Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

New routes to power: towards a typology of power mediation


This article is concerned with a particular debate in mediation literature, revolving around the merit and necessity of power as a strategy employed by third parties in their efforts to negotiate a successful resolution to conflict. We argue that by subscribing to a one-dimensional spectrum of pure-to-power mediation, students of mediation have neglected the development of how power is conceptualised and operates within the changing dynamics of conflict and its mediation.

We therefore seek to redefine the concept of power mediation to project a closer fit between conflicting parties' understanding of their situation and the methods, aims and motivations of their mediators. Breaking away from the existing pure-power spectrum, we propose a heuristic framework that includes four distinct types of power mediation, defined here as real, made, critical and structural power. The contribution of our heuristic model is threefold. First, it assists us in asking the most basic question of social science research, ‘of what is this a case’, which in turn ought to lead to a more sophisticated observation of mediation instances. Concurrently, through the frame of ‘power’, it establishes common understanding of observable phenomena that makes the study of mediation more accessible to the wider audience beyond students of our modest literature. Finally, the synthesis of epistemological and ontological inquiry of conflict and power with the established International Relations (IR) approaches of realism(s), constructivism, critical discourse and structuralism, allows respective real, made, critical and structural types of mediation power to be tested.

Hide All

1 Bercovitch J. and Fretter J., Regional Guide to International Conflict and Management from 1945 to 2003 (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2004), p. 29 ; Beardsley K. C. et al. , ‘Mediation Style and Crisis Outcomes’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50:1 (2006), p. 59 .

2 Princen T., Intermediaries in International Conflict (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 3 .

3 Pruitt D. G., ‘Mediator Behavior and Success in Negotiation’, in Bercovitch J. (ed.), Studies in International Mediation (Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002), p. 51 .

4 Rubin J., ‘International Mediation in Context’, in Bercovitch J. and Rubin J. Z. (eds), Mediation in International Relations: Multiple Approaches to Conflict Management (New York: St Martin's Press, 1992), p. 254 .

5 Zartman I. W. and Touval S., ‘International Mediation in the Post-Cold War Era’, in Crocker Chester A. and Hampson Fen O. (eds), Managing Global Chaos (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1996), pp. 445461 .

6 Kleiboer M., ‘Understanding Success and Failure of International Mediation’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 40:2 (1996), p. 371 .

7 Kriesberg L., ‘The Development of the Conflict Resolution Field’, in Zartman I. W. and Rasmussen L. (eds), Peacekeeping in International Conflict: Methods & Techniques (Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace, 1997), p. 65 .

8 Bercovitch J. and Rubin J. (eds), Mediation in International Relations (London: Macmillan, 1992) ; Touval S., The Peace Brokers: Mediators in the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1948–1979 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982) ; Beardsley et al., ‘Mediation Style and Crisis Outcomes’; Carnevale P., ‘Mediating from Strength’, in Bercovitch J. (ed.), Studies in International Mediation: Essays in Honor of Jeffrey Z. Rubin (London: Palgrave-MacMillan), p. 33 .

9 Burton J. and Dukes F., Conflict: Practices, Settlement, and Resolution (London: Macmillan, 1990) ; Moore C., The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict (San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass, 1986) ; R. Slim, ‘Small State Mediation in International Relations: The Algerian Mediation of the Iranian Hostage Crisis’, in Bercovitch J. and Rubin J. (eds), Mediation inInternational Relations: Multiple Approaches to Conflict Management (New York: St. Martin's Press), pp. 216231 .

10 Smith J. D., ‘Mediator Impartiality: Banishing the Chimera’, Journal of Peace Research, 31:4 (1994), pp. 445450 .

11 Burrell G. and Morgan G., ‘Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis: Elements of the Sociology of Corporate Life (London: Heinemann, 1979) ; Kleiboer M. and t'Hart P., ‘Time to Talk? Multiple Perspectives on Timing in International Mediation’, Cooperation and Conflict, 30:4 (1995), pp. 307348 .

12 Fisher R. and Keashley L., ‘The Potential Complementarity of Mediation and Consultation within a Contingency Model of Third Party Intervention’, Journal of Peace Research, 28:1 (1991), pp. 2942 ; Rauchhaus R., ‘Asymetric Information, Mediation, and Conflict Management’, World Politics, 58:2 (2006), pp. 207241 .

13 Fisher and Keashley, ‘The Potential Complementarity of Mediation’, p. 33 .

14 Smith, ‘Mediator Impartiality’, p. 448 .

15 Bercovitch J. and Houston A., ‘The Study of International Mediation: Theoretical Issues and Empirical Evidence’, Bercovitch J. (ed.), Resolving International Conflicts (Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000), p. 177 ; Fisher and Keashley, ‘The Potential Complementarity of Mediation’.

16 Egeland J., ‘The Oslo Accord: Multiparty Mediation through the Norwegian Channel’, in Crocker C. et al. (eds), Herding Cats: Multiparty Mediation in a Complex World (Washington DC: US Institute of Peace Press, 1999), pp. 537546 .

17 Fisher and Keashley, ‘The Potential Complementarity of Mediation’, p. 33 .

18 Touval, The Peace Brokers, p. 275 .

19 Princen, Intermediaries in International Conflict.

20 Baine D. and Sawatzky D., ‘Mediation Methods as an Adjunct to Counselling Couples’, International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling, 15:4 (1992), pp. 273284 .

21 Wall J. and Stark J., ‘North American Conflict Management’, in Leung K. and Tjosvold D. (eds), Conflict Management in the Asian Pacific (New York: John Wiley, 1998), pp. 303334 .

22 Murray J., ‘The Cairo Stories: Some Reflections on Conflict Resolution in Egypt’, Negotiation Journal, 13:1 (1997), pp. 3960 .

23 Milburn T. and Isaac P., ‘Prospect Theory: Implications for International Mediation’, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 1:4 (1995), pp. 333342 .

24 Beardsley, et al. , ‘Mediation Style and Crisis Outcomes’, pp. 5886 .

25 Bloomfield D., Peacemaking Strategies in Northern Ireland: Building Complementarity in Conflict Management Theory (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997) .

26 Crocker et al. , Herding Cats, p. 24 .

27 Saunders H., ‘Prenegotiation and Circum-negotiation: Arenas of the Peace Process’, in Crocker C. et al. (eds), Managing Global Chaos (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996), p. 426 .

28 Bush R., ‘Realizing the Potential of International Conflict Work: Connections between Practice and Theory’, Negotiation Journal, 19:1 (2003), pp. 97103 .

29 Aggestam K., ‘Mediating Asymmetrical Conflict’, Mediterranean Politics, 7:1 (2002), pp. 6991 .

30 Smith S., ‘Singing Our World into Existence: International Relations Theory and September 11’, International Studies Quarterly, 48:3 (2004), pp. 499515 .

31 Kleiboer and Hart, ‘Time to Talk?’, p. 312 .

32 Ibid., p. 338.

33 Keohane R., After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 70 .

34 Nossal K., ‘Foreign Policy for Wimps’, Ottawa Citizen (23 April 1998), p. 19 .

35 Nye J., Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power (New York: Basic Books, 1990), p. 12 .

36 Dahl R., Who Governs? (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961) .

37 Mills C., The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956) .

38 Lukes S., Power: A Radical View (London: MacMillan, 1974) .

39 Giddens A., The Constitution of Society (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1984) ; Cox R., ‘Social Forces, States and World Orders’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 10:2 (1981), pp. 126155 .

40 Barnett M. and Duvall R., ‘Power in International Politics’, International Organization, 59:1: (2005), pp. 3975 .

41 Carr E., What is History? (London: Penguin, 1961) .

42 Barnett and Duvall, ‘Power in International Politics’, p. 39 .

43 Kleiboer and Hart, ‘Time to Talk?’, p. 315 .

44 Ibid., p. 323.

45 The epistemological ‘double dipping’ of constructivist approaches such as Wendt's are noted as in some ways restricting this ‘approach’ from being credited as political theory.

46 Kleiboer M., The Multiple Realities of International Mediation (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998) .

47 Kleiboer and Hart, ‘Time to Talk?’, p. 338 .

48 Princen, Intermediaries in International Conflict, p. 50 .

49 Kleiboer and Hart, ‘Time to Talk?’, pp. 337338 .

50 Ibid., p. 329.

51 Smith, ‘Mediator Impartiality’, p. 446 .

52 Zartman I. W., ‘The Unfinished Agenda: Negotiating Internal Conflicts’, in Licklider R. (ed.), Stopping the Killing (New York: New York University Press, 1993) .

53 Barnett and Duvall, ‘Power in International Politics’, p. 55 .

54 Ibid., p. 54.

55 Nash J., ‘The Bargaining Problem’, Econometrica, 18:2 (1950), pp. 155162

56 The complexity of two-level game however, offers different incentives and logics. In the language of Robert Putnam, looking at ‘acceptability sets’ and the ever-important win set, it can be argued that real or structural dimensions can significantly shift acceptability sets by exerting influence on the second, ‘ratifying layer’ of parties undertaking negotiations. This ratifying layer can be accounted for by the practical possibilities of legislation and policy formed through domestic constraints. Thus, keeping the domestic win set small, but shifted to be within the shared international acceptability set provides optimal bargaining positions. In other words, leverage can re-position a specific pareto acceptable outcome (that is, maximum gains without incurring more loss) at both layers that was previously unavailable. See Putnam R., ‘Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games’, International Organization, 42:3 (1988), pp. 427460 .

57 Richmond O., ‘Devious Objectives and the Disputants’ View of International Mediation: A Theoretical Framework’, Journal of Peace Research, 35:6 (1998), pp. 707722.

58 Copeland D., The Origins of Major Wars (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2000) .

59 Krasner S., International Regimes (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1983) .

60 Posen B., ‘The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict’, Survival, 35:1 (1993), p. 43 .

61 See for example Carnevale, ‘Mediating from Strength’; Smith, ‘Mediator Impartiality’; Touval, The Peace Brokers.

62 Segev S., ‘The Arab-Israeli Conflict under President Bush’, in Bose M. and Perotti R. (eds), From Cold War to New World Order: The Foreign Policy of George H.W. Bush (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 2002), pp. 113136 ; Siniver A, ‘Power, Impartiality and Timing: Three Hypotheses on Third Party Mediation in the Middle East’, Political Studies, 54:4 (2006), pp. 806826 .

63 Siniver, ‘Power, Impartiality and Timing’, p. 816 .

64 Zartman I. W., ‘The Timing of Peace Initiatives: Hurting Stalemates and Ripe Moments’, The Global Review of Ethnopolitics, 1:1 (2001), pp. 818 .

65 Carnevale P. and Choi D., ‘Culture in the Mediation of International Disputes’, International Journal of Psychology, 35:2 (2000), pp. 105110 ; Touval, The Peace Brokers.

66 Aggestam, ‘Mediating Asymmetrical Conflict’; Pruitt, ‘Mediator Behavior and Success in Negotiation’

67 Siniver, ‘Power, Impartiality and Timing’.

68 Zartman I. W. and Touval S., ‘International Mediation in the Post-Cold War Era’, p. 446 .

* A previous version of this article was presented at the Eight International Comparative Studies Section of the International Studies Association, Paris (14–15 June, 2008). The authors wish to thank the anonymous reviewers of RIS for their extremely valuable comments on earlier drafts.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 5
Total number of PDF views: 53 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 206 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.