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Conflict Resolution in Civil War: The Case of Libya, Syria and Yemen

The turmoil in the Arab world that started in 2011 resulted in civil unrest in three states: Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The United Nations (UN) has made attempts and continues to make efforts to broker peace agreements between the warring parties in order to achieve peace through mechanisms such as power-sharing. The United Nations has been in the front-line in making attempts to resolve these conflicts through deployment of mediators. Since the 1990s, the resolution of most of the longest-running civil wars has been courtesy of the overall leadership and participation of the United Nations.

However, for the three case studies here, the attempts by the United Nations to bring peace through power-sharing to bring an end to civil unrest in these countries have proven futile. In Yemen and Libya, the power-sharing deals have not been able to bar continuation or resumption of hostilities. As for Syria, the United Nations has not been able to conduct power-sharing talks between the opponents in the civil war. The primary objective of the political transformation has been made impracticable by the changed military balance of power.

When can negotiated settlements be successful in resolving civil conflicts?

There is no consensus on whether conflict dynamics may make a civil war mature for settlement or assure that all discussions will fail if ripeness is not there. According to a popular theory, effective conflict resolution necessitates a stalemate between the opposing parties in which the costs of prolonging the war outweigh the costs of making concessions for a peace deal (Zartman, 1985). However, whether or not a disagreement has progressed to this point is typically only apparent in hindsight. The presumption that a civil war will be resolved at some point in the future is not only debatable since it can serve as a suitable pretext for inadequate efforts at mediation, but also since numerous civil wars generate ever new conflicts, along with new actors and war capitalists with a strong interest in prolonging conflict. Which mediation technique is effective is determined not only by the structure of the dispute, but also by the mediator’s attributes. Mediators with minimal clout, such as representatives of minor governments or non-governmental organizations, must persuade conflicting parties that they are completely neutral. Their plan will inevitably center on fostering trust between the opposing groups. A mediator who represents global powers and can use their influence, on the other hand, would depend more on international pressure to persuade conflict parties to compromise, and on third-state assurances to assure agreement implementation (Beardsley, 2018). Mediation premised on such “manipulation” of the balance of power tries to either induce a deadlock or indicate to the warring parties that a deadlock has already occurred.

In any case, the dispute parties must consent to mediation as a bare minimum. It is also critical that all key conflict participants and their foreign supporters participate in the negotiations, either directly or indirectly. This has also gotten increasingly difficult in recent years for two reasons. First, as disputes become more international, the number of external players who must be at the negotiation table – and who will strive to preclude other domestically or internationally parties – grows. Second, jihadi organizations have played an increasingly important part in recent civil conflicts. They exhibit little inclination to engage in dialogue, and their involvement in discussions is still considered illegal on a global scale (Dudouet, 2010). Whenever the UN intervenes, the strategy used by mediators and their effectiveness are heavily dependent on the Security Council.

A number of factors must be satisfied for UN mediation to be effective. The Security Council must provide the mediator a clear mandate, but it must also be unified in its support for mediation efforts and interest in resolving the situation. The mediator also relies on the permanent members to back up an agreement with assurances – such as the UN or third-party force deployment – and to warn transgressors with penalties. Even experienced UN mediators find it difficult to reach sustainable agreements when these prerequisites are not satisfied (Hampson, 2013). Moreover, the UN Security Council’s stance on a crisis impacts whether the mediator can establish a reputation for neutrality or is seen to be prejudiced against one side in the conflict.

Negotiation of Peace through Power-Sharing

Negotiated settlements to civil conflicts are typically precarious. It is widely known that whenever a civil war concludes with a peace solution, a resurgence of warfare is considerably more probable than when it concludes with a military triumph by one side (Geneva, 2007). It is hotly debated whether peace treaties will survive or fail under what circumstances. The dispute centers on whether some sorts of power-sharing agreements are stronger than others, or if it is the circumstances around the power-sharing pact that are important (Hartzell and Hoddie, 2003). Clearly, there is no simple formula for concluding successful peace treaties. Only a thorough examination of particular circumstances allows for an educated prediction as to whether an agreement has a realistic probability of being implemented or is doomed to fail. Even in the best-case scenario, power-sharing agreements are a risk for both local and foreign parties.

Since the 1990s, most peace treaties have included power-sharing frameworks — whether political, military, economic, or territorial. Even when power-sharing agreements are implemented somewhat well, skeptics doubt their long-term viability. They argue that power-sharing agreements signal to political actors that violence pays (Tull & Mehler, 2005); that they are more of a barrier to long-term conflict resolution because power-sharing usually requires massive international commitment, which often wanes during implementation (De Waal, 2009); and, finally, that they predominantly advance the interests of power-hungry politicians and warlords without addressing the root causes of conflicts (Sriram & Zahar, 2009). On the final argument, supporters argue that peace talks cannot succeed unless only those players are there who may cause an agreement to collapse (Cunningham, 2013). Involving a larger spectrum of negotiation parties would lessen the impact of such veto players, who would lose interest in a solution as a result.

However, as things stand, the interests of regional and major powers, as well as the exclusion of certain organizations as terrorists, make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring all essential entities to the bargaining table. This idea is emphasized by the case examples in this study. They also demonstrate that the major participation of foreign forces in these crises needs a negotiation framework including both domestic and international entities. It’s hardly surprise that such a difficult task seldom succeeds. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to consider whether the nature of a dispute rendered failure of UN efforts all but inevitable, or if the mediator’s miscalculations or prejudice led to failure. Answering this question will aid in the development of more effective mediation efforts for equally complicated future disputes.

With this goal in mind, the articles that follow examine the UN’s mediation tactics in Libya, Syria, and Yemen against the backdrop of these crises’ trajectories and the conflicting interests of local, regional, and international players participating in them. The following questions are being addressed: How do UN mediators deal with the conflict’s structures and dynamics? What are the greatest roadblocks to the UN’s efforts? What can European governments do to strengthen and expand UN mediation?


Beardsley, K. (2013). Using the right tool for the job: Mediator leverage and conflict resolution. Penn St. JL & Int’l Aff.2, 57.

Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, Charting the Roads to Peace. Facts, Figures and Trends in Conflict Resolution, Mediation Data Trends Report 2007 (Geneva, 2007)

Cunningham, D. E. (2013). Who should be at the table: Veto players and peace processes in civil war. Penn St. JL & Int’l Aff.2, 38.

De Waal, A. (2009). Mission without end? Peacekeeping in the African political marketplace. International Affairs85(1), 99-113.

Dudouet, V. (2010). Mediating peace with proscribed armed groups. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.

Hampson, F. O. (2004). Can the UN still mediate?. In The United Nations and Global Security (pp. 75-92). Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Hartzell, C., & Hoddie, M. (2003). Institutionalizing peace: power sharing and post‐civil war conflict management. American Journal of Political Science47(2), 318-332.

Sriram, C. L., & Zahar, M. J. (2009). The perils of power-sharing: Africa and beyond. Africa Spectrum44(3), 11-39.

Tull, D. M., & Mehler, A. (2005). The hidden costs of power-sharing: Reproducing insurgent violence in Africa. African affairs104(416), 375-398.

Zartman I. W. (1985). Ripe for Resolution. New York.


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