Diplomacy is getting more polarised, demonisation is spreading and military solutions are seen as a useful contribution to end the conflict. The perfect recipe to prolong the conflict in Syria. By Martin Griffiths
First rule of mediation: Achieve a win-win on a level playing field
What is the first thing that mediators learn? A good peace deal is a win-win situation for both conflict parties. However, this is not as easy as it sounds; it is usually the result of a long process in which conflict parties learn to negotiate. It is a trust building exercise with the aim to make everyone appreciate the power of compromises.
In essence, a mediator needs to be a master of balance. This however requires a mediator to always encourage and help the weaker party to get the best advice in order to improve their chances at the negotiating table. The aim is to create a level playing field among the parties of conflict. Too often, in my experience, mediators fail to find the understanding of the need for this tactic from the other side of the table. As a result, mediators, in the honest pursuit of their objectives, are accused of a bias in favour of the weaker party. So, whenever I hear this accusation, I know immediately that the mediator takes his or her job seriously. However, there are issues that make it impossible to even begin to work on such a scenario.
One of the main factors undermining this sensible balancing of the 'playing field' is the tendency among states to demonise their opponents.
A recipe for disaster: Demonising opponents and glorifying military solutions
The most egregious perhaps is the desire in the case of the Syrian conflict to list more of the armed groups opposing Assad and exclude them from any political or diplomatic consideration, all the while trumpeting the need for a ceasefire. A similar story can be told about how we deal with the Assad government. The point is: the ongoing demonisation of certain conflict parties will not help to end the conflict.
But the more worrying tendency in this suddenly polarising diplomacy is the belief that war really can do the trick. Nowhere has this been more apparent and more damaging than in the current international effort to glorify military solutions. At this point it is necessary to be more cautious. I hold no brief for ISIS or its allies. The Syrian people, so constantly ventriloquized by western leaders, are the first to know that particular horror. A few more bombs are not going to make the difference. Defeating ISIS requires us to think beyond military solutions. Policy makers across Europe would serve the Syrian people better by listening to their anguished calls for a reduction in violence. Increasing the violence in Syria does them no service.
So there we have it. Diplomacy is getting more polarised, demonisation is spreading and military solutions are seen as a useful contribution to end the conflict. The perfect recipe to prolong the conflict.