OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Third Party Intervention

by Paul Wehr

Intermediary Roles and Functions

When impartial third parties intervene in a conflict situation, new relational structures and possibilities for moderating the conflict are created. Introduction of a mediator, for example, changes both the physical and social structure of a conflict. New groups and sets of transactions appear with the third party. The presence of an observer tends to put contenders on better if not their best behavior. More accurate communication is facilitated by intermediaries. The issues, interests and needs of the contenders become more clear with the help of such third parties. There may even be someone besides one's adversary to blame, as intermediaries sometimes divert blame toward themselves as a technique for transforming stalemate into resolution. Most importantly, third parties bring additional minds and skills for problem-solving to the conflict. The contenders are no longer on their own.

Multi-modal Intermediation

Many types of third parties can be introduced in a conflict, simultaneously working together, or at different points in a conflict when their form of assistance is most needed. Lederach (1997, 70) identifies nearly 25 different functions intermediaries perform over the life of a conflict. Intervention could begin with the "explorer," who assures the contenders that total victory is not the goal of the other side and end with the work of the "reconciler," who facilitates the healing process. Along the path of resolution, "unifiers", "facilitators," "legitimators" and many other specialist roles are introduced. Such a multi-modal approach is necessary with large-scale conflict such as civil war. An intervention team must use particular skills and relationships with the contenders at the right time, in the right context. Even intraorganizational and two-person conflict could benefit from the team approach, though the types of intervenors would be smaller. "Who is there who could help us out of this conflict?" This should be the first question conflict opponents should ask. The more varied their concept of "third party," the more intermediary potential they will see as they look around.

An important function of third parties in a conflict, particularly in its latent stage, is conflict prevention. At the international level, multinational peacekeeping has for almost forty years been a common way of preventing conflict and violence. Military forces and observers are placed between opposing sides; interposition is the term. As Yugoslavia was coming apart in the early 1990s, a new variant of peacekeeping was tried; preventive deployment. (Carnegie 1997, 64) Macedonia, intending to become an independent state, was threatened with attack from Serbia. A United Nations military and political contingent was sent to Macedonia as a deterrent. It has also played an intermediary role between the Macedonian and Serbian governments.

 A preventive presence of third parties is not necessarily a military or governmental one. Private citizen groups have increasingly intervened to prevent violence in conflict situations. (Wehr 1996) Citizen interposition was practiced in the Nicaraguan civil war in the 1980s. International teams from Witness for Peace were stationed along Nicaragua's borders and in strategic villages at high risk from Contra attack. (Griffin-Nolan 1991) The assumption underlying such a practice is that the presence of unarmed foreigners deters attacks on civilians in war zones. The same principle motivates international accompaniment, where foreign observers stay with human rights leaders whose protest work puts them at risk in civil conflicts. (Mahony & Eguren 1997)

Illustration 1:  Bosnia

The multiplicity of intermediary roles and functions has been illustrated in numerous contemporary international conflicts. Efforts to end civil war in Bosnia suggest many of them: European Community involvement as intermediaries and mediators through various failed plans; United Nations humanitarian peacekeeping...modest military, medical and supply forces to protect major urban centers; NATO military interposition to implement the Dayton Agreement and support political reconstruction; citizen reconciliation teams from nongovernmental organizations.. In the Nicaraguan civil war, intermediation was done in a number of ways. (Wehr and Lederach 1991) Within the Esquipulas process, the presidents of the Central American nations created conciliation commissions for each of the civil wars in progress. Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica, played the lead intermediary role, since his nation was historically neutral and unarmed since 1948. His persuasive intervention got the Sandinista government and its opponents to agree to demilitarization of the conflict and meaningful elections.

Illustration 2:  Nicaragua

A second conflict, between the Sandinistas and Atlantic Coast indigenous groups, complicated Nicaraguan peacemaking. Intermediary types essential in that process included insider-partial mediators such as Cardinal Obando y Bravo and outsider-neutral mediators such as Jimmy Carter. International observer teams monitored the elections and the subsequent transfer of power. Reconciliation teams have now been working nearly a decade to reintegrate demobilized soldiers from both sides into their towns and villages.

Supporting Literature:

Carnegie Commission, Preventing Deadly Conflict , New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1997; James Coleman, Community Conflict , New York: Free Press, 1957; Edward Griffin-Nolan, Witness for Peace , Westminster/John Knox, 1991; John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies , Washington: United States Institute of Peace, 1997; Liam Mahony & Luis Eguren, Unarmed Bodyguards: International Accompaniment for the Protection of Human Rights , West Hartford CT: Kumarian, 1997; Paul Wehr and John Paul Lederach, "Mediating Conflict in Central America," Journal of Peace Research , 28:1, (1991), 85-98; Paul Wehr, "The Citizen Intervenor," Peace Review , 8:4 (1996), 555-561.

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Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu