Shift to Professional Mediators vs. Diplomats in Warring Countries? Cool.

Mediation Bytes by Karin Hobbs

Great news. Foreign governments are promoting professional private mediators as an effective method of resolving world conflicts. They actually recognize the value of professional mediators working to resolve conflicts rather than diplomats. Private mediators lack the political baggage that diplomats carry. They are not bogged down by bureaucracy so they can move quickly and creatively, and private mediators can take bigger risks regarding with whom they will talk to and under what circumstances, according to The Economist in an article entitled “Privitising Peace.

On June 23, 2011, the Oslo Forum Network hosted a discussion entitled “Talking to the Taliban.” This year the forum invited “real-life Taliban” to the table to talk, according to The Economist. In 2003, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue launched the Oslo Forum Network to enhance the status and reputation of mediation as a profession and to improve “conflict mediation.” The forum provides unique opportunity for professional mediators to share their experiences in a “discreet and informal setting.” And, the forum is promoting gender diversity of the professional peace mediators of these armed conflicts. Bonus.

Imagine sitting in a room with leaders of foreign countries working on a mediated solution. I have heard both Roger Fisher and Bob Mnookin discuss these conversations. I have never known the extent of Fisher and Mnookin’s experience as professional mediators versus their experienced as Harvard professors, but it seems their involvement was at least an improvement over using diplomats. Not that there is anything wrong with diplomats. Its just that for years these efforts have been led by diplomats, largely because they are respected and trusted, not because they are trained to resolve conflict. Maybe the warring countries could find deeper and more satisfactory resolutions to their conflicts with a professional mediator?

Seems similar to the waning propensity in the United States to use untrained retired judges to mediate legal disputes. Trained judges can be very effective as mediators, it is the untrained retirees who cause concern. Like diplomats, retired judges are trusted and respected, and often parties want them to use their muscle to force a solution. But, like diplomats, they often lack the training to read cues, understand underlying concerns of both parties, read between the lines and help warring parties reach a sustainable and deeply needed resolution to their conflict. Besides, often using muscle is the opposite of what parties in conflict need. Perhaps we can find some peace for armed conflicts if we indeed shift to using professionally trained mediators. We can only hope.


Karin S. Hobbs

A Fellow and Board member of the International Academy of Mediators, Karin has enjoyed a distinguished career as a mediator, an attorney and a trainer.  She established the Appellate Mediation Office at the Utah Court of Appeals in 1997, served as Chief Appellate Mediator, was Bar Counsel for the Utah… MORE >

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