What is mediation success?
Problems with previous conceptualizations of mediation success Unfit expectations. As mentioned, previous concepts of mediation success are based on unfit expectations of what could, or should, be achieved by mediators. In particular, there are some indicators that are not sufficiently ambitious to serve as adequate measures of mediation success. For instance, Frei (1976) proposes that the occurrence of mediation can be used as a threshold of success. He defines mediation success “as a situation in which both parties to the conflict formally or informally accept a mediator and a mediative attempt within five days after the first attempt” (Frei 1976: 69). It is, indeed, an achievement to get the parties to the table. Given the obstacles that may stand in the way of getting mediation started, it is a sign of progress that the mediation process is initiated (Svensson and Wallensteen 2010). Yet, it is not an appropriate measure of success since we do not know whether the occurrence of mediation is positive or negative. It may be that mediation is insignificant, epiphenomenal, or, even worse, has a negative effect on the chance of obtaining the desired change. The involvement of mediators may give the parties opportunity to buy time to recruit and rearm, complicate, create moral hazards and decrease the costs for nonagreements. Hence, there is no good reason to assume that the mere occurrence of mediation is sufficient for mediation success.1 Another indicator of mediation success that reflects unfit expectations is conflict termination. Applying this indicator means that mediation is considered successful when it entails terminating the conflict in the sense of ending the violent behavior (Gelpi 1999; Regan and Aydin 2006; Regan and Stam 2000). However, termination is not an appropriate measure of success, since it basically conflates different types of outcomes. The most problematic aspects of this concept are that agreements and victories – two very different sorts of outcomes – are lumped together in the same outcome category and utilized for evaluating the effectiveness of mediation. In fact, if mediation is an activity to find a solution to a conflict – which most definitions of mediation state – then victory for one side should be seen as a failure of mediation rather than a success. Similarly, Regan and Stam examine the length of the dispute as a dependent variable without distinguishing between different types of outcomes (Regan and Stam 2000: 245),
and thereby suffer from the same basic problem. For instance, why should a longer conflict that ends in a peace agreement be deemed as less successful than a shorter one that ends in clear victory? On the other hand, there are ways of conceptualizing mediation success that are too ambitious. An example is Nathan (1999: 3), who defines mediation as successful “when it leads to the termination of hostilities and the advent of democratic governance.” This is problematic since the development of democracy in a country is a very large-scale societal process in which the mediators might at most play a minor role. Here the expectations of what the mediators can achieve are too demanding as even a highly effective and positive mediation involvement in a country suffering the consequences of civil war may not result in the development of democracy.2 Why would we believe mediators to be the most influential force behind such long-term, complex processes as democratization after civil war? More realistically, mediators in civil wars would likely have some, albeit limited, room for maneuver to act and influence not only the conflict parties but also post-war developments. The mediation outcome is unrelated to sustainable peace. A second basic problem with previous conceptualizations of mediation success is that they are detached from the discussion concerning how sustainable peace can be achieved. The research on mediation outcome and the research on sustainable peace have not been integrated. The former deals with specific mediation processes and how they lead to positive outcomes while the latter is concerned with the conditions under which peace can be sustainable, after agreements (Fortna 2004; Hampson 1996; Hartzell and Hoddie 2003; Walter 2002) or following conflict terminations (Licklider 1995; Toft 2010). This research practice is unfortunate since inquires about mediation outcomes and durable peace can be pursued sequentially. Mediation research is focused on the process of how armed conflicts end peacefully, whereas the research on durable peace generally takes as its starting point where mediation research ends. Yet, the implications of the fact that these two fields of research are sequentially related to each other have not been sufficiently taken into account. Research on durable peace rarely addresses issues such as types of mediators as explanatory factors. Likewise, mediation research has not integrated insights from the other field of what makes peace durable. A new research agenda is therefore called for which could specify the causal mechanisms behind mediation success and link these mechanisms to our understanding of what it is that makes peace durable. Overlooking quality of outcomes. The most common measure of mediation success is the signing of agreements. Several important studies have utilized the reaching of agreements as the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of third-party mediation (Beardsley et al. 2006; Bercovitch et al. 1991; Savun 2008). Indeed, statistical analyses, based on success-as-agreements, have made substantial progress during the last decades.3 However, although bringing about an agreement is an achievement for which mediators can be given credit, this way of conceptualizing mediation success suffers from a basic flaw in that it does not take the considerable variation in quality of settlements into account. In general, agree-
ments differ remarkably in terms of the stipulations that they entail, reflecting a wide variety of achievements that can be crafted at the negotiating table. But the common focus on the signing of agreements as indicating mediation success only focuses on the nominal forms of conflict resolution and so overlooks the quality of its substance. What constitutes a high-quality agreement? The terms of the peace need to be scrutinized as well as the stipulations that are crafted and agreed upon through the agreement. Focusing on a single dimension would hardly be sufficient in order to assess the quality of an agreement; for that purpose we would likely need a set of different elements. In particular, we need to shift our focus from the agreements as such to their contents. In turn, this suggests that a more disaggregated analysis is required, which does not deal with agreement as a “black box,” but which actually explores the substance of the agreements. Peace agreements thus need to be examined in terms of clusters of variables that represent the most central stipulations. In this way, we can identify a wider range of indicators that capture the meaning of mediation success. To sum up the critique, there are three basic problems with previous conceptualizations of success. They are based on unfit expectations of what the mediators actually can influence; they do not pay sufficient attention to how mediation outcome can be related to the attainment of sustainable peace; and they focus on the form of the agreements at the expense of the quality of their contents. We will now turn to an attempt to provide an alternative and novel conceptualization of mediation success that aims to address these problems.