian principles are respected, even in the midst of conflict, and can lead to agreements that allow for the safe passage of relief supplies, the protection of civilians, and the provision of medical and food assistance to those in need (Minear & Weiss, 1995).
  3. Political Solutions: A key aspect of achieving political solutions through mediation is the acknowledgement of legitimate grievances by terrorist groups and the willingness of states to engage in dialogue. This doesn’t mean tolerating terrorism but rather recognizing the political, social, or economic issues that may have contributed to the conflict. Mediators play a crucial role in facilitating this process, building trust, identifying mutual interests, and negotiating agreements that offer political inclusion or reforms as alternatives to violence (Cronin, 2009).
  4. Reducing Violence: By facilitating negotiations, mediators can help both parties identify and explore peaceful resolutions, potentially leading to ceasefires, reductions in violence, or even long-term peace agreements. A crucial aspect of this process is creating a safe space for dialogue where both parties can express their demands and concerns without resorting to violence. This often involves confidence-building measures and assurances that the negotiations will be taken seriously and that any agreements will be implemented. The role of the mediator is pivotal in ensuring that communication remains open and constructive, helping to de-escalate tensions and prevent further violence (Zartman & Rubin, 2000).
  5. Global Security: Mediation between states and terrorist groups can have significant implications for global security by potentially transforming violent conflicts into political processes, thereby reducing the threat of terrorism and enhancing stability. This approach is premised on the idea that engaging in dialogue and addressing the root causes of terrorism, such as political marginalization or social injustice, can lead to de-escalation and prevent further radicalization (Faria, 2006). Crenshaw (2014) states that engaging non-state actors in dialogue and negotiation may lead to a better understanding of their grievances and motivations, which is crucial for developing effective counter-terrorism strategies.

Challenge of Mediation

  1. Legitimacy: Mediation between states and terrorist groups faces significant legitimacy challenges, both from a political and a societal perspective. Some of the important challenges are the recognition and legitimacy of terrorist groups, public and political backlash, and state sovereignty concerns. These challenges can impact the mediation process’s effectiveness, the parties’ willingness to engage, and the broader public support for any agreements reached (Cronin, 2009).
  2. Inconsistent Objectives: States often prioritize their citizens’ security and maintaining territorial integrity. In contrast, terrorist groups may seek political recognition or legitimacy as a primary objective. States may seek immediate ceasefires to halt violence and protect civilians, whereas terrorist groups might view ceasefires as temporary tactical moves to regroup or gain political leverage without committing to long-term peace or disbandment. The objectives within terrorist groups can be inconsistent, with different factions having varying goals and levels of willingness to engage in mediation. This fragmentation can complicate negotiations, as others may not recognize agreements reached with one faction. Similarly, states may have internal political pressures or factions with differing views on the advisability of negotiating with terrorist groups (Zartman et al., 2000).
  3. State Sovereignty: These concerns primarily revolve around the legitimacy and recognition of terrorist groups, the potential undermining of state authority, and the implications for international law and norms. On the other hand, the involvement of international mediators or third parties can be seen as an infringement on state sovereignty, particularly if these actors exert pressure on the state to make concessions or adopt certain policies (Cronin, 2009).
  4. Risk of Failure: Having failure of mediation between states and terrorist groups may have profound implications for both immediate and long-term peace and security like escalation of violence, loss of trust, political and social polarization, strengthening extremist elements, and undermining regional stability (Griffiths & Whitfield, 2010).
  5. Lack of Trust: The lack of trust in the mediation process between states and terrorist groups is a critical barrier to initiating and sustaining dialogue aimed at resolving conflicts. Past grievances and infractions, differing goals and beliefs, and internal fragmentation stand as principal factors that could undermine the mediation process (Garrigues, 2015).

In conclusion, the field of conflict resolution, with its deep-rooted commitment to peace and constructive dialogue, offers a beacon of hope in a tumultuous world. The dedicated efforts of mediators, underpinned by the rich insights of scholars and the lessons learned from past engagements, provide a roadmap for addressing the complex tapestry of global conflicts. As we move forward, the enduring principles of harmony, respect, and empathy remain our guiding lights, illuminating the path toward a more peaceful and understanding world.

Within the sphere of resolving conflicts, mediators play a crucial role by facilitating communication between disputing parties and guiding them towards agreements that satisfy all involved. They utilize a diverse set of skills, including active listening, empathy, and problem-solving, which are specifically adapted to address the unique aspects of each conflict situation.


Bercovitch, J. (2009). Mediation and conflict resolution. The SAGE handbook of conflict resolution, 340-357.

Crenshaw, M. (2014). Terrorism research: The record. International Interactions, 40(4), 556-567.

Cronin, A. K. (2009). How terrorism ends: Understanding the decline and demise of terrorist campaigns. Princeton University Press.

Fisher, R., Kopelman, E., & Schneider, A. K. (1996). Beyond Machiavelli: Tools for coping with conflict. Penguin.

Garrigues, J. (2015). The case for contact: overcoming the challenges and dilemmas of official and non-official mediation with armed groups. Oslo: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre.

Griffiths, M., Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, & Whitfield, T. (2010). Mediation: ten years on: challenges and opportunities for peacemaking. HD Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

Minear, L., & Weiss, T. G. (1995). Humanitarian Politics. Headline Series No. 304. Foreign Policy Association, c/o CUP Services, PO Box 6525, Ithaca, NY 14851.

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Zartman I. W. (1991). Resolving Regional Conflicts: International Perspectives, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 518, pp. 8-10

Zartman, I. W., Faure, G., & Faure, G. O. (Eds.). (2005). Escalation and negotiation in international conflicts. Cambridge University Press.

Zartman, I. W., & Rubin, J. Z. (Eds.). (2000). Power and negotiation. University of Michigan Press.

Zartman, I.W. & Touval, S. (2001). International mediation in the post-Cold War era. In: Turbulent Peace. Eds. Crocker, C., Hampson, F., & Aall, P., Washington: United States Institute of Peace.

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