International mediation has become one of the most significant methods of managing cross-border conflicts. In this article, the authors have traced the emergence of mediation in international relations, right from the 19th century to the current scenario. Further, the authors have explored the unique features of mediation and the various techniques employed by experts in this dispute resolution method. The rich history of successful mediations has been discussed through practical observations. The authors have also shed light upon a recent global issue which has the potential to be mediated. The authors believe that mediation is an empowering tool which can be used to mitigate long standing conflicts between states, and hence aim to promote this peaceful mechanism in the international arena.
The concept of conflict between states is as old as the concept of state itself. When two or more states are in conflict, often they require the assistance of a third party to steer the tension in a peaceful direction and facilitate an amicable resolution of the dispute. Mediation is one such peaceful mode of conflict resolution which involves a neutral third-party who initiates the process by laying down the ground rules. This is followed by a problem-solving approach, in which both the parties address their issues, their interests and work towards reaching a mutually beneficial solution with the help of the mediator. Over the years, mediation has seen greater acceptance around the globe and has proven to be an effective mode of dispute resolution, mitigating potential warfare between states. In the past decade, diverse states as well as international, regional and transnational organizations have played the role of a mediator for resolving hostilities between nations.
The practice of settling disputes through mediations has a well-documented history. Inter-state mediation was first observed in as early as the 19th century. For instance, Great Britain played the role of a mediator in 1825 between Portugal and Brazil which gave rise to the Treaty of Rio de Janeiro (1825). In pursuance of the same, Brazil’s long-standing war for independence was settled and it came to be recognized as an independent nation.
In 1919, the Covenant of the League of Nations was established. In accepting the Covenant, states agreed that unsettled disputes would be referred to third party settlement thus minimizing the likelihood of violence. Although the Covenant itself did not refer to the term “mediation”, it stipulated that matters which cannot be satisfactorily “settled by diplomacy” shall be submitted to arbitration or judicial settlement.
In 1945, with the advent of the United Nations (“UN”), the term “mediation” was incorporated as a peaceful tool for conflict resolution under its Charter. The UN Charter states that all members “shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means.” Under Article 33, the parties to any dispute likely to endanger international peace and security are enjoined to seek a peaceful solution of their choice which includes “mediation”. The Security Council may also call upon the parties to settle their disputes via mediation whenever it deems necessary. Various bilateral, regional and multi-lateral treaties also provide that the parties must refer their disputes to mediation before resorting to any other legal discourse.
Mediation is widely recognized as an effective and peaceful mode of international dispute resolution, which is particularly practical considering the complex dynamics of international relations. Inter-state conflicts cover a range of disputes including territory (27.5%), ideology (5.8%), security (32.5%), colonial (7.9%), resources (5.5%) and ethnicity (20.8%). The mediator in inter-state conflicts may vary from being an individual (2.3%), a state (49.8%), a regional (19.5%) or an international organization (28.4%).
The redeeming feature of mediation is that the process is voluntary and non-binding. The success of mediation depends on the parties’ willingness to resolve their conflict. This helps not only in peace-making but also in peace-keeping in the long run. Every mediation is unique, depending on the nature, duration and intensity of the dispute as well as the nature of the disputants. The third-party is required to be devoid of bias while facilitating the deliberations between parties. The neutrality of the third-party is crucial to any mediation.
Experts have identified 3 discrete mediation strategies in ascending level of the mediator’s involvement in the proceedings.
Mediation in the international arena is not a myth. The world has seen plenty of successful mediation proceedings occur with great effect. It is always prudent to look and seek help from precedents.
Approximately 434 international crises occurred between 1918 and 2001, out of which 128 resorted to mediation. Although there was merely 30% rate of incidence during this period, when we narrow our focus to the post-Cold war era, we find that 46% of all the crises were mediated. These statistics clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of mediation in international relations.
Some of the major examples of successful inter-state mediations include:
This is a bittersweet tale for Indians. This famous agreement marked the end of the 1965 Indo-Pak war. It was subsequently followed by the death of the Indian Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri due to cardiac arrest. This is important for us to analyze because it was one of the very few times the world has seen a successful mediation of this magnitude. The Tashkent Agreement marked the end of the 17-days war.
The Indo-Pak war of 1965 was a culmination of skirmishes between April 1965 to September 1965. (Higgins, 2016) It started with the Pakistani invasion of Jammu & Kashmir, which provoked retaliation by the Indian forces into West Pakistan. Both sides ended up gaining each other’s territory. India arguably had the upper hand when a ceasefire was called for by the United States of America (“US”) and the United Nations. (Dijink, 2002)
The Russian (then the Soviet Union) Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin offered his good offices by way of mediation for bringing about improved relations between India and Pakistan. This mediation gave rise to the Tashkent Agreement which was signed on the 10th of January 1966. As a consequence of pressure from the UN, Soviet Union and the US, the Tashkent conference compelled India and Pakistan to follow their previous treaty obligations and accept status quo ante bellum, i.e. to give away each other’s captured regions and return to the 1949 ceasefire line in Kashmir. (Bishth, 2015)
The conference was regarded as a resounding success and the declaration was released amidst a hope that this would lay down a framework for long-lasting peace between the two nations.
This famous episode which led to the successful defusal of the hostage crisis in Iran will always be remembered by the Americans. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979 in Iran by an Islamic Revolutionary movement. He fled to the US, where he was admitted in a hospital for the treatment of his cancer. Iran demanded the return of their former leader to stand the trial for the crimes he had been accused of committing during his reign. The US had been a supporter of Pahlavi and hence refused to hand him over. As a reaction to this, a group of Iranian college students, who supported the Iranian Revolution, took over the US Embassy in Tehran. A tense climax was reached when a lot of diplomatic negotiations failed to dose down the situation. Attempts made for rescuing the stranded US Embassy officials by the US Government failed, leading to the Secretary of State’s resignation.
Ultimately, the situation was mediated by the Algerian Government. The negotiator for the US was Deputy Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. Behzad Nabavi, was the chief Iranian negotiator.
The settlement between the two states gave rise to the Algiers Accords, which were signed in Algiers on 19th of January 1981. It was duly agreed in the accords that in exchange of the release of the hostages, the US would not intervene politically or militarily in Iranian internal affairs. It would further lift the trade sanctions on Iran and the Iranian debts to the US institutions would be paid, amidst other agreements.
Settling cross-border conflicts and maintaining international peace and security is the foundation of a harmonious society. Managing international conflicts to avoid its devastating consequences has become a priority on global agenda in the recent years. There are various disputes which have the potential to be resolved amicably, ending years of friction. Following is one such recent issue which has the potential to be mediated in the future.
US-China Trade War
Since we are analyzing disputes which can be potentially mediated, it is important to analyze the US-China trade dispute. This trade war has been going on for more than 2 years now, with blows being exchanged from either side. Even during the COVID-19 crisis, US and China have been at each other’s heels, with the former accusing the latter of misinformation and lack of warning.
It becomes important to see how this trade war began. It traces back to President Trump’s tagline for the US Presidency- Make America Great Again. In his pursuit of achieving this, he started going back on what he thought were “unfair trade deals” which the US had signed in the past. He levied heavy tariffs on the goods imported from China and the EU in lieu of reducing the US’s trade deficit and retaining jobs for the US citizens. He accused China of stealing intellectual property as well. The US has levied tariffs on goods worth more than $360 billion. This has led to blowback from China, and they have responded by levying tariffs ranging from 5-25% on US made goods. This episode has also led to heavy volatility in the stock market. Apple, who has their manufacturing bases in China has lost more than $44 billion in their market value. This trade war has also shaved off massive value of their respective currencies – The Dollar and the Yuan.
So, what is the future for this war? The two countries tabled a “first phase deal” and signed it. Though the more pressing issues still exist, it has led to a hope of a future settlement between the two largest economies of the world. In accordance with the deal, China has pledged to boost US imports by $200 billion above 2017 levels and has promised to strengthen the intellectual property rules. The US has also agreed to halve some of the tariffs levied on China.
In 2018, Roberto Azevedo, the WTO (World Trade Organization)’s Director-General had pledged to mediate between the two great nations. Hence, there are organizations which can felicitate fruitful deliberations between these two nations. We can only hope for this trade war to be resolved at the earliest.
International mediation is a multifaceted instrument, which if used wisely and tenaciously, can prevent the greatest of wars and disputes among nations. Very often, due to age old conflicts, states reach a stage where they are reluctant to find the root of the problem and understand a perspective different from their own. This is where mediation proves to be the most empowering tool. The mediator brings the parties to the table, listens emphatically, and facilitates communication between the parties, enabling them to resolve the conflict peacefully. Exponential growth in globalization inevitably leads to cross-border conflicts and hence necessitates formation of effective modes of dispute resolution. States must take efforts to form strong regulatory frameworks promoting mediation in international relations to prevent long-standing face-offs between nations.
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