Seven Findings about “Successful Mediation” — from a Study of Mediation in International Relations

International mediation (photo by Marilyn Swanson)

By: Donald L Swanson

I recently stumbled upon a fascinating report of a study on issues and trends called “Successful Mediation in International Relations.”  This study looks at 79 international disputes (of which 44 are mediated) occurring during a 45 year period, between 1945 and 1989.  The study makes multiple findings about these mediation efforts.

Question: Do any of the finding in this study also apply to the mediation of disputes between private parties?

This article identifies seven findings in the study.  For each finding, the foregoing question needs to be asked.

Finding # 1:  Regime Types – Autocracies Fare Poorly in Mediation

“A traditional hypothesis . . . posits that those states which are more democratic or pluralistic are less prone to initiate violent interactions than their non-democratic counterparts.  . . .  however . . . democratic states are no less prone to conflict than any other type of regime, although they rarely fight among themselves.

“In those conflicts where one of the disputants was a multiparty state, the average probability of successfully mediation was 24% (i.e. above the overall average of 22%).  In the 34 mediation attempts involving two multi-party states, 35% were successful.  The corresponding figure for the 36 mediation attempts between one-party state dyads was only 6%.

Question: Does this finding apply to the mediation of disputes between private parties?

Finding # 2:  Relative Power – Unequal Power Fares Poorly in Mediation

“[T]he smaller the power differences between the adversaries, the greater the effectiveness of international mediation.  . . .  The idea that mediation is most effective in disputes involving adversaries with equal power receives strong support” from the data.

“[A] clear pattern emerged showing a high mediation impact (that is, abatement or settlement of a dispute) when power capabilities are evenly matched, and low to no impact when power disparity is high.”

“No mediation occurred in 48% of disputes between countries of unequal power . . . And in those disputes that were mediated between unequal states, only 6% were successful.  Where both parties were of roughly equal power, the probability of mediating successfully was over five times as great (32%).”

“We found the probability of successful mediation to be highest when the parties were not only equal in power, but were both relatively weak states.

Question: Does this finding apply to the mediation of disputes between private parties?

Finding # 3:  Previous Relations – Friends Mediate Better than Enemies

“[P]arties with a history of friendship or cooperation will also approach a present conflict more cooperatively.”

“Not surprisingly, it appears significantly easier to mediate between friends.  A mediator entering this type of dyad has almost twice the chance of success compared to any other mediation (46% as opposed to an average of 22% for all others).”

“Furthermore, though adversaries with a past history of more than one dispute receive most mediation attempts, they also demonstrate the lowest probability of success (16%).”

Question: Does this finding apply to the mediation of disputes between private parties?

Finding # 4:  Duration of the Dispute – Timing is Everything (But Difficult to Discern)

“To be effective, mediation must take place at the right moment.  . . .   There is, however, little agreement as to what constitutes, or how to recognize, such a moment.”

“Generally, the longer a dispute goes on, the less amenable it is to mediation; but there does seem to be a minimum amount of time necessary before mediation is successful.  In those disputes that have continued for more than 12 months when mediation occurs, the probability of success is only 19%.  But mediation attempts taking place one to three months into a dispute show a greater chance of success (37%) than those initiated when the conflict is less than one month old (23%).

Question: Does this finding apply to the mediation of disputes between private parties?

Finding # 5:  Number of Mediation Attempts – Less is More

“Our data indicate a slight increase in probability of successful mediation after one or two previous attempts (32%).  After this point, however, the probability of success begins a long decline.”

“A mediator entering a conflict after three or four previous attempts at mediation will have no better chance of mediating successfully than one who is the first to attempt mediation (the probability of success in both instances is 23%).”

“If seven or more attempts at mediation have preceded a mediator’s intervention, the probability of success is just 13%.  Even the most persistently mediated conflicts (i.e. with  or more mediation attempts) only achieve average success (22%).”

“Though there may be some cumulative effects of mediation, they only seem to occur very early on.  A conflict that has resisted a few attempts at mediation will probably also resist several subsequent attempts.”

Question: Does this finding apply to the mediation of disputes between private parties?

Finding # 6:  Intensity – Low is Better than High

“Mediation is more likely to be accepted and to be successful, in low intensity disputes.”

“As the number of fatalities in a dispute increases, the likelihood that mediation initiatives will prove successful suffers a corresponding decline.  Only 17% of mediation attempts have any degree of success in disputes of more than 1,000 fatalities, compared with 42% in disputes of 100-500 fatalities.”

“Protracted and intense international disputes, though they receive far more attempts at mediation than less severe disputes, are not particularly amenable to mediation.  Such disputes have to be managed in a different manner.”

Question: Does this finding apply to the mediation of disputes between private parties?

Finding # 7:  Issues – Territory and Security vs. Ideology, Honor and Existence

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, our data indicate that disputes involving territory or security are far more amenable to mediation than those over issues of ideology or independence.”

“When the issues are defined as honor, existence or ideology, the chances of successful mediation are reduced substantially.”

“The chances of successful mediation are enhanced considerably when security is the issue in dispute.”

For example, “the possibilities for successful mediation in cold war disputes are very low (only 1 out of 10 disputes in this category resulted in some success), but relatively high in non-ideological disputes (here mediation was effective in 13 out of 31 disputes).”

Question: Does this finding apply to the mediation of disputes between private parties?

**  If you find this article of value, please feel free to share.  If you’d like to discuss, let me know.




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