Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Reflections on Negotiation and Mediation: The Frozen Conflicts and European Security

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Reflections on Negotiation and Mediation: The Frozen Conflicts and European Security

Article excerpt

For most of the twentieth century, the major threats to European security and stability came from great power conflicts. The first half of the century was dominated by the drive of newly-united Germany to achieve a position of primacy on the European landmass, and the second half by the standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States.1 However, with the end of the Cold War, threats to the peace in Europe have increasingly arisen from within existing states in the processes of disintegration or transition, in particular the collapse of the Soviet Union and the violent break-up of Yugoslavia. These disintegrative and transitional processes have been met by both great power cooperation and, more recently, misunderstanding and competition. I would like to offer a few select observations on some of my own experiences in working with the conflicts that sprang up around the periphery of the USSR as the Soviet Union disintegrated. I offer these reflections in the hope that, while anecdotal, they may shed some light on the current nature of east-west relations in Russia's "near abroad," and offer some insight on how to manage these relations more successfully in the immediate future.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in the early 1990s produced a spate of conflicts, from small and obscure to large and well-documented.2 One thing that all these diverse disputes have in common is the fact that they ultimately required or provoked external intervention to try to mitigate or resolve them. The Balkan wars in Bosnia and Croatia required the involvement of all the major powers in the Euro-Atlantic space to stop the fighting and negotiate a (so far) lasting peace. On the other hand, it took almost twenty years for Moscow's intervention in the ethnic dispute between South Ossetians and Georgians, dating from the disintegration of the USSR, to gain similar international notice, following the August 2008 Russia-Georgia War.

Though the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union arose out of much the same politico-economic milieu, their domestic causes and internal dynamics varied widely. Similarly, the rest of the world responded to the crises and violence in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in various fashions. Clearly, some of the conflicts were far less tractable to outside mediation and far more violent than others. Nonetheless, the world's major international organizations and individual countries became involved in almost every one of these conflicts. These international efforts have provided experts in conflict prevention and resolution, scholars and practitioners alike, with a plethora of living laboratories in which to apply existing theories and-taught by time and experience-to develop new ones.3

As a practitioner of diplomacy, working out of Washington and in the field, I either took part directly or had a front row seat in four of the major disputes on the territory of the former Soviet Union-Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria. (I also worked extensively during the 1990s with all of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.) Without claiming exhaustive research or scholarly depth and precision for the effort, I have over time attempted to develop a general set of lessons learned from repeated engagement with these particular conflicts.4 There are two aspects to this process: first, to determine commonalities and differences in the specific development of each of the conflicts, with an eye to deriving a greater understanding of historical causality; and second, to ask whether all these specific events, taken in the aggregate, teach us anything about the broader theory and practice of conflict resolution and mediation.

Looking at post-Soviet conflicts along both these lines, my own experience leads me to three general observations. First, the local causes, conditions, and course of each conflict are key to its resolution, a factor not always recognized or understood by the nations and international bodies that have sought to act as mediators. …

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