The CSS Blog Network

Mediation Perspectives: Early Warning/Early Response: Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

Zanzibar. Courtesy Steven leach

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.

Governments, researchers, and peacebuilders are constantly looking for ways to translate a renewed focus on and heightened awareness of grassroots knowledge into violence prevention and conflict transformation. At present, particular interest has returned to honing and implementing effective Early Warning/Early Response (EWER) mechanisms, but this quest raises a complex question: Should these mechanisms be community-based and originate at the grassroots level or should they be top-down and established as parts of larger structures? Advocates of the grassroots approach, for example, argue that it strengthens and supports the ability of local communities to anticipate and prevent violent conflict, while advocates of large centralized structures acknowledge the benefits of institutional support and broad mandates. The purpose of this blog is to compare these two approaches and ultimately identify the necessity for balance – both approaches have strengths and limitations.

Current trends in the development field suggest that a bottom-up approach, with its emphasis on local initiative and ownership, might be preferable to other options. After all, violence prevention and conflict transformation efforts at the local level can be highly contextual, which is a good thing. Such efforts can more confidently secure a community’s cooperation and support, and they typically identify more nuanced responses, including those that are sensitive to and incorporate traditional practices as well as involving key actors who are positioned to directly intervene in tense situations.

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Freeing Prevention From Conflict: Investing in Sustaining Peace

Courtesy Sasha Maksymenko/flickr

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 21 April 2016.

As the preparations for the May 2016 United Nations General Assembly’s high-level debate on peace and security intensify, prevention seems to be on everyone’s lips. The three 2015 UN global peace and security reviews that frame the debate have conveyed a common message: that the political instruments, tools, and mechanisms the world body deploys to address violent conflict all attest to the failure of early prevention. All three reports, not surprisingly, recommended a greater focus on prevention. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his follow-on report on the recommendations of one of these reviews, by the High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO), wholeheartedly endorsed this.

The skeptics among political observers and those who have followed UN reforms over the years should not be blamed for asking, “So, what’s new?” This is not the first time that the UN and its member states, coming to grips with the woeful shortcomings of their responses to old and emerging global threats, have rediscovered the virtues of prevention. Nothing concentrates the mind more than imminent crisis and once that danger dissipates so does the political will needed, they would argue, to make prevention the first port of call before the outbreak of violence.

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Mediation Perspectives: Professionalizing Mediation through Negotiation Simulations

Illustration by Howard John Arey

Emotions are high and words are flying fast, when suddenly the head of the negotiation delegation gets up and leaves the room. There have been numerous tactical walk-outs during the past 24 hours of marathon negotiations to reach a peace agreement, but this time things are different. Just when the parties are close to signing, one of the delegations is told by their government to insist on an additional clause in the final document. The other party refuses to accept the change. The minutes tick by with frantic efforts by the mediator to find a last minute solution acceptable to all. However, all is in vain. The head of delegation feels it would be a bad deal for her constituency and she still distrusts the other side – so she walks out for good. Both parties blame the other side for the subsequent escalation of violence. » More

Justice in Syria Could Help Break the Cycle of Revenge: Interview with Jeffrey Howell

Image: Wikipedia.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on 2 April 2014 on the IPI Global Observatory.

While the war in Syria rages on, the concept of justice may seem like a distant ideal. But one group is collecting documentation on war crimes and crimes against humanity so that perpetrators may be brought to justice when the conflict ends. At that time, “the decision to prosecute should be made so that the victims of this conflict have not died in vain,” said Jeffrey Howell, Chief of Staff for the Syrian Accountability Project, which was started at Syracuse University’s College of Law in 2011. In the long term, this can also contribute to peace by breaking the cycle of revenge, according to Mr. Howell, since “you can’t rebuild your country on revenge; you can only rebuild your country on justice.”

This interview was conducted by Margaret Williams, Research Assistant at the International Peace Institute. » More

Reducing the Risk of War with Water

Reservoir and intake tower behind the Katse Dam, Lesotho. Photo: Beest/Wikimedia Commons.

Water has become a hot button issue on the international stage. The fear of water scarcity and its implications for human security has been acknowledged by leaders and decision makers across the globe. For example, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has warned that “the consequences for humanity are grave. Water scarcity threatens economic and social gains and is a potent fuel for wars and conflict.” Yet, the challenges posed by water scarcity are a manifestation of the lack of management of resources rather than an actual physical shortage. So while conflict over water resources is possible in many parts of the world, the threat is not due to scarcity but mismanagement. This begs a question – can water bodies ever be jointly managed for equal benefit? We at the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) believe so.

The Good News

According to the findings of our new report “Water Cooperation for a Secure World”, any two countries that are engaged in active water cooperation do not go to war. We are also convinced that if countries cooperate to ensure water supplies they are also far less likely to come to blows over ideologies, economic competition and other factors. Indeed, cooperation between states over water resources not only reduces the chances of war, but also enhances the prospect for social and economic development in other areas. » More

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