The international mediation of power-sharing settlements

DOI10.1177/0010836718761760
Date01 December 2018
Published date01 December 2018
Subject MatterArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/0010836718761760
Cooperation and Conflict
2018, Vol. 53(4) 467 –485
© The Author(s) 2018
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DOI: 10.1177/0010836718761760
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The international mediation
of power-sharing settlements
Allison McCulloch and Joanne McEvoy
Abstract
Power sharing is largely accepted among scholars and policy-makers as a potentially effective
mechanism for building peace in the aftermath of violent ethnic conflicts and self-determination
disputes. Although the operation of power sharing may be prone to ongoing challenges and even
political crises arising from the legacy of the conflict, international actors continue to promote
power-sharing arrangements to manage self-determination and other ethnopolitical conflicts.
This article investigates the normative and instrumental reasons why third-party mediators (on
behalf of international organizations and/or states) turn to power-sharing strategies during peace
negotiations. It considers the reasons why third-party mediators promote power sharing when
its maintenance is likely to depend on their ongoing commitment and governance involvement.
We argue that mediators draw from four different perspectives in their support of power-sharing
settlements: international law, regional and internal security, democracy and minority rights, and
a technical approach where mediators focus on the mechanics of power-sharing designs. The
article draws on in-depth semi-structured interviews with officials from the United Nations
and the European Union working for the organizations’ respective mediation units as well as
documentary analysis of official mediation documents.
Keywords
Conflict mediation, ethnic conflict, external actors, power sharing, self-determination disputes
Introduction
As the difficult and complex peace negotiations for Syria demonstrate, international
mediators struggle with how to secure a lasting ceasefire, shore up groups’ commitment
to forging a settlement, and establish institutional options that will consolidate peace and
an inclusive democratic state. More than 20 years of international practice suggests that
power sharing is becoming the dominant approach favoured by third-party mediators for
building state capacity and legitimacy in deeply divided societies. Power sharing facili-
tates co-decision-making opportunities between ethnic or national majorities and
Corresponding author:
Allison McCulloch, Brandon University, 270 18th Street, Brandon, MB R7A 6A9, Canada.
Email: McCullocha@brandonu.ca
761760CAC0010.1177/0010836718761760Cooperation and ConflictMcCulloch and McEvoy
research-article2018
Article
468 Cooperation and Conflict 53(4)
minorities in government; in cases of violent conflict, it is also used to facilitate joint
decision-making between former combatants.
Despite its burgeoning popularity, power sharing can be an unstable approach to con-
flict transformation. While it has proven effective in the short and medium term
(McCulloch, 2014; McEvoy, 2015), over time it is prone to political crises arising from
the legacy of the conflict. The resolution of such crises often entails either the prolonged
engagement of external actors in order to restabilize the agreement, as with the extended
international mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or the re-engagement of external actors
in order to defuse crisis moments, as with high-level talks in Northern Ireland jointly
sponsored by the British and Irish governments. Nonetheless, external actors continue to
promote power-sharing arrangements to manage self-determination disputes and ethnic
conflicts.1 This presents a puzzle. External actors are generally motivated to find resolu-
tions with clear exit strategies; that they continue to recommend arrangements that only
prolong their involvement in conflict transformation is thus curious.
This article investigates the reasons why third-party mediators turn to power-sharing
strategies during peace negotiations. The article draws on in-depth semi-structured
interviews with officials from the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU)
working for the organizations’ respective mediation units as well as documentary analy-
sis of official mediation documents, such as the UN Guidance on Effective Mediation
and the EU’s Concept on Mediation and Dialogue Capacities. We interviewed approxi-
mately 15 officials working for the respective mediation units and our questions sought
to uncover their views on why power sharing is often recommended as a feasible and
potentially fruitful set of institutional arrangements to help secure peace and democracy
in conflict-affected, deeply divided places. Drawing on these interviews and relevant
documents, we argue that international mediators recommend power sharing for both
pragmatic and normative reasons. Specifically, we outline four possible explanations
for their support of such arrangements, drawing on international law, regional and inter-
nal security considerations, support for democracy and minority rights, and what we
might call an agnostic approach whereby mediators focus on the mechanics of power-
sharing designs at the request of domestic actors. In highlighting these different
approaches, we find that each third-party mediator often brings their own existing pref-
erences to the table, which have the potential to render each new negotiation sui generis.
In the conclusion we consider the implications of our findings for ongoing and future
international mediation processes.
Power-sharing problems: Adoption and implementation
Scholarship on post-conflict institutional design highlights ‘the new wave of power-
sharing democracy’ whereby such arrangements are established through international
engagement and oversight (Taylor, 2009: 7). External actors have facilitated power-
sharing adoption and implementation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Lebanon,
Northern Ireland, Sudan, and Macedonia and they have recommended such arrange-
ments for Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, and Syria.
Third parties have been shown to play a crucial role in incentivizing contending groups
to adopt, maintain, and reform power-sharing institutions (McEvoy, 2014; 2015). That

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