Mediating ethnic conflict: A task for Sisyphus?

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This article argues that inconsistencies within the international system itself are responsible for the general level of discreditation that has been ascribed to the process and outcomes of international mediation. Arriving at a definition of the international system clearly presents an obstacle in this argument as there is much debate over the nature of the system in the context of the terms of the UN Charter, which are themselves complicated by security issues, self-interest, interdependence, regionalisation, and the process of globalisation. The humanitarian norms and regimes that seem to have been emerging since the end of the Cold War may result in an alteration in the association between legitimacy and sovereignty in the international system, thus reducing the conflict between ethnic identity and national states, and untie the knot which makes mediation in ethic conflict so difficult. This article aims to identify the particular difficulties that the international system presents for the mediation of ethnic disputes, and possible remedies which could emerge as the international community re-evaluates its system in the light of the end of the Cold War. This is particularly important, given the burgeoning of violent, latent, ethnic disputes, the shifts towards regionalism and the inability of the international community to mediate the interests of states (which have demonstrated varying levels of unity and stability, tending to be defined by the international system in the inflexible manner associated with traditional notions and interpretations of sovereignty), with the interests of ethnic groups. The difficulties faced by international mediation, which is the international community's main tool of conflict resolution as defined in the UN Charter, provides important insights into the failings of the contemporary international environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-205
Number of pages25
JournalGlobal Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999


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