Russia: Read Your Own Book Before Mediating in Libya

In the Libyan conflict, skilled mediators must look beyond a mere ceasefire and political solution to the underlying structural problems.
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Last week at the G-8 summit in France, Russia agreed to mediate a ceasefire between the warring factions in Libya. The Russian government, like most governments, has limited experience in mediating international conflicts. Thus, unless it appoints experienced, professional mediators onto its mediation team, its efforts are likely to be disappointing.

Interestingly, the Russian Parliament passed a statute effective at the beginning of this year that professionalizes mediation within Russia. The Model Program, which sets forth the training required of any mediator wishing to practice mediation in Russia, consists of three levels: basic, special, and "trainers training." Mediators trained to the basic level can practice mediation, but not teach it. The special level of mediation also allows mediators to gain advanced training in particular mediation disciplines such as restorative justice, labor mediation, general civil litigation, construction mediation, etc. Those completing the trainer training can train mediators at the basic level. Each level requires class time, reading, clinical work, and a written examination.

Obviously, the Russian government is interested in professionalizing private mediation practice. The question is whether it will take a page from this book and be the first government to professionalize international conflict mediation. Instead of leaving the work to diplomats and foreign leaders who, although well-intentioned, generally lack even the most fundamental knowledge and skills of a professional mediator, Russia could set a new standard of practice. The benefit to the world would be immense as only the very highest skilled and experienced professional mediators would be called to serve in international conflict mediation. Right now, mediator selection in international conflict mediation tends to be ad hoc, based on who you know, not what you know. The results over the past 25 years have been dismal, due in part to the poor skills of the mediators appointed to intervene in international conflicts.

In the Libyan conflict, skilled mediators must look beyond a mere ceasefire and political solution to the underlying structural problems. Libya is a more tribal society than most Arab countries. Its various factions will need mediation assistance navigating towards a civil society based on the rule of law and away from the hierarchy and competition of traditional tribal structure. This will demand enormous patience, persistence, and stamina from the mediators. The process may take years, not months, and the Russian mediators should be prepared for this work.

The political solution is further complicated by the International Criminal Court prosecutorial actions seeking indictments against Khaddafi and his top advisors. The Office of the Prosecutor has a published policy of not negotiating immunity in exchange for peace. Thus, the International Criminal Court will proceed regardless of whether Khaddafi agrees to step down or not. If he does agree to step down, immunity from prosecution will not be part of the deal. This complicates matters greatly for the mediators because there is little incentive left for Khaddafi to lay down arms. If he does so to save his own life, he is still subject to indictment and prosecution. If he continues fighting the rebels, he will ultimately be defeated and probably killed.

The Libyan situation is no more and no less complex than a number of other international conflicts in the world. It requires the skill and deftness of professional mediators, not world leaders or diplomats. Hopefully, the Russians will recognize the wisdom of their internal need for professional mediators and apply the same standard to whom they appoint to the Libyan crisis.

Douglas E. Noll is a professional mediator and the author of Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts (Prometheus 2011). More can be found at

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