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Types of mediator leverage and the strength of peace agreements

Types of mediator leverage and the strength of peace agreements

Photo credit: Nonviolent Peaceforce

This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Reid, L. (2015). Finding a Peace that Lasts Mediator Leverage and the Durable Resolution of Civil Wars. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 0022002715611231.

Talking Points

  • Peace agreements mediated with credibility leverage last over twice as long as agreements without credibility leverage.
  • Capability leverage is most effective to facilitate the signing of a peace agreement.
  • Credibility leverage is most effective at generating durable and longer-lasting peace after the agreement.


Do certain types of mediators hold characteristics that enable them to be more effective during peace negotiations, thus leading to longer-lasting agreements? This study seeks to identify factors contributing to the success rate of mediated peace agreements during civil wars by examining two different types of leverage held by mediators and their ability to overcome short and long-term obstacles to a peace agreement.

The author suggests civil wars often result from a failure of bargaining. Thus, the mediation process is shaped by the efforts of disputants and third parties to overcome these bargaining failures. To accomplish this, mediators can apply various types of leverage as a way to influence the mediation process or alter the incentives of a disputant in order to reach a durable and peaceful resolution.

The two types of mediation leverage assessed in this research are capability and credibility. Capability leverage is the extent to which mediators use material strength or “carrots and sticks” to influence a settlement or a disputant’s bargaining range. Credibility leverage refers a mediator’s use of information, contextual knowledge of the conflict, and a perceived commitment to the peace process.

The author hypothesizes that because mediators with credibility leverage are not reliant on material coercion, they are better able to convey a true commitment to a peace process and thus shape the mediation in ways that would end in a longer-lasting peace agreement, even if they are slower to bring the disputants together. On the other hand, the use of “carrots and sticks” in mediation often fails to address the issues that led to the breakdown of communication which caused the initial conflict or that may eventually lead to future conflict. Therefore, mediators with capability leverage may be able to coerce the disputants to an initial agreement, but their failure to address the root causes of a conflict often results in disputants falling back into their destructive patterns. These predictions lead the author to two hypotheses:

  1. Mediators possessing capability leverage are more likely to achieve short-term success in negotiated peace agreements.
  2. Peace agreements signed through mediators with credibility leverage are more likely to achieve durable peace than peace agreements signed without them.

To test the hypotheses, the author analyzed civil war mediation attempts from 1989-2006 characterizing each mediator’s leverage type as either capability or credibility, then they compared the leverage type to the success of the mediation. The results of the study supported the hypotheses, showing that mediators with capability leverage increase the likelihood of reaching an initial but short-term peace agreement, and mediators with credibility leverage significantly increase the duration of a peace agreement although the initial agreement may have taken longer to reach.

This research shows that there is no single type of mediator, and that their utility in mediating a conflict depends on the tools they possess. The “carrot and stick” tools of a powerful country’s State Department (or equivalent) are much more commanding than a small international organization, and may even carry more weight than a UN delegation. However, if a small organization possesses intimate knowledge of the conflict, thus possessing credibility leverage, this research shows their mediators can help shape a more durable peace agreement.

Contemporary Relevance

Because of their individual virtues, this research suggests, ideal peace agreements are assisted by mediators with both capability and credibility leverage. Major peace agreements are highly publicized in the media and are increasingly recognized as viable alternatives to war. Lesser known are the types of leverage used in these peace talks and the lasting implications of the varying tactics. Many consider the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal a major achievement for all parties involved. Although the deal has seen its share of criticism, the benefits of a nuclear agreement and the extended benefits of future cooperation with Iran are hard to downplay. As this research points out, the capability leverage used by the United States and other powerful members of the United Nations during the Iran Nuclear Deal has paved the way to the initial agreement. Control, building trust, and recognizing steps of implementation of the deal will increase credibility leverage and hopefully ensure the longevity of the deal.

Practical Implications

This research can aid in deepening our understanding of the various roles and tools used by mediators. Although the context of this study centered on high-level civil wars, mediator leverage can be examined at any conflict level. More importantly, these findings show a mediator’s ability to coerce through power or material strength does not increase their likelihood of fostering a durable peace agreement.

The lifespan of a peace agreement tends to favor those who foster rather than force a settlement. Given the unique effects of capability and credibility leverage, it is important to understand that different types of mediators have varying effects on the disputants and the overall outcome of a mediation. Therefore, the process of selecting mediators to facilitate peace agreements should include careful consideration of which type of leverage would best fit a specific conflict. Additionally, if the context allows, the incorporation of both types of mediator leverage into a conflict may provide durable agreements from credibility leverage with the added benefit of an expedited peace process often seen from capability leverage. “Mediation with muscle”, that is with the threat of military action if no agreement is reached, should always be avoided (Hastings, 2014). Rather than acting transformative in conflict, such an approach completely fails to address root causes, keeps conflicting parties interested in rearming, and makes conflicts intractable even if some sort of agreement is achieved in the short run.

Continued Reading

Examination of Mediation versus Military Intervention to Assist Regions Wracked by Conflict Focus of General Assembly Debate as It Enters Fourth Day (UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY, 2011)

Deal with the Deal. Nuclear Nonproliferation, Sanctions Relief, Then What?  (

Colombia, from a mediator’s perspective (

Keywords: civil war, conflict resolution, mediation, peace agreements

The above analysis is from Volume 1, Issue 3, of the Peace Science Digest.


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