Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2012

The Consequences of Failed Mediation in Civil Wars: Assessing the Sri Lankan Case

Sandra Destradi, Johannes Vüllers

August 2012

German Institute of Global and Area Studies

Abstract

While mediation efforts in violent conflicts often fail, the academic literature on mediation has long ignored both this phenomenon and its consequences. This paper aims to fill this significant knowledge gap by examining the conditions under which the failure of mediation leads to an escalation of civil war. Based on the literature on bargaining, we argue that the degree of negotiability of the conflict parties’ strategic objectives, as well as the relative weight of hardliners and moderates within those conflict parties, influence the likelihood of escalation after mediation failure. A plausibility test carried out for Norway’s failed mediation in the Sri Lankan civil war confirms the usefulness of our model. In particular, the suspension of negotiations in April 2003 led to a shift towards less negotiable strategic objectives for both conflict parties and to a strengthening of hardliners within the government. This contributed to the escalation of the conflict, up to its eventual termination in May 2009.