In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mediation and Civil Wars

  • Introduction
  • Overview Works
  • Quantitative Data and the Study of Civil War Mediation
  • Bargaining Challenges and Civil Wars
  • Starting Peace Talks: The Occurrence of Mediation in Civil Wars
  • Getting Agreements: Determinants of Civil War Peace Agreements
  • Third-Party Bias and Mediation Outcomes
  • Mediation and Selection Effects
  • Long-Term Success: Building a Durable Peace

International Relations Mediation and Civil Wars
J. Michael Greig
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0207


Civil wars constitute among the most destabilizing threats in the international system. Civil wars produce grave human suffering, undermine prosperity, produce large-scale civilian displacements, and, after they end, lay the groundwork for conflict in the future. At the same time, civil war fighting also shows a strong risk of both spreading across borders and drawing in neighboring states. These dangers of civil wars create a compelling need for mechanisms to transition civil conflicts toward peace. Unfortunately, civil wars also represent the most difficult types of conflicts to manage in the international system. The identity issues over which many civil wars are fought tend to be highly salient for warring sides, making peace agreements difficult for belligerents to achieve. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that the warring sides typically must live with one another in the aftermath of a civil war, which increases the commitment problems that are endemic to civil wars. These commitment problems serve to deepen fears among even those combatants motivated to reach a settlement with one another of the dangers that the other side will cheat. Third parties can play an important diplomatic role in assisting governments and rebel groups in achieving civil war peace settlements, limiting violence, and obtaining a durable peace. To that end, scholars of international relations and comparative politics have increasingly devoted attention to understanding the contribution of mediation to the management of civil wars. Scholarly research has deepened our understanding of the conditions under which civil war mediation occurs, the forces that shape its prospects for success, and the influences upon the durability of peace after civil wars. Many of the works cited herein explore directly the use, effectiveness, and characteristics of mediation in civil wars. Other works cited, although not focused directly on mediation, offer insights that are important to civil war mediation, such as how the characteristics of warring sides shape peace efforts and how the issues in conflict influence the prospects for settlement. Together, these works are largely drawn from the quantitative and rationalist research perspective.

Overview Works

Scholarly understanding of the role that mediation plays in managing civil conflicts has advanced considerably. These works trace the contributions that mediation makes toward peace within states and provide helpful overviews of the empirical literature on civil war mediation. Kydd 2010 and Wallensteen and Svensson 2014 each provide an in-depth exploration of the contributions that third-party diplomacy can make to conflict resolution. Regan and Aydin 2006 demonstrates the variety of intervention tools available to third parties seeking to influence civil wars. Finally, Gartner 2013 offers an excellent discussion of how the literature’s understanding of civil war mediation has developed over time.

  • Gartner, Scott S. “Introduction. Symposium: Innovations in the Study of Mediation and Peacemaking.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 30.4 (2013): 349–353.

    DOI: 10.1177/0738894213491357

    Traces the development of key innovations in the development of the quantitative research literature on civil war mediation.

  • Kydd, Andrew H. “Rationalist Approaches to Conflict Prevention and Resolution.” Annual Review of Political Science 13 (2010): 101–121.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.032108.135916

    Detailed review article from the rationalist perspective. Discusses the role that mediators play in civil wars in disseminating information among the parties to foster agreements as well as the ways in which the relationship between the belligerents and the mediator can condition this information exchange.

  • Regan, Patrick M., and Aysegul Aydin. “Diplomacy and Other Forms of Intervention in Civil Wars.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 50.5 (2006): 736–756.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022002706291579

    Explores, side by side, the effect of military, economic, and diplomatic interventions on civil war duration. Finds a strong, negative effect of mediation on civil war duration.

  • Wallensteen, Peter, and Isak Svensson. “Talking Peace: International Mediation in Armed Conflicts.” Journal of Peace Research 51.2 (2014): 315–327.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022343313512223

    Essential review article covering quantitative research exploring civil war mediation frequency, third-party bias, mediator strategy, and mediation effectiveness.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.