Thank you Mr. President for organizing today’s important discussion on the role of member nations in high level mediation of potential or ongoing conflicts. I am honored to have the opportunity to share my views on a topic so fundamental to the success of this great institution and to world peace.
My remarks this morning draw from my personal experiences in two recent conflicts in the Balkans. In the first, I served as a senior member of the US negotiating team led by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke which negotiated the Dayton Agreement ending the war in Bosnia and Herzogovina in 1995. In the second, I was appointed the senior US diplomat in the successful US-European Union effort to assist local political leaders in completing the Ohrid Agreement which prevented a costly and destructive civil war in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 2001.
Each of these experiences was unique, and both involved the participation of an American diplomat as a primary representative of the nation and the international community in a process to prevent or end a conflict with broad regional consequences. In Bosnia, the war and the international engagement there was ongoing; Macedonia, on the other hand, was a smoldering conflict about to explode into civil war.
While the context of each situation was unique, I will share with you some personal observations which could be relevant to future conflict mediation in general. My goal today is to identify a personal view on some common practical elements which I feel can help achieve a successful diplomatic outcome.
To me, the most important factor in the mediation of a conflict is the underlying will of the parties to reach a solution in which compromises are required of all sides. If the parties are inflexible in their positions and unwilling to make compromise, the negotiations are unlikely to succeed no matter the skill of the mediator or the logic of the proposed solution. In both Bosnia and Macedonia, the parties, after considerable, often difficult diplomatic effort, made the compromises necessary to reach an agreement.
The will to achieve a settlement may not be clear at the beginning of the mediation process. However, the mediator can be a positive influence on the will of the parties to negotiate. Often, the international mediator can effectively identify the practical benefits to the parties of success and the potential negative consequences of failure of a negotiation. Benefits and consequences cannot guarantee success, but a clear understanding of them by the parties gives the international mediator some critical leverage to make success in the process much more likely. Further, if the mediator has incentives available to influence a settlement, his or her position is strengthened considerably.
I do not believe that a universal formula exists to determine whether an international organization, one nation or a group of them should lead in the mediation of a conflict. Certainly, the United Nations and other regional organizations and interested nations have important roles to play, but who leads the mediation effort can be determined through international consultation depending on the circumstances at the time.
What is critical, however, is unity of effort. The international community must stand firmly behind a single mediating process once a lead organization or nation is identified. A fragmented effort is far less likely to succeed than a unified effort.
Conflict resolution also has a personal dimension that is important to the process. The international figure assisting in finding a solution to end or prevent a conflict must develop the trust and confidence of the parties to the conflict that the process can lead to a successful conclusion. Part of that dynamic is the authority of the mediator and support given by his or her government or international institution. The mediator must be considered as fair and objective by the parties and must understand the key variables in the situation, listen carefully, define the critical issue for resolution and constantly find ways to move the process to completion.
Continuous, active and fair engagement is important to developing this trust with the parties. In both Bosnia and Macedonia, the negotiating process was almost constant until a settlement was achieved. This concentration of active engagement may not always be possible, but when it can be achieved, it gives momentum to the process and is more likely to produce success than a process which has long periods of inactivity.
The mediator in conflict resolution needs a strategy to move the process to a successful conclusion. Simply bringing the parties together in hopes of finding a settlement is too passive to be an effective strategy in most cases. I believe in a more activist approach for the mediator. Fairly early in the process, the mediator needs to have a personal vision of the how the issues can be resolved, what a successful outcome might look like and the general path to that objective.
A strategy cannot be rigid, however. As Ambassador Holbrooke notably said, “Diplomacy is like jazz. It is a variation on a theme,” and that is certainly true in conflict mediation. While keeping intense focus on the ultimate goal and avoiding distractions, the mediator must be flexible enough to adjust the strategy to get around obstacles and seize opportunities presented by the process. The mediator also can seek to influence the pace and intensity of the talks to help maintain a positive momentum toward a solution.
Bringing any mediation to closure—reaching an agreement accepted by the parties—is the most difficult and the most critical step in the process. Often personal passions are high, various pressure groups may be lobbying the parties hard to prevent an agreement, and the political consequences of an agreement may seem very risky for the parties. It is this final step which also is daunting for the mediator
This is the point when support from relevant international organizations and national capitals can be critical to closing an agreement. Strong psychological support and incentives to complete the agreement presented to the parties at the right moment can give them the confidence and motivation they need to bring the mediation process to completion. International endorsement of the agreement also gives it legitimacy which can be critical to the parties in their domestic environment.
Once concluded, the agreement belongs to the parties, not the mediator or the international organization or nation the mediator represents. Ultimately, the parties to the conflict must be responsible for their agreement and its full implementation.
To complete an agreement which affects the future of the nation and the region can require courage, sacrifice and a vision of the future by the leaders who sign it. When appropriate, they should be recognized for this because in the end, it is their accomplishment.
Finally, any settlement negotiated and completed under the pressure of war or potential war will be imperfect. The first priority of the mediator is prevention or termination of war. Perfection is a secondary consideration. With these natural imperfections, implementation of these agreements requires international engagement for years after the success of the mediation.
Again, thank you Mr. President for your leadership on a topic so vital to the prevention and termination of regional conflicts; and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention.
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