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Melanie C. Greenberg, John H. Barton, and Margaret E. McGuinness, eds. Words over War: Mediation and Arbitration to Prevent Deadly Conflict. Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. xxxviii + 447 pp. Tables, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-8476-9892-0; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8476-9893-9.

Reviewed by Stefan Wolff, Department of European Studies, University of Bath, England.
Published by H-Diplo (June, 2002)

The Virtues and Vices of Negotiation (and Writing about It)

Greenberg, Barton and McGuiness have put together a very useful book for scholars, students and practitioners of conflict settlement through negotiation. Following a succinct introduction by the three editors, twelve chapters analyse as many incidents where negotiation occurred by a third party in (potential) violent intra-state and inter-state conflicts, before a conclusion by two of the editors (Barton and Greenberg) summarises and systematises the findings of individual case studies.

One of the outstanding characteristics of this volume is the attempt by the editors to ensure consistency in the presentation of individual cases. The theoretical framework, outlined in less than ten pages, provides good guidance for the reader, no matter whether he or she reads the entire volume (which I highly recommend), or is merely interested in specific cases. Taking a predominantly legal perspective obviously puts emphasis on such issues in negotiations as "process, legal principle, rules and development of law, and the role of law in mediated agreements" (p. 3), but the theoretical framework that guides the subsequent analysis is broader than this and incorporates quite well other elements with which scholars of international relations and political science will be more familiar: nature of the underlying conflict, organisation, form and mechanism of the intervention and its major protagonists (including choice of parties and mediators and role of international governmental and non-governmental organisations), as well as factors that shape the result of mediation and, where applicable, the success and implementation of the agreement reached.

Even though the subtitle of the volume--Mediation and Arbitration to Prevent Deadly Conflict--might be somewhat misleading as many of the cases studied are dealing with intervention in ongoing conflicts, the selection of different types and instances of conflict is highly representative of our day and age. It also shows the potential that diplomatic intervention has acquired in the post-Cold War period in effectively mediating to prevent and end conflicts.

The authors of the individual case studies generally stick to the framework developed by the editors in the introductory chapter and present their data in a way that allows the reader to make his or her own comparisons quite easily as all chapters follow the same structure: after an overview and a timeline of the conflict and the intervention, a background section explains what each conflict is all about and how it evolved. Then, key intervention(s) and major actor(s) are examined, the form and specific mechanisms of intervention analysed, and key factors that shaped the outcome discussed and its results assessed, followed, on some occasions, by more or less cautious generalisations. The sequence of these sections is not always the same, but this is of little consequence.

The volume is divided into three parts. The first, "Separation of Nations," looks into cases where the (original) outcome of mediation was a separation of the conflict parties either by secession/dissolution of a multi-national state (Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), by quasi-independence (Abkhazia) or by the promise of greater autonomy and eventual statehood (the West Bank). The second part, "Integration of Nations," is essentially about mediations that were aimed at providing institutional frameworks that allow for peaceful (and democratic) political processes in societies deeply divided on grounds of race or ethnicity (South Africa, Northern Ireland, Rwanda) or on grounds of political ideology (El Salvador, Cambodia). Finally, in the third part on "Intermediation in Noncivil Conflicts," the contributors focus on international crises that were averted by third party intervention (Aral Sea Basin, Beagle Channel, North Korea).

The choice of cases presents a good balance of successful and unsuccessful mediations, and with one exception (Beagle Channel) they are all examples of the last decade, thus benefiting from (or being haunted by) the end of the Cold War and the changes in the geostrategic balance of power that has occurred since then. The focus of the editors on the (intended) outcome of each intervention makes sense for the categorisation of cases, even though for purposes of systematisation it might also have been useful to categorise on the basis of conflict type and thus include Northern Ireland with the first group to show how essentially similar (ethnoterritorial/secessionist) conflicts can or cannot be resolved by different forms of intervention and proposed settlements. But again, this is not a matter of great significance.

More important, however, are some surprising shortcomings in the final chapter. The first of them is related to the definition of the disputes and their subjects (pp. 344ff.). Bosnia and Croatia are both labeled as "creation of new nation in breakup of Yugoslavia" (p. 345, Chart 13.1). If this is meant to be read as the creation of independent states from former Yugoslav republics this equation makes sense. Otherwise, Croatia already was a nation (and arguably Tudjman's ability to play to pre-existing national sentiment was one of the problems triggering the breakup of Yugoslavia), while Bosnia-Herzegovina was not. In addition, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was not merely about independence, but also had a number of features of a civil war and involved other attempts to secede from the seceding republic. In this sense, Bosnia was also about creating a civic nation. By the same token, describing Northern Ireland as "resolution of religious conflict involving desire of one side to transfer sovereignty over region" (p. 345) is at best a misjudgement of the importance of different dimensions involved in the long conflict in the province. This is all the more surprising as the related chapter by Kevin King states clearly that the conflict is "essentially an intercommunal fight for self-determination" (p. 186). The description of El Salvador and Rwanda as termination of guerrilla and civil war, respectively, is more the statement of the aim of the intervention, rather than what the actual dispute in both countries was about (p. 345, Chart 13.1).

These and some other minor inaccuracies, however, should not detract the reader from the real benefits that the concluding chapter offers after all. Barton and Greenberg offer an excellent systematisation of the major trends in conflict development since the end of the Cold War and in the new dynamics and opportunities, as well as persisting limitations and shortcomings, of international efforts to mediate in actual and potential conflicts. In the same way in which the entire volume combines different types of conflict and patterns of mediation, the conclusion brings them together in a comprehensive and concise way, thus serving almost as a guidebook not just to scholars and students, but also to practitioners. It alerts readers, of whom there will hopefully be many, to the difficulties of mediation in the face of bloody and often seemingly unresolvable conflicts.

Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 16/09/02 11:39:45
S D Stein

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