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Different Paths to Conflict Mediation: Norway, Germany, and Qatar

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There are various styles of conflict management or diplomatic mediation. While multilateral mediation of big-power intervention gets much of the press coverage, the taxonomy of conflict management is much more complex.

Initiatives of this sort vary essentially in two respects. The first question to ask is whether the mediator is perceived as a stakeholder in the conflict and, secondly, the methodology of the process itself. Without closing up on mediation techniques, the basic methodological question is: What is the commitment of the participants to the process?

Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Norway, Germany, and Qatar are regarded as pioneers in the field, each bringing different approaches to “making things work” that is informed by their own historical experiences.

Mediation does not mean negotiation

In May 2019, parties to the political conflict in Venezuela mandated Norway to facilitate a negotiation process. The process unfolding in Barbados and Oslo was limited to facilitation, as Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó would not allow Norway to play the role of substantial mediation, limiting and defining the agenda at will. Despite the several rounds of negotiations, all efforts were suspended in August 2019.

Norwegian Mediators treated both parties as equals and were criticised for their decision. The opposition of Venezuela and the Organization of American States (OAS) claimed that their legitimacy could not be held as equivalent to that of a dictator. Norway, not being an EU member state had not pronounced President Maduro a “dictator,” and was thereby in a position to facilitate a meeting.

Oslo is a mediation hub and has created a highly regarded diplomatic brand over the years, playing a pivotal role in talks between key conflicts around the world. Although they failed in their mandate, Norwegian diplomats are held in high esteem, great hosts, and experts that can deliver in complex political situations and apparent dead ends.

Norway’s political autonomy adds to its profile as a "neutral" state that is not a stakeholder in conflict and can contribute to resolutions. Focusing on the objective of serving a human rights, gender equity, environmental protection, and environmental sustainability agenda – the policy of commitment (engasjementspolitikken) or the 'geopolitics of the weak' – Oslo appears to be a power committed to humanitarian values and multilateralism, but not necessarily constrained by its mould.  

The "silent" approach

In May 2004, the Cabinet of the Federal Government of Germany approved the Action Plan Civilian Crisis Prevention, Conflict Resolution, and Post-Conflict Peace-Building.

The basis for crisis prevention, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding is a broad security concept that embraces political, economic, ecological, and social stability. Through this framework, Germany has played a role in Somalia, Colombia, Tunisia, Libya, and Ukraine behind closed doors.

Berlin hosts talks among warring parties, often engaging through the United Nations. The  Federal  Ministry for  Economic  Cooperation and  Development,  known as  BMZ,  has been instrumental in driving this process.

The Civilian Peace Service is a programme founded in 1999 to send peacebuilding specialists to the field to provide long-term support for local peace structures in conflict-affected regions.  These specialists work in different areas, such as inter-group dialogue, psychosocial support and healing, capacity development and peace education, and dealing with the past, a challenge that Germany knows a thing or two. In 2017, more than 300  international experts were active in 43 countries.

This approach has guaranteed that the participating sides do not so easily “leave” the table of negotiations. There are numerous reasons that nations are willing to cooperate with German mediators, not least its history of unification through multilateral engagement after the Second World War and its weight as a major economic player in Europe and the world. At key moments, Germany can tilt the balance by enlarging the scope of potential solutions.

The Crisis Managers of the Middle East

In 2010 the Emirate of Qatar declared that it aimed to become a global power in contemporary peacemaking. Its mediators are characterized by their liberal political and economic approach and respect for independent foreign policy founded on sovereignty. When warring factions are not predisposed towards multilateralism, Doha can be the right place to be.  

Qatar has worked closely with the international community in the past to advocate against violent regime change, even in the case of Colonel Gaddafi and President Assad. That has allowed the country to step in at the crossroads of diplomatic standoffs effectively.

Last year Germany hosted an intra-Afghan dialogue conference jointly with Qatar in Doha. Qatar is also working towards a peaceful resolution in several other crises around the globe, such as the Palestinian conflict, the civil war in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria.

Two of Qatar’s most high-profile mediation projects involve Fateh and Hamas (Palestine) and the United States, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. There, Doha is seen as an impartial and credible broker between antagonistic groups.

Qatar has acted as both solo mediator and in coalition with such entities as the African Union, the United Nations, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Its dynamic approach and economy might have been catalytic for Doha’s effectiveness.