Mediation has become a dominant method of peaceful conflict resolution in the international system. Since the end of the Cold War in particular, an increasing number of belligerents have relied on mediators to help end their disputes. Yet, while mediators offer many advantages in the process of making peace, at times serving as the only way for rivals to move forward, mediation may also entail negative, unintended, consequences. Escalation of the conflict upon the mediator’s entrance is one such unintended consequence. Strategic considerations on the one hand, and psychological mechanisms on the other, frequently prompt rivals to escalate rather than cease hostilities upon the onset of mediation. Another possible unintended consequence is prolongation of the conflict due to the presence of the mediator. With a mediator involved in the negotiations, rivals may be tempted to put off an agreement in the hope of gaining a better deal while evading the cost of all-out conflict, or the disputing parties may conclude that they stand to gain more from the mediation process itself than from reaching a settlement. Mediation may also lead to fragile settlements that are prone to be short-lived as compared to settlements arrived at by the disputing parties on their own. This process is driven by factors such as the tendency of mediators to push for settlement terms that are easily attainable but that do not resolve the underlying causes of the conflict and are not necessarily sustainable. Whereas the contribution of mediation to conflict resolution is widely researched and discussed by scholars, to fully appreciate the significance of mediation as a method of conflict resolution, it is crucial to understand its possible negative consequences as well. A clear understanding of the full picture is essential for scholars and practitioners alike.
T. David Mason
Once a civil war ends, there is high probability that the nation will relapse into renewed war within a few years. For a nation where a civil war has recently ended to relapse into renewed conflict, some dynamic process of contention must emerge that makes a resumption of armed conflict one—but not the only—possible outcome of that contentious episode. We can conceive of the dynamics by which contentious politics can lead to civil war recurrence as a function of three conditions. First, one or more dissident groups must emerge with the organizational and military capacity to mount and sustain an armed challenge to the postwar state. Second, one or more of those groups must have the incentive to resort to armed conflict rather than abide by the post–civil war order. Third, conditions and events in the postwar environment must evolve in a manner such that one or more of these groups must determine that they have an opportunity to revolt. This framework can be used to analyze how, in existing research, the outcome and key attributes of the now-ended civil war and conditions in the postwar environment affect whether dissident groups will resume armed conflict or sustain the peace.