238. "Rethinking Peacekeeping, Beyond Intervention to Mediation" The Washington Quarterly, Volume 18, No. 3, (Summer 1995), pp. 75-87.

GRADUALLY, AND TO some extent inadvertently, the United States has been developing a new role in the post cold war world. The new role is low key and compatible with the need to focus on neglected domestic matters such as deficit reduction and welfare reform. Even in the foreign policy arena, the new diplomatic paradigm has been overshadowed by a grand theme left over from earlier eras the notion that the United States can and should foster democracy and human rights throughout the world.

The new U.S. role is that of the world mediator. Rather than acting as the world's police force, in several cases the United States has provided adversarial parties with its good services and tried to broker resolutions to long-festering conflicts. As a rule the parties involved have found themselves at an impasse and believed that they might benefit from the assistance of a third party. The terms of the mediated resolutions and the compliance are not typically imposed by the United States or any other power, but are followed voluntarily by the reconciled parties. In some instances the United States offers economic inducements to encourage the parties to move forward in their reconciliation, to reward those who did move toward conflict resolution, or to ease the pain of transition for the parties whose dispute is being resolved, but that is about as far as it goes. The possibility of positioning forces between the previously conflicting parties has also been mentioned, for instance, for the Golan Heights, but basically the results of mediation because they have been embraced voluntarily by the concerned parties are self-enforcing.

To highlight the merits of mediation as a world role is not to suggest that this is the only role the United States plays or ought to play; clearly if Iraq were to invade Saudi Arabia, the United States ought to live up to its commitment as an ally and use its military might rather than offer mediation. And during the cold war era there were occasions when the United States mediated. Still, as we shall see, there is a significant difference between mediation as one tool among many in one's diplomatic bag of tricks and mediation as a major U.S. tool in the post cold war world, in which numerous parties, released from their previous bloc commitments, are trying to sort out how to proceed in the new international environment.

U.S.-fostered reconciliations offer significant economic and social benefits in addition to helping to avoid the possibility that unresolved conflicts will lead to wars, say between Syria and Israel. As tensions abate over the longer term, more and more of the considerable resources countries have previously expended on troops, armaments, and intelligence gathering can be shifted to peaceful uses. New stability in the relations among neighbor countries can increase chances of trade with outsiders and enhance investment from abroad.[1] These developments, initially generated by reduced levels of inter-nation tensions and conflict, in turn, undergird the evolving peace.

By and large, the U.S. role in fostering these developments has been appreciated, even celebrated. In this respect, local and international reactions compare very favorably to the reactions that have typically occurred in the wake of U.S. military interventions, economic boycotts, and pressures on countries to implement programs of economic "stabilization."

At the same time, if mediation efforts fail, the downside risk for the United States is minimal. The danger of military entanglement or of the type of difficult disengagement faced by U.S. troops in Somalia, not to mention Vietnam, is much reduced.

There is little need for major economic outlays because mediation, as a rule, entails little more than the use of skilled diplomats, shuttle diplomacy, state visits, and the like. As mentioned above, the United States has, on several occasions, provided some economic aid to help move the mediation process forward. This aid, however, is not an essential or even important part of the process because several mediation efforts, to be discussed below, have progressed successfully without economic sweeteners. And when given these were rather small in comparison to the aid used as a leading foreign policy tool.

A major reason mediation often bears at least some fruit is that the parties come to the table as a rule when they are tired of conflict and when their efforts to overcome differences on their own have failed. They come, in other words, when their conflict is "ripe" for mediation, and the opportunity provided by the United States is one they seek or at least welcome. In comparison, when the United States played a different international role, its help was not as obviously sought, nor as well received.

Even when a mediation effort is unsuccessful, it is often evident that the fault rests with an intransigent party (or parties), not with the mediator. And, because some dialogue has occurred, there is often the valid perception that additional mediation may still take place at some undetermined time in the future and may, ultimately, succeed. Thus, even under these circumstances, the U.S. basic role and intentions are appreciated, if not by all involved, then almost certainly by much of the rest of the world. The same cannot be said about the role the United States played when it acted more aggressively in places such as Nicaragua, Grenada, and Panama.

One reason why the United States has not further developed its role as a world mediator, and a large part of the reason why its contributions are not fully recognized, is that its leaders have allowed its successes in this role to be overshadowed by often futile efforts to pursue old-mode foreign policy. Old-style notions are at work in such hapless initiatives as the drives to make China respect human rights, to entice the former Soviet republics to embrace genuine democracy, and, most Sisyphean, to "restore" democracy to Haiti, where it never existed and is very unlikely to take root regardless of what the United States and its allies do. Even those who are much more optimistic than this author about the U.S. capacity to democratize the world should appreciate the benefits of allowing the role of world mediator to move to the center of the foreign policy stage, even as the United States continues to express its concern about the need to advance human rights and ideally democracy as well.

The United States as Mediator

Israel PLO: Better Late . . .

To depict the U.S. role in the mediation between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), it is necessary return to the period preceding the September 13, 1993, handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin at the White House. The basic political trade-off that led to the Declaration of Principles signed at that time was Israel's recognition of the PLO, and the PLO's acceptance of the Israeli model of autonomy. This was achieved through direct, secret negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians in which the United States was not involved. (The United States was, however, conducting an active shuttle diplomacy at the time between the Washington, D.C., hotels where Israeli and Palestinian delegations were at work. A State Department official explained that these rounds served to prepare "intellectual capital" for the rounds that followed the politically important but content-weak Oslo agreement.)

After the historic handshake, the United States played a key role in overcoming major hurdles about which the two sides were deadlocked and that kept delaying the implementation of the accord. Among the issues the United States helped to deal with was the status of Jerusalem. The "solution" here was to table the issue until an indeterminate time. The parties agreed to discuss it during the final stage of negotiations. This allowed the Israelis to maintain that it was not on the active agenda and the Palestinians to feel that the subject was no longer taboo, but open to consideration, albeit in the indeterminate future.

Second, Palestinians living in East Jerusalem were granted the right to vote in elections for the Palestinian Authority, but so far their ability to hold political office has been left unresolved. For the Israelis this was a question again deferred, while the Palestinians saw it as a potential opportunity to expand their jurisdiction into Jerusalem.

Third, there was a question about the meaning of autonomy. Palestinians claimed autonomy over the land. Such autonomy, along with legislative power, would accord them a sense of sovereignty. The Israeli position was that the interim government was derivative of other authority and that, as that other authority, the Israeli government had the final determination of laws in Gaza and the West Bank. The compromise mediators helped to work out granted the Palestinian Authority legislative powers, but the Israeli government retained review and rejection powers.

Fourth, the parties were helped to develop a compromise over border security. A complex Rube Goldberg rule, showing the ingenuity of those involved, was reached about the border crossing, which allowed Israel to control entry and the Palestinians to appear in charge. There are two terminals. At one, Israelis and tourists are checked by Israeli security. At the other, Palestinians are checked by Palestinian officers, with Israelis watching through a two-way mirror, accepting or rejecting certain persons.

To an outsider these issues may seem only somewhat more weighty than the shape of the table during the negotiations with Vietnam. For those in the area, however, only after these issues were resolved, compromised, or deferred by mutual agreement could the accords be implemented. The United States may have played at best an indirect role in getting the 1993 mediation going, but it played a growing role in keeping the process moving forward. Like many mediation endeavors, the work is far from done and one can never tell if, at some future time, last year's achievements will be undone.

Israel Jordan: U.S. Role Rather Pivotal

The United States emerged as a significant factor in the Israel Jordan give-and-take by putting aside its lingering ill will toward Jordan for its role in supporting Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. There were three main issues: refugees, borders, and water. With U.S. diplomatic help (and some economic sweeteners) these were resolved in the following manner: in July 1994, both parties agreed to postpone a resolution of the refugee issues until a later date, possibly because the Jordanians realized that Israel could not agree to allow the return of all or even most of the millions of Palestinians who had left Israel over the last decades.

Both sides agreed not to deal with the West Bank's Israel Jordan border, which basically parallels frontiers drawn under a long-standing international agreement and is marked by the River Jordan. The disputes concerned short parts of the border north of the West Bank and south of the West Bank on the way to Aqaba. In both places it was resolved that some of the land was ceded to Jordan but leased back to Israeli settlers whose lives were not disturbed as a result, and some of the land was ceded to Jordan outright. (In the South, a really ingenious solution modeled on a section of the U.S. Canada border has so far not been endorsed: turning the contested areas into transnational parks.)

The third major issue was water. Israel was mainly concerned about the water supply to the Negev from springs and wells. Jordan was most concerned about northern water from tributaries of the Jordan. The compromise? Jordan made concessions in the South and Israel in the North. Israel gets northern flow in the summer; Jordan in the winter. And Israel retains control over the southern aquifers.

These agreements were foreshadowed by a meeting on October 1, 1993, of Jordanian, Israeli, and U.S. leaders in Washington, D.C. At this meeting, the parties agreed to create a trilateral economic committee, ostensibly aimed at making plans for developing cooperative ventures and for development of territories in and between Jordan and Israel. A State Department source has indicated, however, that the underlying purpose was to enable the Israelis and the Jordanians to talk without being bound by the formal and rigid arrangements for Middle East negotiations set by the Madrid conference of 1991.

In July 1994, King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin visited the White House to sign an agreement that ended the state of belligerency. In October, a treaty normalizing relations and resolving border and water disputes was signed in the Jordan Rift Valley. In both instances, President Bill Clinton presided over the festivities marking the successful completion of the trilateral mediation efforts. As these lines are written, in March 1995, this exercise in mediation seems particularly well rounded and its achievements solidly ensconced.

Israel Syria: A Prolonged Beginning as the Cold War Ends

Syria became interested in joining the peace discussion when it lost the support of its patron superpower, the Soviet Union. It also felt that peace with Israel could serve as a foundation for better relations with the United States. Both goals could be advanced simultaneously if the United States served as the mediator. Israel recognized that the goal of peace with Syria could not be achieved without U.S. involvement.

From the outset, Syria wanted a prior commitment on full withdrawal from the Golan Heights by Israel. Israel had been reluctant to grant such assurances until Syria defined peace to show that it would not be merely nominal but encompassing, a peace that included full normalization of relations. Israel also wanted security guarantees in order to be able to prove to its citizens that their security would not be diminished by relinquishing the Golan Heights. Syria saw no reason to concede anything to get back what Syrians considered their land.

Since late 1993, U.S. diplomats, such as Secretary of State Warren Christopher, had been shuttling between Syria and Israel. In April 1994, to advance the talks, the U.S. officials suggested two new considerations: time and phases. Events could be stretched out over time using more phases, or completed more rapidly in fewer phases. This strategy opens up nearly limitless possibilities for schedules and types of relations. For instance, Israel initially wanted a seven-year withdrawal, all normalization in one year, and full security guarantees. Syria countered with a six-month withdrawal, five years for normalization, and no security assurances.

Gradually, differences in all these areas have somewhat narrowed, although the ground that is still to be covered is considerable. Israel is reported to now be willing to accept a four-year, nine-month withdrawal from the Golan Heights, while Syria is holding out for a 16-month withdrawal. On the issue of normalization of relations, the public veneer of relations has been improved, even if only slightly, by symbolic gestures such as the first-ever interview of a Syrian foreign minister on Israeli television and permission for one Israeli reporter (who is also a U.S. citizen) to attend a press conference with President Hafez al-Assad in Syria. Both sides agree on one point: there is a long row to hoe, and much for the mediators to achieve. This case has already proven to be a test of patience for those who offered to mediate.

Russia Estonia: The Last Step

As early as January 1991, Russian officials were promising the withdrawal of troops from the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. But in October 1992, Russia reversed its course on troop withdrawals. It cited two reasons. First, there was insufficient housing in Russia to absorb the more than 100,000 Russian troops in the Baltics. Second, Russia felt a need to safeguard the rights of the ethnic Russian minority in the Baltics. For nearly two years thereafter, negotiations on this issue between Russia and the Baltic states can be characterized only as proceeding by fits and starts. No sooner would talks begin than they would be halted, unable to yield a resolution acceptable to all sides.

In October 1993, Secretary Christopher visited Latvia after his tour of the former Soviet Union. While in Russia, he pressed for a troop withdrawal. In Riga, Latvia, he suggested that the Baltics should extend citizenship to ethnic Russians. He feared that restricting citizenship might someday give Russia a plausible reason not only to keep troops in, but also to invade, the Baltics. While he was in Latvia, Secretary Christopher met with Aleksei Grigoriev, a journalist and spokesman for ethnic Russians. Grigoriev asked for U.S. mediation of the situation. Although his request was denied, Secretary Christopher suggested instead that an international committee review Latvia's restrictive citizenship law. Latvia promptly accepted the offer.

By 1994 Russian troops had completely withdrawn from Lithuania, where the situation was resolved without additional U.S. contributions. President Boris Yeltsin announced his intention to withdraw Russian troops from Latvia also, but stalled on a withdrawal from Estonia. Estonia turned to the United States for assistance.

The issue of a full withdrawal from Estonia was raised in communications between President Clinton and President Yeltsin. During the summit of the Group of Seven (G 7) in July 1994, President Clinton hand delivered a letter from Estonian president Lennart Meri to Yeltsin. The letter requested a personal meeting between the Russian and the Estonian leaders. On July 15, the U.S. Senate voted to make all aid to Russia contingent on a full withdrawal from Estonia.

Shortly after the G-7 summit, Presidents Yeltsin and Meri met in Moscow. After a night of tumultuous negotiations a deal was struck. The last Russian troops were withdrawn from the Baltics on August 31, 1994, ending 54 years of military occupation. The U.S. mediation thus enabled completion of the process of Russian withdrawal from the Baltics. It helped remove the barriers especially in one remaining contested area Estonia.

Russia Ukraine: A Crowning Achievement

Following the fragmentation of the Soviet Union, the world faced the danger of instant nuclear proliferation because such weapons were positioned outside Russia in the now independent countries of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Both the United States and Russia were interested, for a variety of motives, in eliminating these weapons or returning them to Russia. This matter was resolved relatively readily in negotiations between Russia and Belarus and Russia and Kazakhstan but the negotiations with Ukraine ended in an impasse.

In May 1993, Leonid Kravchuk, then president of Ukraine, reported that talks between Ukraine and Russia were deadlocked and that Russia's ultimatums and pressuring were only making the situation worse. (The United States had shown decided favoritism toward the Russian position.) Ukraine declared that it had to hold onto its missiles. The situation seemed hopeless.

At the beginning of June 1993, the United States reevaluated its position in the dispute between Russia and Ukraine. In a visit to Ukraine, Strobe Talbott, special envoy of the secretary of state, listened to Ukraine's fears about Russia its military superiority (conventional and nuclear) and its imperialist tone and promised that the United States would mediate the dispute. As reported in Arms Control Today, Talbott stated, "We told our Ukrainian hosts that the U.S. would like to try to find a way to serve as a facilitator in the complex relations between Ukraine and Russia, if that is acceptable to both sides."[2] The issues requiring mediation included security guarantees, assurances of territorial integrity, and compensation for denuclearizing. Out of the mediation was born a new proposal to disarm the nuclear weapons but store them in Ukraine. This proposal was unsatisfactory to the Russians. In July the Ukrainians claimed full ownership of the weapons.

The Crimea Summit on September 3, 1993, produced a signed accord between Ukraine and Russia agreeing to the terms of withdrawal for all nuclear warheads in Ukraine. But less than three weeks later, Russia annulled the agreement, claiming that Ukraine had unilaterally altered the text. The word "all" had been crossed out and replaced with a handwritten phrase limiting the number and kind of nuclear missiles to be returned to Russia.

In November 1993, Secretary Christopher traveled to Ukraine to try to jump-start the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine sought $2.8 billion in aid for dismantling costs and firm security guarantees from the United States. Ukraine wanted a trilateral agreement closely linking the security of Ukraine to that of Russia and the United States. Secretary Christopher offered the Clinton administration's Partnership for Peace initiative a plan that would offer alliances to former Eastern bloc countries that wanted membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Although this piqued interest in Ukraine, as of December 1993 Ukraine still feared Russia's nuclear and conventional military power and still worried about Russia's failure to acknowledge its borders. By mid-December, Russia was threatening Ukraine with economic sanctions that would have crushed their victim because Ukraine was dependent upon Russia for much of the fuel used to run its power plants.

The series of trilateral talks about nuclear disarmament among Ukraine, Russia, and the United States over issues such as how to split proceeds from uranium sales had, however, been in progress since mid-December. During this time President Clinton sent a letter to Ukraine's President Kravchuk urging a speedy solution to the standoff and Ukraine's deputy foreign minister visited the United States to push the negotiations. On January 14, a trilateral agreement between the United States, Russia, and Ukraine was signed in Moscow.

The jubilation that success brought was soured by Ukraine's noncompliance the following month. The Ukrainian government felt that the accord offered inadequate security guarantees. Further, the Ukrainian parliament failed to ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which had been a condition of the January 14 accord.

Following additional efforts by the United States, the light at the end of the tunnel reappeared as the Ukrainian parliament ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed the Lisbon protocol, which declared Ukraine to be a nonnuclear country under the NPT, and resumed missile transfers to Russia.

This may well be one of the only cases in which the nuclear proliferation process was reversed: a country that had control of nuclear arms gave them up (as distinct from a superpower removing its nuclear forces) all without a shot being fired. The interests of the parties, of the United States, and indeed of the world were directly served in this instance.

Northern Ireland: A Productive Tilt away from an Ally

Both the United Kingdom and Ireland repeatedly offered to hold direct talks with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Both countries demanded, however, that the IRA first renounce terrorism by announcing a permanent cease-fire and, second, acknowledge the right of unionists and republicans to self-determination of Northern Ireland. For most of 1994 Jerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, refused to accept these conditions.

At the beginning of 1994, the National Committee on American Foreign Policy held a conference in New York on the prospects for peace in Northern Ireland after the Downing Street Declaration.[3] The New York conference marked a new foray into the mediator role by the United States. Jerry Adams sought to attend the conference, but was initially refused entry into the United States because of his links to terrorism. At the behest of Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and against the wishes of many key figures in his administration, President Clinton granted Adams a visa.

During the visit, Anthony Lake, President Clinton's national security adviser, pursued a secret exchange of views with Adams, urging the IRA's political leadership to accept the British conditions for attendance at the settlement table. U.S. willingness to vouch for the sincerity of the British offer provided the crucial weight that convinced the IRA to adopt a unilateral cease-fire on September 1, 1994. During the same period, Lake maintained close contacts with Ulster Unionist Party leader James Molyneaux, a relationship that culminated in a meeting at the White House. Lake also spoke frequently with leaders of Northern Ireland's Social Democratic Labor Party. This proved useful in bringing that group to the table.

Aware of the influence of the Irish-American voting bloc, the IRA trusted the United States more than it did the United Kingdom, but in the past it had feared that the United States would stay out of the conflict to protect its "special relationship" with the United Kingdom. However, in a move not unlike the U.S. limited disengagement from its traditional close ties to Israel and its willingness to move, however slightly, closer to the PLO - thus facilitating its mediating role - the United States initiated a limited disengagement from the United Kingdom, opening space for the IRA to enter neutral negotiations. Note that in both cases the United States had built enough trust in its close allies to enable it to move toward a more neutral point without losing that trust, thereby enabling mediation. A further round of similar developments occurred in March 1995. Although the United Kingdom protested President Clinton's permission to Adams to raise funds for non-arms purposes, President Clinton encouraged him to "decommission" the arms of the IRA, as the United Kingdom has sought.

Since the cease-fire of September 1, 1994, the IRA has made overtures regarding the status of Northern Ireland's future. Some Sinn Fein officials openly admit that they are willing to accept that Northern Ireland might never be reunited with Ireland. Their opponents, the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Ulster Volunteer Force, which initially did not trust the cease-fire and were reluctant to join, came around to endorsing it.

The cease-fire, which was not permanent, gains more and more permanency as each day passes. As these lines were written, several months had passed in which there was next to no bloodshed in Northern Ireland and people were able to use public spaces freely. The U.S. role, while initially criticized by the British and by many U.S. journalists, politicians, and bureaucrats, now receives wide acclaim.

Greece and Macedonia: Maneuvering around Symbols

In 1992, after Macedonia declared its independence from a crumbling Yugoslavia, it took rapid steps to gain international recognition to ensure that it would not be invaded by Serbia. Among these actions were attempts to gain the recognition of the European Community (EC) and the United States. Although 11 of 12 EC countries ratified an agreement of recognition, Greece killed it by using its veto power. The United States declared that it would not act until the EC did.

Greece listed three reasons for its refusal to recognize Macedonia. First, the use of the name Macedonia, according to the Greeks, indicates that the former Yugoslav republic has designs on the region of Greece that is also called Macedonia. Second, the Macedonian flag borrows from very important Greek symbols, and is thus interpreted as another indicator both of Macedonia's plans to take part of Greece and its lack of respect for Greece. Third, Greece objects to amendments in Macedonia's constitution that guarantee protection for Macedonians everywhere. To show its overall displeasure, Greece has also established an export embargo on Macedonia.

Macedonia tried to assuage Greek fears by passing constitutional amendments that deny claims on Greek territory, by prohibiting interference in the internal affairs of other nations, and by reaffirming the inviolability of current borders. Macedonian efforts were fruitless until the United States took a more active role in the dispute.

The United States has attempted to broker agreements to end the Greek embargo and allow recognition of Macedonia by the EC, now the European Union. High-level State Department officials, Secretary Christopher included, have moderated meetings between both sides. According to Greek foreign minister Karolos Popoulias, "Differences have been narrowed." The United States has formally recognized Macedonia, but as of March 1995 had not sent an ambassador - a move aim at appeasing Macedonia without angering Greece.

The United States, with very little directly at stake, skillfully dealt with a long list of largely symbolic issues, bringing the parties closer together. It also helped in the process to anchor the recognition of Macedonia as an independent state, which might prove helpful in preventing the war in Yugoslavia from spreading. In this sense, this is a case of preventive mediation: avoiding conflicts before they occur, often the best mediation.

North Korea: Mediation as a Limited Element

In the situations discussed so far mediation has played a key role. In other situations it has been but a part of a multifaceted approach to foreign policy; in these situations mediation has worked largely because it followed the application of other means. It nevertheless played a surprisingly significant role. A case in point is the developments in Korea in 1994.

The United States and its ally South Korea, backed by the world community, were at an impasse in efforts to make North Korea abide by the regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency that required full inspection of all nuclear facilities. North Korea balked. The United States and its allies threatened economic sanctions and announced larger than usual military exercises. North Korea protested and in effect threatened war against South Korea, a threat taken seriously given the perception that North Koreans were irrational by Western standards.

Into the breach came former president Jimmy Carter, who in effect mediated between North Korea on the one hand and the United States and South Korea on the other. He brokered a nuclear monitoring agreement that all sides accepted. Moreover, after this agreement, the United States somewhat disengaged itself from its very close association with South Korea (as it did with Israel and the United Kingdom) and moved to deal with North Korea somewhat more as a mediator than as an ally of one of the parties. This led to a new, broader agreement and finally to South Korea's opening of economic relations with North Korea. Trade has been simplified and investment in the North by South Korean companies is no longer illegal, a sharp departure from earlier decades of very hostile relations.

An argument can be made that none of this would have happened if there had not been the initial threat of economic sanctions. Mediation, if this is true, served "only" to defuse the tensions and to build on the new openness, leading to peaceful results: it did not carry the full burden of conflict resolution. Even if mediation by the United States is seen in this limited manner, however, it still played a significant role and one that was much more welcome in the region (especially to China and Japan) and around the world than the previous U.S. role.

Haiti: A Non-Case

At first blush, one of the most successful mediation efforts of the last years occurred when former president Carter, first single-handedly, and then in collaboration with Senator Sam Nunn (D Ga.) and Gen. Colin Powell (ret.) convinced the Haitian generals to yield power and allow a peaceful landing of U.S. troops rather than a military operation very likely to involve at least some bloodshed.

Actually the development in Haiti falls at the margin of this exposition for one reason and outside it for another. Mediation in Haiti was not the main mover; military threat was. As has been widely reported, the Haitian generals yielded only when reports were flashed that U.S. forces had actually taken off from military bases and were closing in on Haiti. More disqualifying is the fact that the United States did not mediate in this case between two other nations, helping them to resolve their differences without violence, but Carter and company mediated between Haiti and the United States. Although this is still a case in which mediation made a contribution, it is not a case in which the United States exercised its new post cold war mediator role.

Two Challenges

The thesis that the United States is wisely developing its role as the world peacemaker via mediation rather than on the nose cones of missiles called Peacemakers must address two questions. What is the relationship between mediation and other tools of foreign policy, because no one claims that it is the only tool? And what is the relationship between mediation and elementary justice, because mediation tends to the resolution of conflict even if this means appeasement of tyrants, an issue raised by President Carter's endeavors in this area?

Mediation is clearly part of a package of tools that all feed into one another. The mediation in Korea (and Carter's role in Haiti) might well not have been possible if it had not been preceded by the implicit threat of force and economic sanctions. And the same situation can be read the other way around: If mediation had not been successful, the United States would have had to apply force or sanctions when quite disinclined to do so for numerous reasons. But, the point is not that one can or should try to make mediation the only tool of foreign policy, or that there are no beneficial interaction effects among these tools; only that this particular tool should receive much more prominence given the new global situation and U.S. domestic needs.

The concern for justice is much more vexing. Studies of divorce suggest that when couples draw on mediators rather than on courts, their settlements are much less painful, much less costly, but often unfair to women. (Men often refuse to grant the mothers custody of the children, which mothers as a rule anxiously seek, until the men gain favorable economic terms.) Similarly it has been suggested that the mediation efforts with North Korea entailed too many concessions to a tyrant. Being aware of this trap, observers need to examine each case in its own right. By and large, however, the value of a peaceful resolution is very high, and if the costs are limited to matters of prestige (or "face") they seem, as a rule, well worth the price.

Mediation in Historical Context

Mediation is, of course, an age-old foreign policy tool and it played a role during the cold war era as well. At that time, however, it was applied differently and typically had a much less central role. Mediation during the Cold War often took place among the superpowers on behalf of their clients. Thus, when differences between Syria and Israel were negotiated in this context, a good part of the dealing between the Soviet Union and the United States took the form of negotiation between two parties rather than mediation provided by a third party. Mediation among countries within the same bloc came closer to the mark, as illustrated by the Camp David accords. But even here there were superpower considerations in the background, such as how to prevent conflicts among nations in one bloc so that a unified front could be presented toward the other bloc, or how to prevent conflicts among the members of one's bloc and non-aligned nations so as not to push them toward the other bloc. And although mediation occurred, the main foundation of world "order" rested on relations between the superpowers.

True, in this earlier era, Henry Kissinger conducted shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, and President Carter directly helped negotiate the treaty between Israel and Egypt. And indeed these early mediation efforts had a similarly attractive profile: little risk, limited economic costs, and significant humanitarian and political benefits. Yet they were considered at the time, as they have been since, sideshows, diplomatic efforts relevant chiefly for countries within the Western orbit. They were therefore peripheral to the main event: the worldwide confrontation between the superpowers, a confrontation in which the key policy tools were deterring arsenals of nuclear and conventional weapons, foreign military aid packages, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and other covert operations, massive economic aid, and ideological warfare. Moreover, any mediation efforts were routinely structured so as not to undermine, however indirectly, the number one goal of "containing" communism and shoring up what was called the free world. In this context, simply dealing directly with, say, Syria, was not seriously considered because Syria was a Soviet client.

In short, the role of mediator was not viewed as a significant world role for the United States, and the architects of foreign policy did not suggest that it should be. The United States was a superpower confronting another superpower, not a globe-trotting broker of peaceful settlements. In the new post-cold war order (or lack thereof), mediation - genuine mediation, largely free from extrinsic considerations - can play a much more pivotal role.

Embracing mediation as a major element of U.S. foreign policy is particularly suitable for a period in which the United States is seeking to put its own house in order. This focus benefits the United States because the costs of mediation are much lower than those associated with interventions such as those in Somalia and Haiti. Also, by being much less dramatic, mediation distracts the president and the country less from their domestic missions. Furthermore, it should be noted that no wide support exists in the country for a much more activist foreign policy. At the same time, there is strong sentiment in favor of some form of international engagement. Champions of pure realpolitik may want to act only when U.S. national interests are directly affected, but in the age of mass communications, public opinion plays a significant role in international relations and the idealistic side of public opinion - those facets of public psychology that found expression in the calls to help the people of Rwanda and to act in defense of beleaguered Bosnia - cannot be ignored. Mediation provides a constructive response for this compassionate side of U.S. nature.

To be sure, it does not provide a complete one. The fulfillment of its foreign policy goals and ideals requires that the United States continue to contribute its leadership to the strengthening of international law through participation in the United Nations and various other international and regional alliances. It must continue to encourage the elimination of barriers among nations, remaining a major factor in the negotiation of international trade pacts. Where the well-being of its citizens or vital interests are threatened, it must be willing to project force outside its borders. And, where the preconditions for successful democratization exist, the United States may cautiously seek to assist in their development, although if it does, it must now do so with much more humility and sobriety than in the past. Success will be achieved more readily if mediation, in which the United States already engages with considerable success around the world, is given the recognition and attention that is its due.

The author is indebted to David E. Carney for research assistance and to Daniel Kurtzer, Michael McCurry, Michael Nacht, and Daniel Schorr for their helpful comments on previous drafts. He also benefitted from a discussion following a presentation at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his alone.


1. One example that highlights how peace brings business and prosperity is described in Amy Dockser Marcus and Caleb Solomon, "Growing Mideast Peace Is Opening New Worlds for Energy Industry," Wall Street Journal, January 16, 1995, p. A 1.

2. Arms Control Today 23 (June 1993), p. 25.

3. The Downing Street Declaration is a document produced at a meeting of the Irish and English political leaders in December 1993. The two main points were a recognition of the Irish right to self-determination in Northern Ireland and the acknowledgment that nothing would occur without the consent of the majority. The IRA/Sinn Fein rejected the Downing Street Declaration, as did various Unionist groups as well.

Amitai Etzioni is university professor at the George Washington University and founder and chairman of The Communitarian Network. He is the author of The Spirit of Community (1994).

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