A Scholarly Perspective on International Mediation

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A Scholarly Perspective on International Mediation Constructive Interventions: Paradigms, Process and Practice of International Mediation By Lars Kirchhoff. Alphen aan den Rijn, the Netherlands: Kluwer Law International (www.kluwerlaw.com), 2008. Hardcover. 380 pages. $172.

What is the difference between a conflict and a dispute? No, this is not a trick question.

This scholarly book gets to the bottom of key ADR terms. According to one definition of the word "conflict," the term denotes "interactions in which contending parties seek to impose their will on one another, in a general state of hostility." On the other hand, the word "dispute" is defined in academic writing as a "specific disagreement relating to a question of rights or interests in which the parties proceed by way of claims, counterclaims, denials and so on." For the purpose of this book, disputes are a subset of conflicts.

Lars Kirchhoff, who submitted this work as a dissertation to the faculty of law at Humboldt University in Germany in 2007, discusses a spectrum of conflict resolution methods. "Various techniques of conflict management are not in competition, but complementary in nature; each is appropriate at different stages of the same conflict or in different types of conflicts," he writes. Nevertheless, he chooses to focus on mediation primarily because it is considered the most common form of intervention in the international arena.

Kirchhoff's main goal in writing this book is to identify contemporary structural barriers to effective conflict resolution in the international setting. One of the barriers mentioned is cognitive in nature, specifically the difficulty for parties immersed in long-standing conflicts to change their perception of the other party from enemy to partner. "The interactive nature of mediation, focusing on communication, provides an excellent framework for working through these cognitive barriers," says Kirchhoff. …