International Mediation as a Rhetorical Situation: Connecting Context, Actors, and Strategy for Mediation Success


This study examines the relationship between characteristics of (1) conflict situations, (2) the participants in mediation processes, and (3) mediation strategies and the influence of these characteristics on mediation success. Previous studies on international mediation have identified numerous conditions of ripeness mediator characteristics that influence the likelihood of mediation success, as well as varying effects of mediation strategies. However, these studies lack a comprehensive framework to connect the context of the situation to the mediation process. Because mediation is inherently a rhetorical process, this study employs a theoretical framework based on the components of the rhetorical situation to analyze how the context of mediation influences the mediator’s ability to facilitate a successful mediation outcome. The findings suggest that communication-based strategies may increase the likelihood of mediation success if the conflict situation does not meet conditions of ripeness, and characteristics of the mediator and the disputants’ representatives in the mediation process may further influence the likelihood of success.

Table of Contents: 


    According to rhetorical scholar Richard E. Vatz (1973), political science focuses on the “real” situation, while rhetorical study concentrates on how and by whom the reality is created to which individuals react. The subsequent reality that is formed by individuals’ reactions to their environment is a product of both material reality and the reality that can be created in the minds of the individuals. Vatz’s dichotomy between political science and rhetorical study may be a generalization, but his observation reveals two different approaches to studying the world and its phenomena. This study blends material and rhetorical perspectives to improve the understanding of how mediators can facilitate successful mediation outcomes in international conflicts.

    Third-party mediation offers a powerful tool to resolve international conflicts, which threaten the stability of both individual states and the international system as whole. Despite the increased prominence of mediation as a conflict management technique (Beardsley et al. 2006; Wilkenfeld et al 2005), much remains to be understood about how the mediation process interacts with the conflict situation to produce successful mediation outcomes. Studying mediation outcomes as the result of a combination of both contextual and strategic factors provides the framework to develop more effective mediation techniques tailored to suit the needs of the situation.

    Although vast, the scholarship on international mediation focuses primarily on temporal and contextual factors to explain mediation success (Greig 2001; Greig and Diehl, 2006; Pruitt 1997, 2007; Zartman 2000).  This limited focus has produced debate over the best timing for conflict mediation (Greig 2001; Pruitt 1997) and precluded a detailed empirical analysis of the interaction between the conflict situation and the role of the mediator in the mediation process. This study adopts a rhetorical approach to better understand the situational factors that determine the ripeness of a conflict for mediation and how the mediator’s response to the situation can influence the success of the outcome.

    Mediation is inherently a rhetorical process; success depends on the mediator’s ability to persuade combatants to move past their conflict and arrive at a resolution. Therefore, a rhetorical perspective is appropriate to examine mediation success. Just as scholars of conflict management have attempted to identify a ripe situation for mediation, rhetorical scholars also identify a rhetorical situation for rhetorical discourse. The rhetorical situation consists of three components—the exigency, audience, and constraints. When applied to conflict mediation, the rhetorical situation provides a structured approach to ripeness, which current mediation literature lacks, while retaining the flexibility to encompass the nuances and complexity of international conflicts.

    Additionally, the rhetorical situation provides a direct link between the contextual factors of ripeness and the mediation process to describe how the mediator can facilitate a successful outcome. The rhetorical situation is not a fixed set of environmental conditions. Vatz (1973) criticizes Bitzer’s (1968) description of the rhetorical situation as being too deterministic, granting intrinsic value to the situation and ignoring the ability of rhetorician to choose how to characterize the situation through rhetoric. Bitzer (1980) clarifies that although individuals are influenced by the conditions of their environment, they also functionally interact with and modify the environment. Similarly, the mediator can influence the mediation outcome by shaping the mediation process and characterizing the situation through his or her words and actions.

    Furthermore, studies on the relationship between mediation styles and the outcome of mediation have found that forceful or directive strategies are more likely to achieve an agreement (Bercovitch 1996; Beardsley et al. 2006), but agreements reached through less intrusive mediation strategies aimed at facilitating communication between the disputants are more likely to reduce crisis tensions and result in a more durable agreement (Beardsley et al. 2006). Thus, this study seeks to identify the conditions that facilitate the success of mediation-based mediation strategies.

    This study posits that the optimal situation for mediation success occurs when the conflict is marked by urgency, the disputants are amenable to mediation, the representatives that participate in the mediation possess the authority to enact the outcome, and the process is led by an experienced and credible mediator. However, a successful mediation outcome also depends on how the mediator responds to the situation during the mediation outcome. A mediator can facilitate success by building trust and a rapport with the parties, clarifying the situation and emphasizing conflict costs, facilitating effective communication between the disputants, and establishing a foundation of common ground on which the disputants can build a resolution.

    I first review the relevant literature on third-party mediation of international conflicts, theories of ripeness, and mediation strategies and tactics. Furthermore, I demonstrate how a rhetorical framework fits within this literature. I then describe my theoretical framework for the study and a set of hypotheses on the relationship between aspects of the conflict situation, actors in the mediation process, and the mediation strategy and mediation outcomes. After describing my research design and methodology, I test the hypotheses using Bercovitch’s (2000) International Conflict Management dataset and conclude with a discussion of the results, possible implications of the results, and suggestions for future research.

    Perceptions of International Mediation

    Contextual Explanations and Theories of Ripeness

    Within the scholarly literature on international mediation, significant attention has been devoted to understanding how contextual characteristics of the conflict and the timing of mediation efforts influence mediation success (Bercovitch 1997; Bercovitch and Langely 1993; Greig 2001; Greig and Diehl 2006; Kleiboer 1994; Pruitt 1997, 2007; Zartman 2000). Theories about ripeness attempt to identify the distinct moment in time at which mediation is most likely to succeed (Bercovitch 1997; Zartman 2000).  Temporal explanations suggest that ripeness is a function of the life-cycle of the conflict, but debates persist over the best time to attempt mediation. Hostilities are less entrenched early in the conflict, but the accumulation of costs later in the conflict provides greater motivation to seek resolution (Greig 2001; Kleiboer 1994; Zartman 2000). Additionally, some scholars criticize the tendency to view ripeness as a discrete state and propose conceptions of willingness or readiness as an alternative (Greig 2001; Greig and Diehl 2006; Pruitt 1997, 2007).

    Contextual explanations of ripeness include both objective and subjective factors. The central factors of ripeness include the motivation to resolve the conflict and optimism that a solution exists (Pruitt 1997, 2007; Zartman 2000). Zartman (2000) focuses on the perception of a “mutually hurting stalemate” as the primary explanation of ripeness. More generally, the accumulation of unacceptable conflict costs is widely recognized throughout the scholarly literature as a significant motivating factor for combatants to seek mediation to resolve their conflict (Greig and Diehl 2006; Pruitt 1997, 2007; Zartman 2000). Both Kleiboer (1994) and Zartman (2000) recognize discouraging implications of this explanation—the requirement of significant costs for mediation success offers little hope for the success of preemptive conflict management and suggests that inflicting more costs is the most effective method to ripen a conflict for mediation.

    Most explanations of ripeness also identify the importance of optimism about the ability to resolve the conflict and suggest multiple factors that can contribute to optimism (Pruitt 1997, 2007; Richmond, 1998; Zartman 2000). Optimism depends both on the attitudes of the parties and their perception of the conditions of the conflict. Zartman (2000) explains that parties must perceive the possibility of “a way out” of the conflict. Zartman (2000) and Pruitt (1997) both recognize the perception of a valid spokesperson—a representative for both parties in the mediation process with the ability to enforce the mediation outcome—as a critical determinant of optimism in the possibility of success. Pruitt (1997) adds that optimism depends on a “working trust” between the parties, a belief in the motivation of the other party to resolve the conflict.

    The inclusion of perception in the concept of ripeness also grants some flexibility to the theory. Zartman (2000) suggests that even if conflict costs are not sufficiently large to motivate parties to make the concessions necessary to achieve a resolution through  mediation, the situation can still be ripe if a third party can make the combatantsperceive that the costs are high. Richmond (1998) also suggests that perceptions about the mediator can influence the combatants’ willingness to agree to mediation.

    Towards a More Comprehensive Approach to Mediation

    Most of the ripeness literature focuses on the conflict situation, without considering the impacts of the mediator and the mediation process. Zartman (2000) highlights the need to study the possibility of extending the concept of ripeness to the process and outcome of mediation. Bercovitch and his associates attempt to fill this gap with a contingency approach that relates the context of the situation, timing of the mediation attempt, and mediation process to the mediation outcome (see Bercovitch 1997; Bercovitch and Houston 1993; Bercovitch and Langley 1993; Bercovitch and DeRouen 2004). Bercovitch and Houston (1993) focus specifically on characteristics about the mediator’s identity, experience, and behavior. They broadly categorize mediator behavior as one of three strategies—communication-facilitation, procedural, or directive—that range from passive to forceful in their approach. Bercovitch and Langely (1993) contribute further to the contingency approach by also studying the relationship between the duration, intensity, and core issues of the dispute and the mediation outcome. They offer prescriptive conclusions about the implications of their results on how mediator behavior can influence success. Bercovitch and DeRouen (2004) specifically contextualize mediation within ethnic conflicts and study the influence of timing, mediation strategy, and mediator experience on the mediation outcome. They conclude that mediation is more likely to be successful if it is attempted early in the conflict, the mediator possesses experience, and the mediator uses directive strategies. Although Bercovitch and Langely (1993) argue that the effectiveness of the mediation strategy relies on the context of the situation and these studies include a combination of characteristics of the conflict, mediator, and mediation process, they do not consider how these factors interact to influence the mediation outcome. Furthermore, the characteristics and behaviors of the disputing parties are largely ignored.

    Mediation Style and Strategies

    Other scholars have focused specifically on the relationship between mediation style and crisis outcomes (Beardsley et al. 2006; Wilkenfeld et al. 2005). Scholars provide various descriptions of mediation strategies, but the three basic styles discussed above—although sometimes referred to by different names—have gained particular prominence within the scholarly literature (Beardsley et al. 2006; Bercovitch 1997; Bercovitch and Houston 1993; Bercovitch and Langley 1993; Bercovitch and DeRouen 2004; Wilkenfeld et al. 2005; Zartman and Touval 1996). The most passive mediation strategy identified by most scholars is communication-facilitation (Bercovitch 1997; Bercovitch and Houston 1993; Bercovitch and Langley 1993; Bercovitch and DeRouen 2004), also referred to as just facilitation (Beardsley et al. 2006; Wilkenfeld et al. 2005), or communication (Zartman and Touval 1996). The mediator as a communicator or facilitator provides the mediation environment (Wilkenfeld et al. 2005) and serves as a channel of communication between the disputants (Beardsley et al. 2006; Bercovitch 1997; Bercovitch and DeRouen 2004; Wilkenfeld et al. 2005). He or she can supply new information, clarify information, help parties identify substantial issues in the conflict, and encourage them to re-conceptualize the conflict, but offers no substantial contribution to the content of the process (Beardsley et al. 2006; Wilkenfeld et al. 2005). Some scholars categorize facilitation as distinct from mediation (Dixon 1996; Keashly and Fisher 1996). However, Bercovitch and Langley (1993) assert the benefits of adopting a broad definition of mediation for the purposes of comparing the appropriateness and effectiveness of different mediation styles. Beardsley et al. (2006) find that facilitation is the most successful strategy at facilitating a reduction in post-crisis tensions and resulting in durable agreements.

    In a different, but related, body of literature, proponents of third party consultation (Fisher 1972) and controlled communication (Burke 1969) focus specifically on the centrality of effective communication for resolving conflicts, independent of formal international mediation (Blake 1998; Burke 1969; Ellis and Maoz 2003; Fisher 1972; Keashly and Fisher 1996). Fisher’s (1972) third party consultation and Burke’s (1969) controlled communication techniques are based on normative arguments that disputants should arrive at their own resolutions rather than having outcomes imposed on them (Keashly and Fisher 1996) and  more general theories of the role of communication in conflict and international relations (Bar-Tal 2000; Blake 1998; Ellis and Maoz 2003; Fisher 1993). These arguments are largely based on social-psychological theories of conflict that consider conflict as a subjective social process that is shaped by the perceptions and interactions of disputing parties (Bar-Tal 2000; Ellis and Maoz 2003; Keashly and Fisher 1996).

    Burton (1969) and Fisher (1972) argue that misinformation—either due to a lack of information of disparate interpretations of available information—is the ultimate source of conflict, and, therefore, the first step in conflict resolution must be re-establishing effective communication to create a framework of common knowledge. Suedfeld and Jhangiani (2009) empirically demonstrate that parties tend to use more cognitively simple language, characterized by a failure to recognize and integrate differing perspectives, before the outbreak of violent hostilities. Furthermore, Liht, Suedfeld and Krawezyk (2005) find that increases in cognitive complexity are associated with progress in negotiations. Fisher (1993) also contends that communication erodes throughout the duration of conflict, and increasing communication between disputing parties is essential to establish trust and a foundation for successful peacemaking. Ellis and Maoz (2003) further contend that groups use communication patterns to delegitimize the other group and form negative stereotypes that influence these interactions, and destructive communication continues to escalate during conflict. Bar-Tal (2000) explains that these beliefs can become entrenched in sustained conflicts through the development of a “conflict ethos.” The social-psychological approach to conflict places the emphasis for conflict resolution on transforming the relationship between the parties through effective communication.

    Consultation and controlled communication strategies parallel communication-facilitation in many ways. Fisher (1972) argues for a non-coercive, non-evaluative, and non-directive role of the third party that focuses on facilitative and diagnostic actions to help disputants comprehend and constructively address the issues of the conflict. However, consultation primarily consists of third-party interventions in the form of problem-solving workshops or informal small group discussions facilitated by a team of impartial consultants with requisite knowledge of conflict and social behavior processes (Keashly and Fisher 1996). The participants include interested and representative members of the disputing groups or appointed but informal individuals with the authority to contribute to decision-making (Keashly and Fisher 1996). Studies support the usefulness of this approach to improve perceptions and reduce negative stereotypes (Ellis and Maoz 2003). However, the transferability of progress made within the workshops to actual national relationships and the resolution of international conflicts remains unexamined (Yalem 1971). Keashly and Fisher (1996) maintain the distinction between consultation and mediation, but they contend that consultation could be a useful complement to mediation, taking place either before or after mediation. Scholars have not examined how the specific goals and techniques of consultation and controlled communication could be applied directly in a formal mediation setting with official representatives.

    The second mediation style, formulation or procedural mediation, allows the mediator to adopt a more substantial role in the mediation process by determining the structure and procedures of the negotiations, conceiving and proposing new solutions to the disputing parties, and redefining the issues in the conflict (Bercovitch and DeRouen 2004; Bercovitch and Houston 1993; Wilkenfeld et al. 2005; Zartman and Touval 1996). As such, the formulative mediator can be especially valuable to help move negotiations forward if parties reach a stalemate (Beardsley et al. 2006; Wilkenfeld et al. 2005). However, the mediator-as-formulator is restricted to offering ideas and insight and cannot coerce the parties to accept any particular outcome (Wilkenfeld et al. 2005).

    Finally, manipulative or directive mediation represents the most intrusive mediation strategy. Manipulative mediators use their positions and leverage to affect the mediation outcome by offering incentives to resolve the conflict or imposing (or threatening to impose) penalties or sanctions if parties fail to resolve their conflict (Beardsley et al. 2006; Wilkenfeld et al. 2006). According to an empirical study by Wilkenfeld et al. (2005), and in support of the results found by Bercovitch and Houston (1993), manipulative strategies are most likely to result in a formal agreement.

    Searching for a Theoretical Framework

    Although scholars of international mediation identify many factors of mediation success—including characteristics of the conflict situation, mediator identity, and mediator behavior—the literature lacks a cohesive theory explaining how these factors relate to each other, the mediation process, and the outcome. Consequently, debates about how identified factors affect mediation success pervade the literature (Kleiboer 1994, 1996). Furthermore, a gap exists between contextual examinations of ripeness and the mediation process. Although Bercovitch’s contingency approach posits a relationship between the context and the process, the specific structure of this relationship remains enigmatic. Scholars have yet to recognize how contextual factors correlate with the effectiveness of different mediation strategies. The mediation process itself also presents an under-examined area within the international mediation literature. Wall and Lynn (1993) identify over one hundred mediation tactics, yet the studies on mediation behavior only consider three general strategies. A more detailed analysis of the mediation process and a structured approach to the contextual factors of mediation success could help bridge the gap between them.

    Ellis and Maoz (2003) suggest that communication provides a useful and adaptable framework to analyze theories of international relations because it focuses on strategic factors rather than specific structural factors. Furthermore, the concept of ripeness is not unique to the international mediation literature. Rhetorical scholars examine their own version of ripeness—the rhetorical situation. Lloyd F. Bitzer (1968) first developed the idea of the rhetorical situation. According to Bitzer (1968, 6) the rhetorical situation  can be defined as “a complex of persons, events, objects, and relations presenting an actual or potential exigence which can be completely or partially removed if discourse, introduced into the situation, can so constrain human decision or action as to bring about the significant modification of the exigence.” The components of the rhetorical situation include a problem to be addressed, the actors to address the problem, and factors that affect the ability to address the problem. Bitzer (1968) suggests that the rhetorical situation calls a rhetorical discourse into existence, while critics of the rhetorical situation argue that the theory should be reversed—the rhetoric creates the situation (Vatz 1973). In response, Bitzer (1980) clarifies that the situation is not a static discrete condition; rather, individuals react to and shape the situation.

    Based on the principle that effective communication is as essential factor in determining the success of mediation, this study identifies contextual conditions of ripeness based on the conditions of the rhetorical situation that include characteristics of the conflict and the disputants. The rhetorical situation provides both a structured framework for the theory and a bridge that links the situational conditions to the mediation process to suggest how the mediator can facilitate a successful mediation outcome.

    A Rhetorically-Inspired Framework for Mediation Success

    Scholarship on the determinants of international mediation success tends to focus on the existing contextual factors that indicate the “ripeness,” or suitability, of a conflict for mediation (Greig, 2001; Greig and Diehl, 2006; Pruitt, 1997, 2007; Zartman, 2000). These studies approach ripeness from the perspective of the conflict or the disputants, identifying the conditions that motivate disputants to seek mediation and make the concessions necessary to achieve resolution. However, mediation success also depends on the ability of the mediator to facilitate the process. Considering the situation from the perspective of the mediator includes not only the conditions that exist at the initiation of the mediation, but also the conditions the mediator creates throughout the process that increase the possibility of achieving a resolution.

    International conflict mediation is a rhetorical process in which the mediator brings disputants together to persuade them to resolve their conflict. Consequently, the same conditions that generally characterize a situation as suitable for a rhetorical response will increase the probability that a mediator can facilitate a successful outcome. The components of the rhetorical situation, as defined by Bitzer (1968, 1980), include an exigence marked by urgency, an audience that is capable of being influenced by discourse and modifying the exigence, and constraints that influence the possible actions of the audience.

    However, these conditions are not merely objective realities. The hostile relationship between the disputants is likely to attenuate their ability to conceive the situation as amenable to mediation. The mediator can increase the likelihood of achieving a successful outcome by bringing these conditions into existence in the perceptions of the disputants throughout the mediation process. Thus, the following explanation focuses on both the existing situation at the time mediation is initiated and how the mediator reacts with this situation throughout the mediation process to facilitate a successful mediation outcome.

    Existing Conditions

    Certain conditions of the conflict situation that exist at the outset of mediation can influence the mediator’s ability to facilitate a resolution. These conditions include whether or not the conflict is marked by urgency; the participants in the mediation process are willing to be influenced by the mediator and are capable of enforcing the outcomes of the mediation; and the mediator is experienced and possesses credibility with the disputants. These conditions increase the motivation, willingness, and ability of the disputants to resolve the conflict, as well as the mediator’s ability to effectively direct the process.

    The rhetorical exigence is a problem marked by urgency that can be modified through discourse (Bitzer 1968, 1980). In a conflict situation the conflict itself presents the problem to be resolved, and the threat or occurrence of open hostilities creates urgency. The subjective foundations of conflicts (Bar-Tal 2000; Ellis and Maoz 2003; Keashly and Fisher 1996) indicate that any conflict is theoretically capable of being resolved. However, conflicts often erode channels of communication between the disputants (Bar-Tal 2000; Ellis and Maoz 2003; Fisher 1972; Liht, Suedfeld, and Krawezyk 2005; Suedfeld and Jhangiani 2009), and, alone, the motivation to resolve the conflict may not enable parties to overcome the hostilities entrenched by the conflict to perceive the possibility of achieving a bilateral resolution or negotiate directly. Consequently, parties may seek third-party mediation to resolve their conflict. However, parties may be reluctant to participate in mediation and risk being perceived as weak or upsetting their constituents. Therefore, the mere existence of a conflict may not be sufficient to explain the mediator’s ability to facilitate success.

    The second component of the rhetorical situation is an audience who is (1) capable of being influenced by discourse and who (2) possesses the ability to modify the exigence (Bitzer 1968, 1980). Technically, all persons are capable of being influenced by discourse, but disputants in a hostile conflict may be resistant to negotiations. Bar-Tal (2000) explains that members of societies involved in intractable conflicts develop a “conflict ethos” to understand the conflict and cope with the situation. The “conflict ethos” institutionalizes beliefs about the justness of one’s own goals, a positive self-image, one’s own victimization, de-legitimacy of the opponent, and patriotism. These beliefs bolster disputants’ own positions and make them less amenable to influence and compromise. However, a number of factors, including, inter alia, the conflict costs, internal political changes, or the perception that neither party can unilaterally affect the conflict outcome, may temper disputants’ rigidity and increase the ability of the mediator to facilitate success.

    Specifically, if one of the disputants initiates the mediation process, that actor is indicating a willingness to be influenced. Furthermore, the willingness of one actor may cultivate greater flexibility throughout the mediation process and a reciprocal willingness from the other disputant. It is possible, however, that the opposite reaction may occur. Richmond (1998) argues that the opposing actor may perceive the submission of its rival to mediation as a sign of weakness and respond with greater resistance. The receptivity of the disputants to influence by the mediator can also be inferred from successful participation in diplomatic negotiations in the past, which indicates the disputants are capable of compromise and negotiation. If some indication exists that the disputants are open to the mediation process, the mediator may be more successful at overcoming the challenges to success presented by the conflict and more likely to facilitate a successful outcome.

    H1: A mediator will be more likely to facilitate a successful mediation outcome if the conflict is marked by urgency and the disputants indicate openness to persuasion.

    The perception that a valid spokesperson, a representative with the power to enforce the mediation outcome, is representing each party in the mediation process has been widely recognized in the conflict management literature as an important factor for mediation success (see Pruitt 1997, Zartman 2000). Similarly, the rhetorical situation requires the audience to be capable mediators of change (Bitzer 1968, 1980). The rank and authority of the representatives in the mediation process determines their ability to bind their parties to the mediation outcome. Primary party leaders and senior-level officials are likely to possess the authority to enforce the outcome of the mediation. Furthermore, the knowledge that the outcome can be enforced also contributes to its success. The participation of official representatives and party leaders differs from the consultation process, in which informal groups of interested representatives participates (Keashly and Fisher 1996). However, the inclusion of official representatives helps to overcome the uncertainty about how improvements made in consultation workshops can be transferred to the actual relationships between parties (see Ellis and Maoz 2003; Keashly and Fisher 1996).

     H2: A mediator will be more likely to facilitate a successful mediation outcome if the representatives in the mediation process possess the authority to implement the mediation outcome.

    Finally, the rhetorical situation includes constraints, which include any factor or condition with the power to pressure the audience to modify the exigence (Bitzer 1968, 1980). A cursory review of the conflict management literature reveals limitless factors that could influence a conflict and its mediation. However, Bitzer (1980) explains that it is the duty of the rhetor to discover and make use of the proper constraints to influence the audience. A mediator with prior mediation experience is more likely to be able to recognize constraints and maximize their persuasive force. Moreover, constraints in the rhetorical situation also include the demands of the situation that the audience may be required to overcome to modify the exigence. An experienced mediator will be more likely to effectively overcome these limiting constraints.

    H3a: An experienced mediator will be more likely to facilitate a successful mediation outcome.

    Additionally, a strong ethos—the parties’ perception of the mediator’s character or credibility—bolsters the persuasive ability of the mediator because the parties are more likely to trust the mediator and respect his or her opinions and suggestions. Bercovitch and Houston (1993) argue that legitimacy is one of the most effective resources an international mediator can possess. Although the mediator must build his or her ethos throughout the mediation process, the mediator’s reputation, as influenced by a previous relationship with the disputants can instill in the disputants an initial confidence of the mediator’s character and good-intent. The characteristics of the mediator also distinguish mediation from consultation, as conceived by Burke (1969) and Fisher (1972), which calls for a team of impartial consultants with significant knowledge of social behavior science.

    H3b: A mediator will be more likely to facilitate a successful mediation outcome if he or she has had a relationship with one or both parties prior to the mediation attempt.

    The Mediation Process

    The situation alone cannot ensure the successful outcome of mediation. Bitzer (1968, 1980) observes that the rhetorical situation can mature and decay without being met by a rhetorical response. Without a mediator who is willing to respond to the situation, this optimal opportunity for mediation will be missed, although the situational conditions may converge again at a later time. Similarly, Zartman (2000) clarifies that ripeness is only a condition and is not self-fulfilling. It must be seized by the parties or through the persuasion of the mediator.

    Furthermore, speakers can fail to provide a fitting response to the rhetorical situation. Likewise, the mediator must respond appropriately to the conditions of the situation to achieve success.  The existence of the conditions of the rhetorical situation does not ensure the disputants will recognize them and respond favorably. The hostilities of the conflict are likely to make the parties resistant and unable to recognize a possible resolution. During the mediation process, the mediator and his or her actions become additional components of the rhetorical situation (Bitzer 1980).  The mediator can influence the situation and how the disputants respond to it. The mediator can facilitate a successful mediation outcome by establishing a positive ethos, motivating the disputants to resolve their conflict, fostering trust between the disputants, and establishing unity and common ground between the parties.

    Even if the mediator possesses characteristics, such as experience and status, that establish a foundation of credibility, the mediator will be more effective if he or she continues to build his or her ethos throughout the mediation process.  People naturally respond more favorably to and are more easily influenced by someone who they trust and believe is of high character and has good intentions. From the outset, the mediator can emphasize his or her credibility by demonstrating knowledge about the history and basis of the conflict, reflecting on his or her experience as a mediator, and professing a desire to achieve a resolution. Additionally, the mediator can develop his or her ethos by building a rapport with each party and appealing to this personal relationship.

    Existing scholarship on ripeness emphasizes conflict costs as a primary factor that motivates conflicting parties to initiate negotiations to resolve their conflict (Greig, 2001; Greig and Diehl, 2006; Pruitt, 1997, 2007; Zartman, 2000). The costs of the conflict must be high enough to motivate the parties to make the concessions necessary to resolve the conflict. One implication of this condition could be to physically increase the costs of conflict to persuade parties to find a resolution. However, this practice undermines the non-violent discursive approach of mediation. Furthermore, the primacy of conflict costs as a factor of ripeness contributes to a scholarly debate about the best timing for conflict management—early in a conflict, before hostilities have become institutionalized, or later in the conflict, when the accumulation of conflict costs motivates the disputants to achieve resolution (Bercovitch and DeRouen 2004, Greig 2001). A rhetorical approach to mediation places emphasis on the mediator’s ability to motivate the disputants to resolve their conflict by increasing the perception of conflict costs, regardless of the timing and physical costs of the conflict. Fisher (1972) maintains that a central function of the third party is inducing a mutual motivation to resolve the conflict with an optimum level of tension that provides motivation without impeding progress. The mediator can increase the salience of the conflict costs by emphasizing the physical, emotional, and human costs of the conflict through logical appeals to the costs of the specific conflict between the parties and emotional appeals to the high costs of war and conflict in general.

    Disputants are likely to possess deep distrust of each other due to the hostilities of the conflict and development of a conflict ethos (Bar-Tal, 2000). They are unlikely to be amenable to negotiation or achieve a resolution without trusting the other party to also make compromises and honor a resolution agreement. One way of promoting trust is to promote effective communication between the disputants (Fisher 1993; Yalem, 1971).  Fisher (1993) emphasizes the erosion of communication as a distinguishing factor in the escalation of conflict. Studies by Suedfeld and his associates empirically demonstrate the deterioration of cognitively complex language during periods of conflict (Liht, Suedfeld, and Krawezyk 2005; Suedfeld & Jhangiani 2009). Initially, the mediator may need to act as a communication shuttle between the parties to re-open channels of communication that have eroded. Once channels of communication have been established, the mediator can begin to build trust between the disputants by clearly describing the expectations of the negotiations and requesting each party to explicitly present its own position and expectations. The use of unambiguous language and logically constructed arguments also facilitates trust by ensuring both parties understand the discussions and terms of the negotiations. Because language is symbolic, the parties may interpret the language of the negotiations in distinct ways. It is the mediator’s duty to establish a common language by recognizing cultural differences and translating, articulating, and defining precise definitions of communicative content. Burton (1969) and Fisher (1972) both emphasize the importance of establishing principles of effective communication to accurately discuss the conflict and possibilities for resolution.

    Furthermore, the parties must recognize their ability to resolve the conflict through discourse. In well-established conflict relationships, the conflict has often become institutionalized, and disputants may not believe they are capable of discovering a mutually acceptable position for resolution. The parties must recognize that the conflict is subjective and that they can form a resolution that accommodates their different positions. One school of thought in the scholarship on rhetoric posits that rhetoric is constitutive; rhetoric is identity-forming, and the rhetorical audience is created through rhetoric (Charland 1987).  Moreover, Burke (1969) suggests that parties identify with each other when they recognize a common interest. Accordingly, the mediator can foster reconciliation between the disputants by addressing them as equals, maintaining a balance of power in the negotiations, and emphasizing their common purpose in the mediation process.

    Additionally, Burke (1969) argues that disputants select goals from many possible values. The issues of the conflict are often not clear to the parties themselves, and the original issues can be pushed to the side as the conflict escalates and more immediate hostilities develop. The mediator can create a unified focus for the mediation process by framing the conflict as a problem to be solved that would provide mutual benefits to the disputants, rather than a divisive contest of wins and losses.

    Through rhetoric, the mediator can create a perception of the conflict and situation that facilitates a successful outcome. Both the situation and mediation process influence the mediator’s ability to achieve success. The mediator can respond to a situation that is amenable to mediation by using communication strategies to establish a rapport with the parties, facilitate effective communication and build trust between the parties, clarifying the conflict issues, and establishing common ground on which to build a resolution.

    H4:  If a conflict is marked by urgency and the disputants indicate openness to persuasion, a mediator will be more likely to facilitate a successful mediation outcome by using a communication-based mediation strategy.

    Research Design and Methodology


    This study analyzes the 2,781 mediation attempts identified in Bercovitch’s (2000) International Conflict Management (ICM) dataset. I focus specifically on mediation attempts and do not include conflict management efforts in the dataset that were negotiated by the parties themselves, where mediation was offered but not accepted, where conflicts were referred to multinational conferences, or were arbitrated. Bercovitch (2000) defines an international conflict as “an organized and continuous militarized conflict, or a demonstration of intention to use military force involving at least one state.” The conflicts are geographically and temporally diverse, occurring between the years 1945 and 1995. The unit of analysis, however, is each mediation attempt. Many of the conflicts experienced multiple mediation attempts, and each attempt is analyzed individually in this study.

    Dependent Variable

    Mediation outcome. This study seeks to identify the factors that contribute to a mediator’s ability to facilitate a successful mediation outcome. The definition of a successful outcome varies widely within the conflict management literature. (See Kleiboer 1994 for an overview of the differences.) While simplified and specific definitions of success can be more systematic and measurable, such criteria fail to account for the complexities of international conflicts. Conversely, flexible definitions are open to more subjective interpretations. Definitions of success also differ based on the subject of the study—if the study seeks to explain the parties’ acceptance of mediation (Greig and Diehl 2006; Zartman 2000), the immediate outcome of the mediation attempt (Bercovitch, 1997; Bercovitch and Houston 1993; Bercovitch and Langley 1993), or the durability and effects of the outcome (Beardsley et al. 2006; Greig 2001).

    The ICM dataset identifies four possible outcomes of a mediation attempt, assuming it is accepted by the disputants: (1) unsuccessful, (2) cease-fire, (3) partial agreement, and (4) full settlement. For the purpose of this study, I define a successful outcome as achieving either a full settlement or partial outcome. Although a cease-fire can produce at least a temporary suspension of violence, achieving a cease-fire does not indicate any change in the relationship of the disputing parties or their perception of the conflict. A partial agreement or full settlement indicates that the mediation helped open the flow of communication between the parties as well as induced productive interaction between the two parties such that they re-evaluated the conflict and the parties’ relationship. The dichotomous variable Success is coded as “1” if the mediation attempt resulted in a partial agreement or full settlement and a “0” if the attempt was unsuccessful or only produced a cease-fire. Of the 2,781 mediation attempts in this study, 974 resulted in a successful outcome.

    Independent Variables

    Ripeness. In this model ripeness refers to the characteristics of both the conflict and the disputing parties that define the situation under which mediation is initiated. Many studies that focus on the conditions associated with mediation ripeness do so by considering the timing of the intervention within the life-cycle of the dispute (Greig 2001; Kleiboer 1994; Zartman 2000) or the accumulated conflict costs (Greig and Diehl 2006; Pruitt 1997, 2007; Zartman 2000). Because this model emphasizes the roles of the mediator and the disputants in determining the mediation outcome, the specific conditions of the conflict itself are less central to the theory. Consequently, I do not define ripeness in terms of a specific time or number of fatalities.

    The ICM dataset identifies both the phase of the conflict at the time of intervention and whether or not hostilities were reported during the mediation attempt. I define a conflict as marked by urgency if either (1) the conflict phase is a crisis (meaning the parties demonstrate the willingness to use force) or there are open hostilities (organized fighting, military force, invasion, destruction of property, etc.) or (2) hostilities were reported during the mediation attempt.

    I also include the disputants’ openness to persuasion within the definition of ripeness. As a proxy to gauge the disputants’ openness, I consider who initiated the mediation and the outcome of previous mediation or negotiation efforts. The ICM dataset includes a variable that identifies who initiated the mediation attempt—one party to the conflict, both parties, the mediator or other third party, a regional organization, or an international organization. Initiating the mediation may indicate the disputant(s)’ readiness to compromise and to be open to the influence of the third party.  Greig (2001) similarly uses this variable as a proxy that indicates the parties’ perception of the existence of the possibility to resolve the conflict through mediation, a common element in traditional theories of ripeness (Pruitt 1997, 2007; Zartman 2000). The ICM dataset also includes information about previous mediation and negotiation attempts in the dispute. Prior successes in mediation may also indicate the disputants’ openness to mediation efforts.

    Ripeness is coded as a “1” if (1) the conflict phase is a crisis or openly hostile or there were hostilities reported during the mediation attempt and (2) one or both of the parties initiated the mediation attempt or the parties achieved successful mediation or negotiation outcomes in the past. The situation met the conditions of ripeness in 862 of the mediation attempts.

    Able representatives. The model also incorporates characteristics of the actors in the mediation process. Mediation success requires the content of the mediation process to be translated into an agreement between the parties. As proposed in my theory, the authority of the parties’ representatives in the mediation process is likely to influence their ability to accomplish this task. Using the ICM dataset’s variable for negotiator rank, the dichotomous variable Able Representatives is coded as a “1” if both parties are represented by a primary or senior-level decision maker and a “0” if one or both parties are represented by subordinate representatives.

    Characteristics of the mediator. Characteristics of the mediator include both the mediator’s experience in international conflict management and the mediator’s credibility with the disputants. The ICM dataset defines mediator experience by the known number of mediations in which the mediator previously participated, and I include these values in the model with the variable Mediator Experience.

    I use the mediator’s previous relationship with the parties as a proxy for the mediator’s credibility. The existence of a previous relationship with one or both of the parties can help explain the mediator’s motives and goals for mediating, and it can cause the parties to place greater trust in the mediator. Similarly, Bercovitch and Houston (1996, 27) claim that “when a mediator is aligned with one of the parties or shares a common experience or goals with one party and future interactions are important to both, each disputant may show greater flexibility and confidence in the outcome.” The ICM dataset includes multiple variables that account for a previous relationship between the mediator and the parties. I create the dichotomous variable Mediator Credibility that is coded as a “1” if (1) the mediator is in the same bloc as the parties, (2) the mediator represents a regional organization of which both the parties are members, (3) the mediator was previously involved in mediation attempts in the same dispute, or (4) the mediator has previous conflict management experience with the parties in other conflicts. The variable is coded as a “0” if none of these relationships exist.

    Mediation process. Conceptualizing and measuring the characteristics of the mediation process is much more difficult than contextual characteristics because direct observation of the mediation performance is rarely available (Bercovitch and Houston 1996). The mediation strategy, defined on a scale ranging from low to high intervention, is the most commonly used analysis of the mediation process (Beardsley et al. 2006; Bercovitch 1997; Bercovitch and Houston 1993; Bercovitch and Langley 1993; Bercovitch and DeRouen 2004; Wilkenfeld et al. 2005; Zartman and Touval 1996). Bercovitch (2000) defines three mediation strategies in the ICM dataset: (1) communication-facilitation, (2) procedural, and (3) directive. The tactics associated with the two more passive strategies—communication-facilitation and procedural—emphasize the communication-based methods by which the mediator can facilitate success and parallel the tactics described in my theory that may increase the likelihood of mediation success. The communication-facilitation strategy includes gaining the trust and confidence of the parties and building a rapport with the parties, clarifying the situation, and encouraging meaningful communication. Additionally, the procedural strategy includes emphasizing common interests, reducing tensions, and keeping the process focused on the issues, and reducing tensions between the parties (Beardsley et al. 2006; Bercovitch and Houston 1996). To analyze the effect of a communication-based strategy, as opposed to a directive strategy, I generate the dichotomous variable Communication which is coded as a “1” if the primary mediation strategy was communication-facilitation or procedural and as a “0” if the primary strategy was directive. Communication-based mediation strategies accounted for 1,895 of the 2,781 mediation attempts.

    Interaction between situation and process. Finally, as indicated in my theory, the situation and the mediation process are likely to have a combined impact on mediation success. I create an interactive variable to test for the combined impact of ripeness and a communication-based mediation strategy. I do this by interacting the variablesRipeness and Communication. This variable, Ripeness*Communication, accounts for situations in which ripeness exists and a communication-based mediation strategy is used and tests the interactive impact of both variables on mediation success.

    Control Variables

    I also include a number of control variables that reflect findings within the international mediation literature. The ICM dataset includes both interstate and internationalized civil conflicts. Bercovitch (2000) explains that a civil dispute can become internationalized if a party ethnically identifies with a neighboring state, a party is exiled from its homeland, other states provide military aid or intervention, or a faction secedes and gains international recognition. Gartner and Bercovitch (2006) posit that mediators can exert a greater influence over non-state actors, who possess fewer resources of their own than state actors. I therefore include the dummy variable Civil Conflict to account for these differences.

    Many studies of ripeness consider a temporal element of ripeness (Greig 2001; Zartman 2000). Although I purposely omit a specific temporal designation in the independent variable Ripeness, I include the control variable Duration that describes the length of the conflict in months. Traditional theories of ripeness also emphasize the influence of conflict costs (Bercovitch 1997; Greig 2001; Greig 2005; Greig and Diehl 2006; Pruitt 1997, 2007; Zartman 2000). Accordingly, I include Fatalities as a control variable that describes the total number of fatalities that occurred in the conflict.

    Although I include previous mediation success in my definition of ripeness as an indication of the disputant’s amenability to persuasion and the mediation process, some findings in the mediation literature suggest that even previous failed diplomacy efforts improve the likelihood of future mediation success simply by increasing contact between the parties and providing insight into the opposing party’s position (see Greig and Diehl 2006). Consequently, I include the control variable Previous Diplomacy that depicts the number of previous mediation or negotiation attempts in the dispute.

    General agreement also exists in the literature that the nature of the dispute influences the effectiveness of mediation; some issues may be more malleable than others. Gartner and Bercovitch (2006) find differences in the mediation outcomes of disputes over tangible versus intangible issues. Because territorial and ethnic conflicts are often particularly violent and difficult to resolve, I include the dummy variables Territory andEthnic to control for these types of conflicts.


    Due to missing values for some of the variables, the sample size for the analysis is 2,498 mediation attempts. Because the dependent variable—the mediation outcome—is binary, I employ logistic regression models to test the hypotheses. I use two models for my analysis to enable the examination of both the independent and interactive influence of the variables Ripeness and Communication. The results produced from the logit models indicate whether the coefficients of each independent variable are statistically significant or not, but the coefficients themselves are restricted in their interpretation. When using a binomial logit model, one cannot interpret the coefficients directly in terms of a change in the dependent variable for every unit change in the independent variable (Long 1997). Therefore, I also use odds ratios and marginal effects to interpret the results.


    I report the results of the logit estimations in Table 1. To further analyze the relationship between the variables and the mediation outcome, I present in Table 2 the marginal effects for given values of the variables in model 2. The marginal effects allow the results to be interpreted in terms of the predicted probability of observing a “1” for the dependent variable—a successful mediation outcome—given the values specified in Table 2 and holding all other variables in the model at their mean value. I focus my discussion of the results on model 2, with select references to model 1 for comparative purposes, to account for the interaction between conditions of ripeness and the mediation strategy. The analysis supports the interrelationship between the conflict situation and the mediation process, albeit contrary to some of the theoretical expectations.

    Ripeness and Communication

    The results of model 1 support Hypothesis 1. The theoretical conditions of ripeness significantly increase the likelihood of mediation success, regardless of the mediation strategy. The results of model 2 more specifically indicate that mediation attempts under conditions of ripeness are significantly more likely to be successful if communication-based strategies are not used. According to the predicted probabilities in Table 2, when communication strategies are not used, the probability of success increases from 28.1% when ripeness does not exist to 42.9% when ripeness exists (a 52.7% increase). Comparatively, when communication strategies are used, the probability of success increases from 34.6% when conditions are not ripe to 39.3% when conditions are ripe (a 13.6% increase).

    The findings in model 2 support the theoretical expectation that the context of the situation under which mediation is initiated interacts with the mediation strategy to influence the outcome. However, the nature of the relationship demonstrated by the results contradicts the expectations of Hypothesis 4. The interaction between ripeness and communication-based strategies is statistically significant but exhibits a negative relationship with mediation success. When communication-based mediation strategies are applied under conditions of ripeness, mediation is significantly less likely to result in a successful outcome.

    Moreover, communication-based mediation strategies are only significantly related to mediation success when conditions are not ripe. While the results of model 1 do not indicate a significant relationship between communication strategies and mediation success, the findings in model 2 suggest that when conditions are not ripe, communication strategies effectively increase the likelihood of success. This finding supports the importance of accounting for the interaction between ripeness and the mediation strategy, as presented in model 2.

    These findings may signify that under conditions of ripeness the disputing parties are already willing to negotiate and resolve their conflict, diminishing the need for a mediator to facilitate the process. Why, then, would parties seek third-party intervention instead of resolving the conflicts themselves? Through directive mediation strategies, the mediator can increase the assurance that each party will comply with the provisions of the agreement by offering incentives and support for enforcing the agreement and threatening punishment for reneging on it.

    Conversely, the significant relationship between ripeness and mediation success suggests that substantial obstacles exist to resolving a conflict when conditions are not ripe. If the parties are not prepared to resolve the conflict, they are likely to possess a greater need for the mediator to facilitate communication, clarify the situation, and establish a mutual interest to resolve the conflict.

    The Actors

    The models lend further support to the theoretical proposition that the characteristics of the actors in the mediation process also influence the mediation outcome. The significant effects of ripeness include an indication of the parties’ amenability to the mediation process. Also relating to the attributes of the disputing parties, the results corroborate Hypothesis 2. Mediation is significantly more likely to be successful if the representatives in the mediation process are primary leaders or senior-level decision makers. The participation of able representatives may diminish the obstacles to achieving mediation success when conditions are not ripe. The predicted probabilities in Table 2 suggest that when communication strategies are used, the probability of mediation success is slightly greater when able representatives participate in the mediation process and the conditions are not ripe, than when subordinate representatives participate in mediation under conditions of ripeness. This relationship does not exist when communication strategies are not used.

    The results provide mixed support for the influence of the mediator’s characteristics proposed in Hypotheses 3a and 3b. Although mediator experience is statistically significant, the results imply that it has a negative effect on mediation success. This finding is contrary to both the theoretical expectations of Hypothesis 3a and the findings of previous studies (Bercovitch and DeRouen 2004). The negative relationship may result from a selection effect whereby experienced mediators tend to mediate more difficult conflicts. However, this rationalization cannot explain why previous studies have observed the opposite effect, indicating a need for further investigation of the relationship between mediator experience and mediation success.

    In support of Hypothesis 3b, the existence of a prior relationship between the mediator and one or both of the disputing parties significantly increases the likelihood of mediation success. This finding supports the theoretical suggestion that mediators can more effectively facilitate a successful outcome if the parties have reason to believe the mediator is credible and trustworthy. Similar to the effect of able representatives, when communication-based strategies are used, the probability of success is greater when conditions are not ripe and a prior relationship exists, than when there is no prior relationship and the conditions are ripe. Again, this relationship only holds when communication-based strategies are used.

    Additional Influences

    The results largely support the existence of a relationship between how the situation, actors, and strategy influence the mediation outcome. The model also indicates additional factors that influence mediation success. In accordance with the findings of Gartner and Bercovitch (2006), internationalized civil conflicts are significantly more likely to be mediated successfully than interstate conflicts. The duration of the conflict, however, did not exhibit a significant effect on mediation outcome. This finding implies that temporal definitions of ripeness may be less explanatory of mediation success than more flexible definitions based on the existence of contextual conditions.

    Consistent with many theories of ripeness ((Bercovitch 1997; Greig 2001; Greig and Diehl 2006; Pruitt 1997, 2007; Zartman 2000), the conflict costs significantly influence the mediation outcome. The results indicate that the likelihood of mediation success diminishes as conflict costs increase. However, many theories of ripeness (Pruitt 1997, 2007; Zartman 2000) suggest that the accumulation of conflict costs is necessary to motivate parties to resolve their conflict.

    Contrary to the findings of Greig and Diehl (2006), previous diplomacy, regardless of success or failure, did not significantly influence the mediation outcome. This finding is likely due to the inclusion of previous mediation success as a condition of ripeness. The nature of the issue under dispute was significantly correlated with mediation success. Consistent with Greig’s (2001) findings, the results indicate that territorial disputes are more likely to be mediated successfully, while ethnic disputes are less likely to be mediated successfully.

    The results suggest a number of factors that influence mediation outcomes. These factors, however, do not appear to undermine the relationship between the context and strategy of mediation. Regardless of the existence or not of a territorial or ethnic dispute and at both the minimum and maximum values of fatalities, the probability of a successful mediation outcome is greater under conditions of ripeness when mediators do not use communication-based strategies. The relationship also holds that when conditions are not ripe, the probability of achieving a successful mediation outcome is greater when mediators employ communication-based strategies.


    This study considered international mediation from the perspective of a rhetorical situation to develop and empirically examine a comprehensive framework to explain mediation success. The framework incorporates aspects of the conflict situation, characteristics of the disputing parties and mediator, and style of mediation into a cohesive theory. Previous studies have tended to individually examine the characteristics of the conflict, the identity and characteristics of the mediator, or the mediation strategy as distinct factors that influence mediation success. The findings of this analysis advance the study of international mediation by offering insight about the relationship between these factors and how conditions of the situation interact with the style of mediation. The results support the central tenet of the theoretical perspective that the context of the situation and the mediation style interrelate to influence the mediation outcome, although the specific nature of this relationship differs from theoretical expectations.

    I find that communication-based mediation strategies are most effective for resolving conflicts for which conditions associated with ripeness do not exist, while other strategies are more effective for resolving conflicts that already meet conditions of ripeness. Since a primary condition of ripeness in this study is the amenability of the disputing parties to the mediation process, the findings suggest that communication-based strategies may be most effective for encouraging reluctant parties to move towards resolving their conflict by facilitating communication, building trust, clarifying the situation and its respective costs, and emphasizing mutual interests. This implication lends empirical support to theories that consider conflict as a subjective social process, characterized by eroded channels of communication and misinformation (Bar-Tal 2000; Burke 1969; Ellis and Maoz 2003; Keashly and Fisher 1996).

    The results further indicate that non-communication-based strategies are most useful when the disputing parties are already amenable to mediation. A possible interpretation of this finding is that directive mediation strategies may function most effectively to assure parties that mediation agreements will be upheld or support the enforcement of the agreement, rather than to forcibly ripen a conflict for mediation.

    Additionally, this study suggests that mediation is significantly more likely to be successful when the actors in the mediation process include representatives who possess significant authority and decision-making ability and a mediator whom the participants view as trustworthy and credible. Unlike the characteristics of the conflict, which are inherent in the situation, the mediation participants can be purposely selected to meet these qualities and increase the effectiveness of mediation.

    The results of this study are limited by the ability to operationalize the theoretical components of the framework and capture the complexities of international conflicts and mediation. Bitzer’s (1968) conception of the rhetorical situation was never intended to be rigidified into a framework for statistical analysis, and I do not claim to have captured it as such. I employed the rhetorical situation here as an inspirational guideline for my theoretical model. The components of the model, however, are also difficult to embody operational measures. I attempted to capture the theoretical concepts as completely as possible by providing explicit but flexible definitions, many of which include a combination of multiple possible indicators. The concepts of ripeness and mediation success presented two of the most significant operationalization challenges. For the purposes of this study, I defined these concepts dichotomously; however, they are likely to function more accurately as continuous, rather than discrete, states, and future research may be valuable to study them as such.

    I attempted to maximize the applicability the theoretical framework of this study  by avoiding fixed specifications, such as time, that do not reflect the unique characteristics of different conflicts. However, the model cannot account for all of the nuances of international conflicts that result from unique cultural, geographical, and historical circumstances.

    This study is also limited by the challenges of rigorously analyzing the mediation process. Because the promise of secrecy and protection is often necessary to facilitate mediation, direct observation of the mediation process is rarely available and few details of mediation proceedings exist. The record primarily consists of interviews and statements made by the actors afterwards, and may or may not accurately reflect the actual proceedings. For this reason, I analyzed the mediation process in terms of three broad categorizations of mediation strategy. Although this method is consistent with other studies on the mediation process (Beardsley et al. 2006; Bercovitch 1997; Bercovitch and Houston 1993; Bercovitch and Langley 1993; Bercovitch and DeRouen 2004; Wilkenfeld et al. 2005; Zartman and Touval 1996), it nevertheless limits the ability to fully analyze the mediation experience.

    Rather than undermining the legitimacy of this study’s conclusions, these limitations illuminate important directions for future research. Although the rhetorical approach is used here only as a blueprint for the theoretical model, the significant results indicate the utility of an inter-disciplinary study of international mediation. While a large sample statistical analysis was valuable in this study to recognize the interrelatedness of the various components of the mediation situation and process, a rigorous rhetorical analysis of more limited cases may provide greater insight about the effectiveness of specific tactics, appeals, and warrants employed by the mediator to facilitate mediation success, as well as how these techniques can be adapted to suit the needs of particular situations. Because of the lack of available material on mediation proceedings, such a study will likely require extensive data-collection efforts. Elite interviews with mediation participants following mediation proceedings offer one possible approach to this task. Ideally, albeit unlikely in most situations, scholars would be able to gain access to observe mediation proceedings. In the future, policymakers may be able to identify select situations in which the parties are willing to allow scholarly observation of the mediation proceedings.

    The innovative approach adopted by this study reveals that characteristics of the conflict situation, mediation actors, and mediation strategies, previously examined individually, interrelate to influence the mediation outcome. This conclusion reveals that mediators can more effectively facilitate mediation success by considering the conditions of the situation and adapting their strategies accordingly. From a policy perspective, the results suggest that strategies to increase the communication and understanding between disputants may more effectively move reluctant parties towards peacefully resolving their conflict than waiting to offer mediation until significant conflict costs have accumulated or employing directive strategies to increase the costs.


    • Bar-Tal, D. 2000. “From Intractable Conflict through Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation: Psychological Analysis.” Political Psychology 21: 351-365.
    • Beardsley, Kevin, David M. Quinn, Bidisha Biswas, Jonathan Wilkenfeld. 2006. “Mediation Style and Crisis Outcomes. The Journal of Conflict Resolution 50: 58-86.
    • Bercovitch, Jacob. 1997. “Conflict Management and the Oslo Experience: Assessing the Success of Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking.” International Negotiation 2: 217-235.
    • Bercovitch, Jacob. 2000. Official Codebook for the International Conflict Management Dataset. Christchurch, New Zealand: University of Canterbury.
    • Bercovitch, Jacob and Karl DeRouen. 2004. “Mediation in Internationalized Ethnic Conflicts: Assessing the Determinants of a Successful Process.” Armed Forces and Society  30(2): 147-170.
    • Bercovitch, Jacob and Allison Houston. 1993. “Influence of Mediator Characteristics and Behavior on the Success of Mediation in International Relations.” The International Journal of Conflict Management 4(4): 297-321.
    • Bercovitch, Jacob and Allison Houston. 1996. “The Study of International Mediation” Theoretical Issues and Empirical Evidence.” In Resolving International Conflicts: The Theory and Practice of Mediation, ed. Jacob Bercovitch. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
    • Bercovitch, Jacob and Jeffrey Langley. 1993. “The Nature of the Dispute and the Effectiveness of International Mediation.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 37(4): 670-691.
    • Bitzer, Lloyd. F. 1968. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 1: 1-14.
    • Bitzer, Lloyd F. 1980. “Functional Communication: A Situational Perspective.” In Rhetoric in Transition: Studies in the Nature and Uses of Rhetoric, ed. Eugene White. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
    • Blake, Cecil. 1998. “The Role of Peace Communication in Conflict Resolution.” Journal of Black Studies 28: 309-318.
    • Burke, Kenneth. 1969. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: University of California Press.
    • Charland, Maurice. 1987. “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Québécois.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 73(2): 133-150.
    • Dixon, William J. 1996. “Third-Party Techniques for Preventing Conflict Escalation and Promoting Peaceful Settlement.” International Organization 50(4): 653-681
    • Ellis, Donald G. and Ifat Maoz. 2003. “A Communication and Cultural Codes Approach to Ethnonational Conflict.” International Journal of Conflict Management. 14(3/4): 255-272.
    • Fisher, Ronald J. 1972. Third Party Consultation: A Method for the Study and Resolution of Conflict. The Journal of Conflict Resolution 16: 67-94.
    • Fisher, Ronald J. 1993. “The Potential for Peacebuilding: Forging a Bridge from Peacekeeping to Peacemaking.” Peace & Change 18(3): 247-266.
    • Gartner, Scott Sigmund and Jacob Bercovitch. 2006. “Overcoming Obstacles to Peace: The Contribution of Mediation to Short-Lived Conflict Settlements.” International Studies Quarterly 50: 819-840.
    • Greig, J. Michael. 2001. “Moments of Opportunity: Recognizing Conditions of Ripeness for International Mediation between Enduring Rivals.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 45(6): 691-718.
    • Greig, J. Michael. 2005. “Stepping into the Fray: When Do Mediators Mediate?” American Journal of Political Science 49(2): 259-266.
    • Greig, J. Michael and Paul F. Diehl. 2006. “Softening up: Making Conflicts more Amenable to Diplomacy.” International Interactions 32(4): 355-385.
    • Liht, José, Peter Suedfeld and Andi Krawezyk. 2005. “Integrative Complexity in Face-to-Face Negotiations between the Chiapas Guerillas and the Mexican Government.” Political Psychology 4: 543-552.
    • Long, Scott J. 1997. Regression Models for Categorical and Limited Dependent Variables. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
    • Keashly, Loraleigh and Ronald J. Fisher. 1996. “A Contingency Perspective on Conflict Interventions: Theoretical and Practical Considerations.” In Resolving International Conflicts: The Theory and Practice of Mediation, ed. Jacob Bercovitch. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
    • Kleiboer, Marieke. 1994. “Review: Ripeness of Conflict: A Fruitful Notion?” Journal of Peace Research 31: 109-116.
    • Kleiboer, Marieke. 1996. “Understanding Success and Failure of International Mediation.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 40(2): 360-389.
    • Pruitt, Dean G. 1997. “Ripeness Theory and the Oslo Talks.” International Negotiation 2: 237-250.
    • Pruitt, Dean G. 2007. “Readiness Theory and the Northern Ireland Conflict.” American Behavioral Scientist 50(11): 15200-1541.
    • Richmond, Oliver. 1998. “Devious Objectives and the Disputants’ View of International Mediation: A Theoretical Framework.” Journal of Peace Research 35: 707-722.
    • Suedfeld, Peter and Rajiv Jhangiani. 2009. “Cognitive Management in an Enduring International Rivalry: The Case of India and Pakistan. Political Psychology 30:937-951.
    • Vatz, Richard E. 1973. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric. 6(3): 154-161.
    • Wall, James and Ann Lynn. 1993. “Mediation: A Current Review.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 37: 160-194.
    • Wilkenfeld, Jonathan, Kathleen J. Young, David M. Quinn, and Victor Asal. 2005. Mediating International Crises. New York: Routledge.
    • Yalem, Ronald J. 1971. “Controlled Communication and Conflict Resolution.” Journal of Peace Research 3: 263-272.
    • Zartman, I. William. 2000. “Ripeness: The Hurting Stalemate and Beyond.” In International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War, eds. Paul Stern and Daniel Druckman. Washington: National Academy Press.
    • Zartman, I. William and Saadia Touval. 1996. “International Mediation in the Post-Cold War Era.” In Ehster Crocker, Fen Hampson and Pamela Aall, eds., Managing Global Chaos. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.

    Table 1: Logit Models of Mediation Success


    Individual Variables: Model 1

    Model 2

    Ripeness 1.394*** (0.129) 1.918*** (0.324)
    Communication 1.164 (0.109) 1.349** (0.156)
    Ripeness*Communication          — 0.637* (0.127)
    Able Representatives 1.238* (0.128) 1.239* (0.128)
    Mediator Experience 0.936** (0.023) 0.940** (0.023)
    Mediator Credibility 1.349*** (0.122) 1.345*** (0.122)
    Civil Conflict 1.350** (0.160) 1.353* (0.160)
    Duration 1.000 (0.004) 1.000 (0.000)
    Fatalities <1.000*** (<0.000) <1.000*** (<0.000)
    Previous Diplomacy 1.036 (0.026) 1.034 (0.026)
    Territory 1.533* (0.273) 1.527* (0.273)
    Ethnic 0.705*** (0.069) 0.711*** (0.070)






    Note: Odds ratios with standard errors in parentheses
    ***p<.001. **p<.01. *p<.05

    Table 2: Predicted Probabilities of Covariates for Mediation Success (Model 2)

      p(Success) if:
    Ripeness = 0 Ripeness = 1
    Independent Variable Value Communication = 0 Communication = 1 Communication = 0 Communication = 1
    Able Representatives 0
    Mediator Experience 0
    Mediator Credibility 0
    Civil Conflict 0
    Fatalities Min
    Territory 0
    Ethnic 0

    Note: The predicted probabilities presented here are those of the dependent variable having a value of “1″ (that is, of mediation having a successful outcome) when all other control and independent variables without a specific value are set to their mean values. Simulated with CLARIFY (Tomz, Wittenberg, and King 2001).