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date: 23 February 2018

Conflict Management

Summary and Keywords

The issue of armed conflict management was first mentioned in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1957, when Quincy Wright wrote that the resolution of international conflict can be facilitated by national government efforts “to prevent tensions for arising and aggravating disputes […] among nations. Such resolution can also proceed through the application of appropriate methods of negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement […] and the coordination of measures to prevent aggression.” However, there was remarkably little emphasis on studies of negotiation, mediation, or interstate bargaining before the mid-1970s. A more concerted focus on managing armed conflict began in the mid-1970s, and the 1990s and 2000s saw an explosion in the number of published quantitative studies on conflict management, driven in part by the significant growth in data collection projects on interstate conflict management. Over the past half-century, quantitative studies have identified the factors that promote the use and success of interstate conflict management. It should be noted that a lot of the usual suspect variables in the conflict literature, such as power parity, democracy, rivalry, and contiguity, appear in conflict management analyses as well. Yet the dialogue between these two literatures is often limited. On the other hand, conflict management courses typically organize themselves around the dependent variable, examining different forms of conflict management techniques (good offices, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, adjudication, etc.). Progress will be made on both fronts when we start thinking about these processes in a unified framework.

Keywords: conflict management, armed conflict, Journal of Conflict Resolution, interstate conflicts


The study of conflict management has a pedigree nearly as long as the study of the conflicts that needed to be managed. Thucydides described for us the role of power in understanding conflict and Clausewitz reminded us that war is simply an extension of politics. Managing violent armed conflict is really a thing of politics. That is, to understand how to bring actors back from the brink of war, we have to understand how events shape their reading of history, how preferences held by one actor can be addressed within the confines of a competing set of preferences, and how information that is held closely by one can influence the expectations and behavior of another. The study of the management of militarized conflict, moreover, has corollaries in labor relations, interpersonal communication, and intrafamily relationships. Put differently, the management of armed conflict is a subset of a broader range of conflicts to be managed, albeit with different outcomes and often the potential for much graver consequences.

Our approach in this essay will be to provide a chronological foray into the study of the management of armed conflict between recognized states or nonstate actors challenging a state, and from that historical chronology we will outline the current state of our understanding. In this light our objective is partially historical and partially integrative. The techniques of conflict management are well known; their application to specific circumstances or under fixed conditions is what provides the fodder for scholarly study. Mediation, adjudication, international forums, and arbitration are nearly household words for anyone who is involved in the practice of law, has filed for divorce, is a member of a union, or is a world class athlete exercising a free agency clause. Those who purchase services often sign away the right to sue for redress – knowingly or otherwise – in exchange for the obligation to submit their claim to binding arbitration. Conflict management in the context of international conflict is different in degree and sometimes the application of the method, but at the core, the principal techniques of trying to bridge differences across parties are the same. When applied to conditions under which war is an option and no central authority exists to compel compliance, the techniques are but instruments that work more often under some conditions than others. Even what we might think of as binding arbitration is functionally tied to voluntary compliance when states are the actors and when the resort to war is considered a viable option. The role of research in this area has been driven by the objective of trying to articulate those conditions under which particular techniques are effective, and to understand the theoretical underpinnings of why certain approaches work when they do.

In the inaugural issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1957, Quincy Wright wrote that the resolution of international conflict can be facilitated by national government efforts “to prevent tensions for arising and aggravating disputes […] among nations. Such resolution can also proceed through the application of appropriate methods of negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement […] and the coordination of measures to prevent aggression” (1957:6). It is to these specific mechanisms articulated by Quincy Wright that this essay is addressed. We should note that there are several excellent review pieces in the conflict management literature that complement what we cover in this essay (Wall 1981; Fisher 1983; 1995; Carnevale and Pruitt 1992; Bercovitch and Houston 1993; Wall and Lynn 1993; Kleiboer 1996; Bilder 1998; Mattli and Slaughter 1998; Wall et al. 2001; Druckman and Diehl 2006).

The Early Years in the Study of Conflict Management

Interestingly, that first issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution did not have one article on forms of conflict management, in spite of Quincy Wright's recognition and the editor's note about the systematic study of conflict and its management. The focus at that point was on theories of conflict, presumably from which we could intuit ways to manage interstate disputes before they reach the level of war. In fact, much of this early period in the study of conflict and its resolution focused on models of what we would today call conflict onset (Kriesberg 1997), leaving the “resolution” part for a day when we better understand conflict. Twenty years later the Journal of Conflict Resolution published its first special issue, an issue devoted to the study of negotiation (1977). Even some of the titans of research into negotiation and mediation were in those days studying other things: Africa for William Zartman and organizational behavior for Louis Kriesberg.

Before the mid-1970s, there was remarkably little emphasis on studies of negotiation, mediation, or interstate bargaining. A search in JSTOR for abstracts that list any of these topics during the years 1950–77 produces only a handful of articles, most in the Journal of Conflict Resolution or the Journal of Peace Research. Others address issues of negotiation in labor or industrial relations, but in general the study of conflict management was not terribly central in the subdiscipline of international relations. There were numerous studies about the onset of interstate wars and militarized disputes, but few analyses about how to end or prevent them.

The early exceptions to the notable dearth of studies of conflict management include Margaret Hermann and Nathan Kogan (1968) writing on questions of who negotiates and the influence of leaders versus delegates on negotiation outcomes, as well as Otomar Bartos (1967) using game theory and student experiments to identify the optimal strategies in negotiations. In the same issue, William Evan and John MacDougall (1967) develop a game theoretic treatment and use experiments to test implications of their model of labor management bargaining. The implication of their research is that dissensus strategies promote more integrative agreements than do consensus strategies.

These early efforts to apply game theory were not the first such efforts to understand bargaining strategies and outcome. In general, they derive from bargaining models in economics, and in particular Zeuthen's (1930) and Nash's (1950) models of bargaining. These early models, moreover, are not only more general than an application to armed international conflict might demand, but they tend to focus on labor or interorganizational negotiations. Perhaps more influential on modern day conflict management work is Schelling's (1957) study of bargaining in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution. This important paper, along with Schelling's (1960) book, The Strategy of Conflict, laid the groundwork for modern bargaining models of war, such as Fearon's (1995) “rationalist explanations for war.”

A more concerted focus on how to manage armed conflict started in the mid-1970s, and much was brought together in a special issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution (vol. 21, no. 4) devoted to research on negotiations. These early efforts to model bargaining and negotiation outcomes and the special issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1977 opened up the study of conflict management in the context of interstate militarized behavior.

The Development of the Study of Conflict Management

The twenty-first anniversary issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution (1977) was organized around questions pertaining to the process of negotiations, and presented some of the early cross-national empirical studies. Authors in this issue include Robert Axelrod on the role of argumentation in negotiations, with evidence from three sets of negotiations, Britain (1918), Munich (1938), and Japan (1970); Hopmann and Smith using ideas from social psychology, along with an analysis of the US–Soviet Arms Control Negotiations; and Frank Zagare with a formal model of the negotiations between the US and Vietnam. Also in that same year (1977) Daniel Druckman edited a volume on social-psychological perspectives on negotiations, including chapters on personalities and negotiations (Hermann and Kogan 1977), external stress and tension on negotiation (Hopmann and Walcott 1977), and mediation (Stern et al. 1977).

One of the important aspects of much of the early work on conflict management in interstate conflict was the theoretical development based on formal modeling. Empirical testing at this juncture generally involved an analysis of a specific set of negotiations, or a comparison across different negotiations. This focus in the mid-1970s gave way to a torrent of studies on conflict management in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, the same search parameters in JSTOR that generated only a handful of studies prior to 1977 resulted in many dozens of articles over the next 18 years. For example, using mediation, negotiation, and bargaining as search parameters and restricting the sources to Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Peace Research, International Studies Quarterly, American Political Science Review, and American Journal of Political Science, we find 145 citations to studies of conflict management. Put into perspective, the early studies of the late 1970s provide the basis for the dramatic increase in attention to questions of conflict management over the next two and a half decades.

The collection of these articles remains focused on developing models of the conditions for negotiation outcomes, largely rooted in the formal tradition. For example, in 1979, Harrison Wagner developed an approach to unify models of two-person bargaining; Vincent Crawford, J. Lynn England, and Chal Sussangkarn also each developed models of the bargaining process in the late 1970s and early 1980s (England 1975; Sussangkarn 1978; Crawford 1982). Simulation is the method most often used for empirical verification of these early arguments, with Richard Klimoski, A.V. Subbarao, and Brookmire and Sistrunk providing examples of how insight was gained through evidence based on simulation (Klimoski 1978; Subbarao 1978; Brookmire and Sistrunk 1980). One of the limitations on testing theoretical arguments against empirical data on negotiations to end militarized conflict appeared at the time to be a lack of systematic data. The 1980s did not directly change this focus, but inroads began to appear.

James Wall (1981:157) wrote a review article which argued, “neither the nature nor the potential for mediation is adequately understood because insufficient effort has been devoted to the study and analysis of the process.” That effort began in earnest in the 1980s. For example, Russell Leng (1983; 2000) analyzed US and Soviet bargaining strategies as a way to get at whether reciprocation, carrot and stick approaches, and risk influence states’ propensity to engage in hostilities; Cliff Morgan developed spatial models of bargaining (1984; 1995); and Herbert Kelman (1982) used the Palestinian–Israeli peace negotiations to understand the role of negotiation processes. What we knew at this juncture was that rational actors (an assumption about state leaders) bargained over the issues of salience to them, and that bargaining strategies mattered in terms of generating peaceful or conflictual outcomes. But what Wall and other social-psychologists would argue is that we did not know enough about the negotiating process as it played out in the referent world to draw meaningful inferences. That elusive process might entail an understanding of negotiator style, turning points, concessions, pre-negotiations, and reputation for distributive or integrative outcomes.

While the literature on international conflict and negotiations was just building momentum, social-psychologists and research in organizational behavior were contributing a fuller panoply of ideas on negotiations and mediation. The focus, however, was generally on labor relations and interpersonal or business negotiations. The adaptability of questions raised and answered was not lost on cross-disciplinary research, as scholars such as Daniel Druckman, Louis Kriesberg, and William Zartman began to apply those insights into topics of interstate conflict management, and scholars of international relations began to focus more aggressively on understanding the management of conflict. By the end of the decade of the 1980s, the volume of research on conflict management was expanding dramatically.

Importantly, research during this period began to apply data to arguments in order to test propositions about what worked and when. Much of this work involved analyzing negotiations through the use of comparative case studies. Wall and Lynn's survey of the mediation literature (1993) points out that different disciplines have used different empirical methodologies to test propositions, with organizational studies using laboratory experiments, industrial relations scholarship relying on questionnaires, and international conflict studies approaching empirical verification through case studies. Studies of the US–Soviet arms control negotiations (Stoll and McAndrew 1986), basing rights agreements (Druckman 1986), and US–Chinese relations (Ross 1986) reflect examples of this type of application. While it is difficult to summarize the results of these analyses, Steinberg (1985) and others demonstrate that the processes under which negotiations unfold have a strong influence on the success or failure of the negotiations. For example, one of his conclusions is that informal channels of communication increase the chances of success, in part because reputation and rigidity tend to block compromise.

A 1991 special issue of the Journal of Peace Research (vol. 28, no. 1) brought together a collection of articles exploring the conditions for successful mediation. In many ways, like the Journal of Conflict Resolution special issue fifteen years prior, this issue helped usher in a turning point in the study of conflict management with the introduction of a systematic dataset on mediation. Jacob Bercovitch and his colleagues had collected data on 284 mediations in 79 international disputes, allowing cross-conflict comparisons on the conditions for successful mediation (Bercovitch et al. 1991). Although for years the data remained elusive and not widely disseminated, access to it eventually opened up the testing of various ideas about when and under what conditions conflict management efforts would be tried and would be successful. Later years would introduce more, and more diverse, datasets that ultimately advanced our understanding of various forms of conflict management.

So in many ways, there are three watershed periods in the early years of the study of conflict management. The inauguration of the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1957 came first, giving an outlet to scholars interested in studying conflict and its management. This journal's mission statement had at its core the publication of a broad and inclusive range of efforts at teasing out knowledge about how best to control the frequency and severity of armed conflict. The Journal of Conflict Resolution was followed eight years later by the Journal of Peace Research. The second turning point came with the special issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1977. The focus at this point began to shift away from a mostly exclusive focus on the causes of interstate conflict to research on how to actively manage conflict. Those who studied the etiology of conflict presumably did so with an eye toward developing ways to prevent its occurrence, but by the mid-1970s, many more scholars began to think in terms of understanding the role of negotiations and mediation to end conflict. For the most part, these earlier periods focused on formal theoretical models and empirical evidence drawn from historical case studies. The third shift in scholarly efforts can be marked by the early 1990s, epitomized by the introduction of a large N dataset in the Journal of Peace Research (1991). During each of these periods, scholars steeped in the traditions of political science and international relations were aided by research in social psychology and the understanding of negotiations within firms and among organizations. The latter part of the 1990s brought a remarkable increase in both our models and evidence of how conflict management plays out in the context of international disputes.

The Proliferation of Interstate Conflict Management Datasets

The number of published quantitative studies on conflict management exploded in the decades of the 1990s and 2000s, driven in part by the significant growth in data collection projects on interstate conflict management. Bercovitch's dataset on mediation, as noted above, was an important contribution to this literature. Frank Sherman produced the Sherfacs database (1994), a project that coded conflict management attempts in 700 interstate disputes from 1945 to 1985 and was analyzed by William Dixon in a series of quantitative studies (1993; 1994; 1996). Russell Leng’s Behavioral Correlates of War (BCOW) project collected data on conflictual and cooperative events in crisis situations. This dataset was used to test several propositions about reciprocity and learning in conflict management (Leng 1983; 2000). The International Crisis Behavior (ICB) project began coding data on interstate crises in the mid-1970s, culminating in a publication (Brecher and Wilkenfeld 1997) describing a dataset of over 400 crises from 1918 to 1994 (a recent update through 2005 codes 447 crises). These data have been employed to study questions related to mediator style and the outcomes of interstate crises (Beardsley et al. 2006). A similar data project was undertaken by William Dixon at the University of Arizona to analyze conflict management strategies in the context of dyadic interstate relations characterized by at least one militarized dispute. This project records important data on third party participants in militarized interstate disputes from 1946 to 2001, including states, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (Corbetta and Dixon 2005).

Paul Huth and Todd Allee generated global data on territorial claims in the post–World War I era (Huth 1996; Huth and Allee 2002a), while Paul Hensel extended the territorial claims data back to 1816 for the western hemisphere (Hensel 2001) and Western Europe (Hensel and Mitchell 2005). Beth Simmons also collected data on territorial disputes in Latin America (1999). Paul Hensel and Sara Mitchell have expanded this issue data collection strategy with their Issue Correlates of War (ICOW) project to include issues beyond territory, such as competing claims over cross-border rivers and maritime zones (Hensel et al. 2008). All of these datasets code peaceful attempts to settle contentious issues, where each case involves a specific negotiation effort. This research strategy provides rich variation on variables related to characteristics of the dispute and the disputants, as well as variation in the types of conflict management strategies selected and the success or failure of various attempts to resolve the issue at stake. Collectively these data sources allow studies of the management of international conflict to account for contextual conditions, something our colleagues in psychology and organizational behavior demonstrated to be important. These datasets, moreover, also allow for a rich comparison of the parties’ own efforts to resolve conflicts relative to attempts by third party conflict managers to resolve contentious issues. The datasets also offer significant variation on the militarization side of things, which helps to overcome the selection effects discussed above.

In the next section, we describe many of the empirical findings that have emerged from analyses of these very rich conflict management datasets. Our review focuses on characteristics of the mediators, characteristics of the dispute/crisis/issue, characteristics of the disputants, the history of previous settlement efforts, and supply side/systemic factors that influence the overall pool of available conflict managers. We then conclude our review by discussing some fruitful avenues for future work on this topic.

Recent Theoretical and Empirical Progress

Characteristics of Conflict Managers

Many of the earlier analyses of large N datasets on conflict management focused on characteristics of third party mediators/managers. Bercovitch and Houston (1996) summarize the contingency approach put forward in a variety of publications related to the mediation project (Bercovitch 1986; 1992; Bercovitch et al. 1991; Bercovitch and Houston 1993; Bercovitch and Langley 1993; Bercovitch and Wells 1993). This theoretical approach focuses on the context and the process of conflict management, examining the characteristics of disputes, disputants, and mediators. On the latter point, they argue that successful mediators bring a host of important qualities to their efforts, including truthfulness, impartiality, intelligence, stamina, patience, energy, and compassion (Karim and Pegnetter 1983; Bercovitch 1984; Bercovitch and Houston 1993). Successful mediators also have stylistic advantages in the areas of facilitation, formulation, and manipulation (Beardsley et al. 2006).

Many studies suggest that impartial or unbiased mediators are more likely to be acceptable as intermediaries by disputants and they are more likely to be effective at helping the parties reach agreements (Young 1967; Brookmire and Sistrunk 1980; Karim and Pegnetter 1983; Wall and Lynn 1993; Fisher 1995; Bercovitch and Schneider 2000). On the other hand, more recent formal models have challenged this conventional wisdom, arguing instead that biased mediators are more acceptable and effective on the international scene (Kydd 2003; see Savun 2008 for an empirical test). From this perspective, close interactions and ties between the mediator and the disputants increase the likelihood of mediation (Bercovitch and Houston 1993). The mediator might be able to enhance his or her appeal to disputants by bringing resources and additional leverage to bear on the problem (Smith and Stam 2003). For example, major powers and global international organizations are often advantaged as conflict managers due to the resources at their disposal for providing carrots and sticks in the conflict management process (Inbar 1991; Bercovitch and Schneider 2000). Furthermore, mediators may be able to develop a credible reputation as unbiased mediators if they have a long run interest in maintaining their positive reputation on the international scene (Kydd 2006; Rauchhaus 2006). In short, some conflict managers are more successful than others due to the resources, skills, and leverage they bring to the negotiation table.

A related literature compares different forms of conflict management to see if particular strategies are more effective than others. Using the Sherfacs dataset, Dixon (1996) compares a variety of peaceful conflict management techniques: public appeals, communication, mediation, observation, intervention, humanitarian aid, and adjudication. He finds that communication, mediation, and adjudication are most effective for preventing crisis escalation. Binding settlement, in the form of arbitration and adjudication, has also been shown to produce successful long term agreements with high rates of compliance (Mitchell and Hensel 2007), although the findings are somewhat mixed (Raymond 1994).

Characteristics of Interstate Disputes

Empirical studies of the frequency and success of interstate conflict management often focus on characteristics of the disputes or the issues at stake. First, there is a general sense that some issues, such as territorial border disputes, are much more intractable than other issues, such as policy disputes (Diehl 1992; Vasquez 1993; Andersen et al. 2001; Huth and Allee 2002a; Hensel et al. 2008). This suggests both that third party conflict management will be more frequent in these intractable disputes (Hensel 2001; Hansen et al. 2008; Hensel et al. 2008) and also that success rates may be lower due to the divisive or complex nature of the issues (Bercovitch and Langley 1993; Mitchell and Hensel 2007). On the other hand, high levels of issue salience seem to have little effect on disputants’ willingness to employ binding forms of conflict management, such as arbitration and adjudication (Hensel 2001; Allee and Huth 2006; although see Fischer 1982). There is also variance within issue types; for example, indivisible or intangible territorial issues (ethnic components, sacred sites, historical legacies, etc.) are harder to resolve and often result in increased levels of militarization and escalation in comparison with more tangibly valued (economic value, strategic location, etc.) pieces of land (Hensel and Mitchell 2005).

There are also selection processes at work in the demand and supply for third party conflict management, as mediators will naturally be drawn to long and intense interstate disputes. Disputants may be willing to turn to negotiate with their adversaries or reach out to third parties when they reach mutually hurting stalemates on the battlefield, suffering sufficient costs to push them to the negotiation table (Touval and Zartman 1985a, 1985b; Zartman and Touval 1985; Zartman 1995; Mooradian and Druckman 1999; Huth and Allee 2002a). These moments that are “ripe” for settlement are also more likely to increase the chances for negotiated settlements to be struck (Dixon and Senese 2002). Many of the case studies that have focused on hurting stalemates return the study of conflict management to its earlier roots, where scholars emphasized process in negotiations (Zartman 1995), including “stages” or phases in negotiation, timing, and turning points (Douglas 1957; Druckman 1986; 2001).

The Context of Conflict Management

As noted above, many of the earlier studies on conflict management focused on characteristics of the mediators and of the disputes. This orientation followed naturally from the work on labor relations and interpersonal conflict management, where the disputants and mediators were typically individuals. In interstate conflict management, on the other hand, we are dealing with states as unitary actors, a framework which lends itself to a more explicit focus on the context of dispute settlement. For example, much of what we know about the onset, duration, and outcomes of interstate conflicts focuses on dyadic characteristics such as rivalry, power parity, regime type, proximity, alliance ties, and economic interdependence (Bremer 1992; Russett and Oneal 2001). Quantitative work has demonstrated clearly that these contextual variables are also highly significant when explaining the frequency and success of peaceful interstate conflict management.

First, it is clear that third party conflict managers go where they are most needed, which means they are more active in managing conflicts between enduring rivalries or two states with a repeated history of militarized conflicts (Bercovitch and Diehl 1997). The timing of mediation efforts in the context of rivalry is also important, as attempts to resolve interstate issues work best early on in a rivalry relationship, even though the more typical pattern is for mediators to arrive much later in the conflict process (Greig 2001; 2005). Legalistic dispute settlement (arbitration and adjudication) is more likely in the enduring rivalry context as well (Mitchell 2002; Allee and Huth 2006). Similar empirical patterns are seen in studies that employ measures of conflict history between the disputants. Recent militarization of an interstate issue increases the chances for peaceful settlement attempts (Hensel 2001; Hensel et al. 2008), although these effects mostly push parties toward third party conflict management rather than bilateral negotiations (Hensel 2001). A higher level of fatalities of both current and previous disputes improves the chances for successful third party mediation attempts (Greig 2001; 2005, although see Bercovitch and Langley 1993). At the same time, however, repeated militarization tends to lead to future interstate conflict because disputants on the losing side of a previous conflict often become more coercive in future interactions (Leng 1983; Vasquez 1993). Thus while mediators might be attracted to the hot spots, their efforts might not always be effective at cooling off the overall hostile relationship between enduring rivals (Goertz and Regan 1997).

There is an inverse aspect to these effects as well, as the history of previous peaceful efforts to resolve the issues at stake influences the frequency and success of conflict management. The most typical pattern observed in the empirical data is one of diffusion, where more peaceful conflict management efforts beget additional efforts (Dixon 1993; Greig 2005; Terris and Maoz 2005; Hensel et al. 2008). On the other hand, prior attempts that end unsuccessfully may be strongest for bringing the parties back to the negotiating table (Fischer 1982; Hensel 2001). Recent empirical work examines the flip side of the militarized coin, focusing on the factors that promote the durability of interstate and civil war peace agreements once they are reached (Werner 1999; Walter 2002; Fortna 2003; 2004). These studies emphasize the design of peace settlements and third party support, with more institutionalized settlements faring better, especially when third parties get involved actively in the peace process.

Another prominent dyadic characteristic that appears in many empirical models is the relative capabilities of the disputing states. Third party conflict management is most likely to occur in situations of power parity (Hensel 2001; Mitchell 2002; Terris and Maoz 2005; Allee and Huth 2006; Hensel et al. 2008). Similarly, international organizations are significantly more likely to get involved as conflict managers when the dispute involves relative equals (Hansen et al. 2008). Disputes involving one or more major powers are significantly less likely to witness third party conflict management (Greig 2005).

Robert Putnam’s (1988) important work on two level games has also found its way into empirical studies of conflict management. Many authors focus on regime type, at both the monadic and dyadic levels, seeking to understand states’ willingness to negotiate peacefully or involve third party mediators in the dispute settlement process. The most general finding is that joint democracy promotes the use of peaceful strategies to resolve interstate conflicts (Dixon 1993; 1994; Raymond 1994; Huth and Allee 2002a, Greig 2005; Terris and Maoz 2005; Allee and Huth 2006), as well as the success of those settlement attempts (Leng and Regan 2003). Furthermore, shifts toward democratization in the context of a dispute also bode favorably for peaceful dispute settlement (Greig 2001; 2005). Other features of domestic institutions influence conflict management strategies as well; solid domestic political opposition increases the likelihood of legalistic dispute settlement (Allee and Huth 2006) and recent elections in the target state raise the chances for peaceful talks (Huth and Allee 2002b). At the systemic level, democracies have also been shown to promote norms of third party conflict management (Mitchell 2002).

Shared ties in international organizations, another leg of the Kantian tripod for peace (Russett and Oneal 2001), also influence the frequency and success of peaceful conflict management techniques. Mitchell and Hensel (2007) show that international organizations improve the chances for compliance with peace settlements both actively, through their direct involvement as conflict managers, and passively, through an increase in shared IGO memberships between the disputants. An increased web of shared ties in international organizations increases the chances for non-binding third party conflict management (Hensel 2001) and active intervention by IGOs (Hansen et al. 2008). Security organizations have similar effects, with shared alliance ties between disputants increasing the chances for third party mediation (Terris and Maoz 2005) and peaceful dispute settlement more broadly (Dixon 1993; 1994; Dixon and Senese 2002; Mitchell and Hensel 2007).

Finally, cultural differences and similarities have also been explored carefully in the quantitative conflict management literature. Disputants with similar cultural values and history are significantly more likely to accept third party mediation and these efforts are more likely to resolve the underlying issues at stake (Leng and Regan 2003). On the other hand, colonial ties do not seem to influence mediation efforts (Greig 2005). All of these empirical studies demonstrate a strong link between factors that increase the risks for interstate conflict and factors that influence peaceful attempts to resolve ongoing conflicts. This accords with Jack Levy’s (2001) call for a unified theory of conflict and conflict management.

Supply Side Issues

Many conflict management scholars often fail to problematize the supply side question of how many potential mediators exist in a given situation and what factors influence their decisions to intervene (Bercovitch and Schneider 2000). This lack of attention stems in part from the challenge that arises when one seeks to determine the set of potential mediators for a given conflict situation. A more typical strategy is to record actual empirical cases of interventions (Regan 1996; 2000) or instances of peaceful conflict management, as described above in the discussion on datasets. While these datasets give us a lot of purchase for comparing cases of conflict management/intervention, they do not fully capture the process by which potential mediators step into the fray. They also treat the supply of potential conflict managers as fixed, which is unwise given the growth in democratic states and international organizations over the past two centuries. Using the ICOW dataset, Crescenzi et al. (2008) construct a set of all possible state mediators in each year of an ongoing dyadic issue claim, which includes all states in the region and major powers. They find that the systemic supply of impartial mediators increases as the system becomes more democratic and as disputants’ shared ties in international organizations increase. Bercovitch and Schneider (2000) also examine the supply side question, by coding the number of mediation attempts at the state level from 1950 to 1990. They find that more traditional factors, such as the mediator's capabilities, have the largest effect on the mediation marketplace. Contiguity is also likely to be relevant for understanding third party decisions to intervene, as mediators are more likely to care about conflicts in their own neighborhoods (Greig 2005). These supply side studies suggest fruitful avenues for dealing with selection effects more carefully in future research.

The Future of Quantitative Conflict Management Studies

In the past half-century, quantitative studies have taught us a great deal about the factors that promote the use and success of interstate conflict management. One thing that should be clear from our review is that a lot of the usual suspect variables in the conflict literature, such as power parity, democracy, rivalry, and contiguity, appear in conflict management analyses as well. Yet the dialogue that occurs between these two literatures is often limited. In fact, if you peruse through typical course syllabi in the two areas, you often find two distinct strategies for teaching conflict and conflict management. Interstate conflict classes are often organized around the important independent variables in the literature, such as relative power, regime type, and economic interdependence. On the other hand, conflict management courses typically organize themselves around the dependent variable, examining different forms of conflict management techniques (good offices, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, adjudication, etc.). We believe that progress will be made on both fronts when we start thinking about these processes in a unified framework because interstate conflicts and peaceful attempts to resolve them are inherently linked in a broader conflict process model (Diehl 2006).

One possible strategy for relating these literatures may be to return to the theoretical roots in the conflict management literature, which were linked explicitly to rational choice models. Fearon's (1995) rationalist explanations for war framework, with its emphasis on uncertainty about relative capabilities/resolve, commitment problems, and issue indivisibilities, might be a good place to start these bridge building efforts. We already see some initial success along these lines, with formal models of mediation focusing on similar rationalist logics (Kydd 2003; 2006; Rauchhaus 2006). A second strategy could involve linking conflict management studies more explicitly to scholarly work that focuses on conflict processes, such as rivalry and issue-based conflict. We have also seen some initial progress along these lines, such as Michael Greig’s work on mediation in the rivalry context, and Paul Huth’s and Paul Hensel’s analyses of territorial claims that focus on both militarized and peaceful strategies for conflict management.

We think the conflict management literature would also benefit from a more explicit focus on domain specific laws (Most and Starr 1989). In other words, we need to focus on the conditional effects for successful conflict management, rather than searching for universal solutions. One recent example along these lines (Mitchell and Hensel 2007) demonstrates that international organizations are most effective when they employ binding conflict management strategies (arbitration and adjudication). On the other hand, nonbinding intervention (mediation, good offices, etc.) by international organizations is actually less effective than the parties’ own bilateral negotiation efforts. This relates to similar findings in the interstate conflict literature, showing that certain types of international organizations, such as those that are more institutionalized or more democratic, are better suited to prevent the onset of conflict among member states (Boehmer et al. 2005; Pevehouse and Russett 2006). Many of the conflict management datasets that have been collected record information about third parties that get involved as conflict managers, which helps us understand more clearly how mediator characteristics interact with other contextual variables. In short, we need to think more explicitly about the interactions between characteristics of the mediators, characteristics of the disputes, and the broader context of conflict management efforts.

Finally, we think it will be useful to unify theoretical ideas from the interstate war and civil war literatures. Many conflict management analyses focus on a single arena, such as interstate conflict, often to the exclusion of the other arena. Some recent studies on the durability of peace following interstate and civil wars provide some helpful clues about how this integration might work (Walter 2002; Fortna 2003; 2004). Yet these quantitative studies make clear that the factors that are effective for preventing the recurrence of civil war, such as third party guarantees, may be less important for preserving peace following interstate wars, where the design of the cease fire agreement may be paramount. One sees similar pathways for integration in the work on military interventions in civil and interstate wars (Hermann and Kegley 1996; Regan 1996; 2000; Regan and Aydin 2006). Even so, the results regarding the success of intervention efforts are quite mixed in these two arenas, with intervention in civil wars often resulting in higher levels of casualties and longer conflicts. We think it will be profitable to think about the different patterns of conflict management in civil and interstate war contexts. There is quite a bit of rich variation in the causal explanations for conflict in these two settings, which might give us better purchase for understanding the conditions under which conflict management efforts are likely to succeed.


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We thank Paul Diehl and two anonymous reviewers for useful comments.