Is Civil War Better than Negotiation?

Is Civil War Better Than Negotiating?

Read the article [here]

“For history demonstrates that civil wars, particularly ethnic civil wars, end more durably when there is a decisive military victory.”

A nice sensational style way to start today’s blog, eh? Well, this quote is from the International Herald Tribune’s Bennett Ramberg. His piece is titled “Fight to the End” and it refers to how over history, in civil wars, actual fighting which results in one side clearly defeating the other is more sustaining that negotiating a truce.

Mr. Ramberg adds that the alternative to actual violence and fighting- “negotiated power sharing, ethnic autonomy or federalism – generally offer more hope than stability, as former combatants eventually become disenchanted with the new order and return to the gun.”

That is an interesting statement that grabbed my interest, but unfortunately the example then given I feel falls a bit flat since he then refers to a civil war from almost 200 years ago- our own American Civil War! Other examples are added, including Tibet and Chechnya. By the way, not to create an entirely seperate discussion but what happend in Tibet over 50 years ago I would not call a Civil War but more of an invasion.

For those of you who are statistical junkies, this one’s for you, “Statistical analysis of the dozens of civil wars between 1945 and 2004 shows that 77 percent ended in a decisive victory by one side, while 23 percent ended in negotiated accords. Four fifths of the decisive victories held; two-thirds of the negotiated agreements failed.”

Finally, the article concludes with a message to President Obama (doesn’t it seem like each day more and more people are offering their advice to the President in articles?), “The Obama administration should heed the lessons of history. In civil war, as in all war, events on the ground dictate outcomes – including opportunities for effective international mediation. Wishing that it were otherwise will not make it happen.”

I am a bit confused in the statement “events on the ground dictate outcomes”. Yes, events on the ground can dictate outcomes however the street does not flow only one way here, but rather in both directions. Negotiation/mediation can also determine the events on the ground in that a successful mediation could stop any ground events.

Additionally, allowing negotiation to take place many times in fact stops any ground events as a condition for the mediation to even begin. Admittedly many times it is agreed to be done on temporarily basis, but that in itself can be viewed as a success as that agreement, albeit done on a temporary basis, is a start to the foundation of accumulating yes’s.

What I mean by yes’s is that as the mediator, you want to get people to say yes more than no. It helps break down barriers and adds to an environment of collaboration- not confrontation (that’s what war is for, right?). Collaboration promotes the idea and vision of working together, not the “us” versus “them” mentality that can lead the parties back to the battle fields.

A core point I offer to the writer and readers of the article is that the whole idea of negotiation is to get away from the very idea of what the title says, “Fight to the End”. A mediator wants to remove the very idea that the mediation is an extension of the battlefield.

Negotiation might take longer, but is well worth the effort when looking for a ‘everyone lives and wins’ result in mediation compared to ‘we win, you die and lose’ in war, right?

                        author

Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School… MORE >

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