Mediation for world leaders

Posted on November 20, 2017 by Jeremy Frost

There are several flash points around the world right now, especially North Korea and the US (inter alia), Spain and Catalonia and now the military coup in Zimbabwe.

International diplomacy is undoubtedly more complex than mediation, but I was still intrigued to explore how the principles of mediation could be used.

North Korea

Looking first at North Korea, this long-running saga, which should have been sorted out decades ago, has certainly escalated since Trump came to power. The gaps have got bigger and the position more intransigent.

Both Trump and Kim Jong-un are bullies and bullies need to back up their words with actions. Trump would really prefer that China step into the fray on his behalf and force Kim to back down.

China, however, doesn’t feel it’s their issue and they don’t really need the US, so there is no threat or enticement to get them to make it their issue. They’ve also made it clear to Kim that he is not to make it China’s problem. China’s hands-off attitude must have made Kim feel even more powerful.

What other options does Trump have? Does he have something North Korea wants? There may be little that could tempt him, particularly when you consider Kim’s desire for personal power and his conviction that the world is pitted against him.

Of course, if North Korea did fire a nuclear missile at Japan, that would certainly resolve the situation, albeit in a dreadful manner. If Kim thinks he could do that without US retaliation, he is being extremely naïve.

So, how would you mediate?  Firstly, you would start in North Korea, asking them what it is they want and what would they be prepared to give up to have a solution. 

Then you need to determine a pathway to a resolution, creating an alphabet and a common language that both sides understand.

So how do we get there? If China, the ideal candidate for mediation, told North Korea that they would mediate for them with the rest of the world, North Korea would undoubtedly participate

But would Donald Trump actually ask China to mediate, given that he is taking the alternate path of trying to make North Korea China’s problem.

The alternative mediator might be the United Nations, but that may not be acceptable to North Korea, given the frequent and ongoing UN sanctions against them. They may not feel the UN could be impartial.

Spain

Neither Spain nor Catalonia has dealt with the independence situation well - it is a good illustration of how disputes can get out of hand.

Spain and Catalonia have never built or understood the pathway to a resolution, and the discussions have not been with sufficient purpose. Each side has gone as far as they needed to in negotiations to agree a deal for a specific point, then each has gone back to their original position.

I think that the way to resolve this should involve a much wider settlement discussion, engaging with the various stakeholder to understand what a new settlement could look like.

The ideal mediator would be the King, but he has already nailed his colours to the mast of Spain and a mediator needs to be impartial so that both sides can trust the process.  Perhaps this might be a role for the European Union?

Zimbabwe

Whilst still in a state of flux at the time of writing, it does look as though Mugabe will be forced to step down. The question remains as to who will fill the void.

As their neighbour and as chair of the Southern African Development Community, South Africa has stepped up to mediate and negotiate a peaceful transition. It remains to be seen how well they will perform at this role, as their track record inn negotiating in Zimbabwe is not spectacular.

South Africa does not have the best track record when it comes to mediation efforts in Zimbabwe, but will have to take a lead role in negotiating the way forward following this week's incredible events. Zuma’s personal position is also under threat at home, which may exacerbate South Africa’s credibility as mediator.

South Africa’s Sunday Times describes a transition that maintains a semblance of the rule of law, prevents violence and instability in the region, and ensures democratic elections somewhere down the line as like “doing a vasectomy while skydiving. At this point, making the snip is more important than deploying the parachute.”