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Iraq and Afghanistan: Opportunities for ADR

The collapse of one sort of governmental infrastructure needs to be replaced with another, and the sooner, the better. Now is the time to introduce collaborative conflict resolution and arbitral conflict adjudication into the post-armed conflict re-construction cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is part of our responsibility as ADR professionals to advocate for the introduction of these options onto the buffet of alternatives the post-conflict governments have to choose from as they form their new institutions.

Ideal time to introduce ADR techniques

These two countries are at important junctures in their reconstruction and development. They do not have unanimously endorsed bodies of law nor any surviving viable dispute resolution mechanisms. This is an ideal time to introduce ADR techniques to their culture. I think it is incumbent upon us as mediation and ADR professionals to represent these options and make them available to the Iraqis and the Afghanis as they rebuild their cultures.

Immense organizational vacuums

There are immense organizational vacuums left by the collapse of the previous ruling regimes driven by Hussein and the Taliban. The people of these countries, and their cultures, are left facing great problems but they also confront terrific opportunities. They have the chance to design their new systems of social infrastructure from the ground up however they see fit to choose. This is the correct time in their development to make known the conflict resolution options presented by ADR and to help them incorporate them into their structures as they see fit. If they know about the pros and cons to various means of resolving conflict, then they can make intelligent decisions about how to incorporate these into their new conflict resolution systems. If they don’t know about them, they can’t put these techniques to their advantage.

How does this proposition make sense?

Personally and professionally, I always want to understand the motivations and interests at stake for any given proposal. So, how does this proposition make sense for the people of these two countries, for the Coalition Allies, and for us as a body of ADR professionals as potential stakeholders in this broad proposition?

The introduction, or development, of ADR in these countries at this juncture in their development can help the people of Iraq and Afghanistan now and in the future. This is true on many fronts, both internally and externally. The carryover of collaborative and self-directed approaches to conflict resolution into other aspects of their culture could lead to positive improvements for the long term.

Speed the recovery

What courts that may be operational and viable in these two countries will be busy. Any deflection of caseload into ADR channels will leave those venues free for other issues. Making ADR alternatives available to the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan will speed the recovery of autonomous and sovereign civil order. Simply having conflict resolution structures in place and functioning will help convey a sense of order, which will support the peaceful progressive re-development of their cultures.

For people previously oppressed, dominated, and exploited the direct participation and self determination aspects of mediation will be extremely emancipating and empowering. Arbitral adjudication by peers the belligerents select themselves, rather than decisions imposed by appointed representatives of the authoritarian governments will help them responsibly take charge of the new responsibilities consequent to their newfound individual sovereignty and autonomy. It will help empower them to believe and understand that they are in charge of their lives.

It is better to teach how to fish than to give a fish to eat. And so it goes with conflict: it is better to teach them how to resolve than to resolve for them.

The people of Iraq and Afghanistan have been conditioned over time to accept and anticipate armed conflict as a means of governance and conflict resolution. I understand it is quite prevalent in some areas of both countries. The introduction of collaborative conflict resolution models as valid, effective, and honorable means of settling differences could have a immense impact on changing the ways their cultures function both within their borders as well as in their external affairs of state.

As a means of developing a meaningful economic structure that responds to societal requirements for material goods, and uniformly distributes those goods across all the strata of the population, a way to effectively uphold contracts is required. In the USA most of us tend to take the Uniform Commercial Code for granted when we do business. It has only been with us since the mid 1960s. While we could not imagine trying to do business with out the UCC, and the principles of fair trade it propagates, the people in these post-war reconstruction cultures do not even have that constructive element in their cultures going for them. ADR can help these people in both countries more rapidly find their way to a functioning economy by working out commercial issues.

Victim-offender, intractable conflict, and blood feud

This article has focused up to now on the introduction of ADR for the application to business issues. ADR is a strongly viable approach to take for a far greater variety of conflicts than is commonly perceived. Practitioners applying mediation to types of conflict that people are still surprised to learn about. I have done a number of civil case mediations dealing with restraining orders and found the outcomes to be incredible and reliably functional. Cases of victim offender, intractable conflict, and blood feud have all been settled, effectively, applying collaborative conflict resolution techniques. There is no reason why mediation and other forms of ADR cannot be applied to many other areas of conflict that people may not readily expect such measures to be viable in.

Prevent falling back onto the US

Also very important from the US Government side of the table, it is vital to take every measure to ensure the rapid, cohesive, and successful re-rooting of new organizational culture and structures. This will reduce the risk of future caretaking responsibilities for the new regimes from falling back onto the US and our allies. Taking down an existing government brings with it the responsibility for facilitating the establishment of a new one. Part of our rationalization for going into these countries was to help the average citizen get a better deal at life than they had previously. Instituting intelligent ADR alternatives will go a long way to engender success in that aspect.

As a result of ADR helping to support the development and maintenance of functioning economic systems to help get roofs over their heads and regular food for their stomachs, the Iraqis and Afghanis will then be able to move forward to deal with other basic issues such as health, education, and general wellbeing.

Increase the visibility of our profession

This kind of an effort on behalf of our industry, or profession, would serve to increase the visibility of our profession on many important radar screens. More people would hear about our what we are doing and learn that ADR can be applied to many different kinds of situations. A professional outreach effort of such a scale would permanently galvanize the perception of our work in the arena of public opinion.

If you ask why we should make the effort, if the facts above are not enough for you, please consider the following quote. It is my favorite among a host of excellent quotes attributed to Albert Einstein. It is all about ‘giving back’ to help move civilization forward.

A hundred times every day, I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received.

The people of the United States do not have a cultural recollection of what it means to have no basic governmental infrastructure to help support their lives. We tend to take for granted the broad governmental support for our lives and activities that we enjoy here. I would be willing to bet that most of the men, women, and children of Iraq and Afghanistan think about what they don’t have on a daily basis.


Tom Oswald

Tom Oswald is a civil/commercial mediator and conflict consultant from Boston. He practices both domestically and internationally and has been employed as a civil case court mediator.  Professional publishing includes editing the Commercial Section for, several pieces in various Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) publications, and others. He has… MORE >

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