Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Herding Cats: Multiparty Mediation in a Complex World
Chester A Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson & Pamela Hall (eds)

United States Institute of Peace
735pp, ISBN 1-878379-92-5

The volume assembles a large number of practitioners portraying their specific experiences of multiparty mediation and tries to put these accounts into the context of current academic research. And indeed, it is hard to imagine a more comprehensive and multi-faceted picture of what mediation can mean. A variety of conflicts and stages of conflict, political settings, actors, approaches, and even narratives is presented. The contributions often reveal different aspects of the same story - like, for instance, Richard Holbrooke's dramatic account of ending the siege of Sarajevo, with lively descriptions of the acting personage, and Daniel Serwer's less heroic life as US special envoy for the Bosnian Federation who tried to help reinvigorate the common institutions of Croats and Muslims; or the different stages of conflict resolution attempts in Angola, Northern Ireland, Haiti and the Middle East. Other case studies deal with the peace processes in El Salvador, Cambodia and the Peru/Ecuador border dispute.

The book sheds light on official high-level diplomacy, often performed by the US as leading power - presented, amongst others, by James Baker, Richard Solomon or Paul Arthur. These accounts illustrate the changes in conflict dynamics and ways of tackling them after the end of the Cold War. But the role of small states and NGOs is also well illuminated: with Norway opening a secret back channel for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians which lead to the Oslo agreement; the Community of Sant'Egidio getting involved in Mozambique almost by chance and thus paving the way for a peace agreement; or the Dartmouth Conference Regional Conflicts Task Force starting an unofficial dialogue in Tajikistan and complementing the official one, once it had been started, with social reintegration efforts. Mozambique serves as a positive example in the decisive implementation phase of peace agreements, while Angola can be seen as a counterexample. Experiences from the Great Lakes Region (Burundi, Eastern Zaire) expose the difficulties of creating appropriate and co-ordinated reactions from different international actors and of assuming leadership, as well as the risk of these efforts nonetheless being overtaken by events. The examples of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and of informal diplomacy in the South Chinese Sea show different approaches towards conflict prevention.

Given all this variety and the complexity of each single case, it seems very hard to derive the essence of these subjective presentations and draw general conclusions that contribute to academic conflict research. The editors put special emphasis on the terms of mediator readiness and conflict ripeness. Other recurrent topics are the importance of developing relationships between negotiating parties, of sufficient institutional and third-party backing for the mediator, and of coherence in the mediation process. Overall, "Herding Cats" illustrates well how different contexts and different personalities shape multiparty mediation processes - and how they may or may not contribute to the resolution of conflicts.

Daniela Mussnig, University of Vienna

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page