Dilemmas and Trade-Offs in Peacemaking: A Framework for Navigating Difficult Decisions

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Dilemmas and Trade-Offs in Peacemaking: A Framework for Navigating Difficult Decisions


  • Anne Isabel Kraus Center for Peace Mediation, Europa-Universität Viadrina, Germany
  • Owen Frazer Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
  • Lars Kirchhoff Center for Peace Mediation, Europa-Universität Viadrina, Germany
  • Tatiana Kyselova Mediation and Dialogue Research Center, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine
  • Simon J. A. Mason Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
  • Julia Palmiano Federer Swisspeace, University of Basel, Switzerland


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Abstract:  This article focuses on the dilemmas and trade-offs that third parties face when mediating violent political conflicts. Should they ignore human rights violations because pushing the issue could jeopardize relationships with political actors who grant access for humanitarian aid? Will bringing moderates and hardliners together help the peace process or radicalize moderate actors? What should dialogue facilitators do when the act of identifying non-mainstream groups to be included into dialogue increases division and polarization? The activity of peacemaking is inherently characterized by such process and strategy dilemmas where two equally compulsory imperatives seem not to be attainable at the same time. The article proposes a framework to break out of either-or thinking in these situations. We argue that: 1) making oneself aware of how a decision is perceived, and 2) systematically exploring a set of different strategies for creating new unexpected options helps to ease these decisions and avoid rotten compromises. The model reworks and combines existing problem-solving strategies to create a new explorative option generation approach to peacemaking dilemmas and trade-offs. Some of these strategies, such as sequencing and incrementalization, are already well-established in peacemaking. Others, such as compartmentalization and utilization, are rather unconsciously used. All identified strategies, however, are not yet systematically employed to manage third parties’ own dilemmas and trade-offs. Under the suggested framework, these strategies can act in complement to synthesize creativity and strategic thinking with surprising ease. Using examples from the authors’ peacemaking activities and observations in Myanmar, Thailand, and Ukraine, the article demonstrates the real-world benefits of the framework in terms of decision assessment and optional thinking.

Keywords:  decision-making; human rights; mediation; peacemaking; peace process

Published:   25 November 2019


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v7i4.2234


© Anne Isabel Kraus, Owen Frazer, Lars Kirchhoff, Tatiana Kyselova, Simon J. A. Mason, Julia Palmiano Federer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.