Richard Gowan misses the key aspect of conflict mitigation: positive incentives and weak actor/strong actors dialectic
Richard Gowan has this to say in FP recently:
“Conflict resolution experts argue that combatants negotiate seriously when facing a “mutually hurting stalemate”: a situation in which both sides grasp that victory is unachievable. In February, it seemed possible that Syria was headed for just such a stalemate, with anti-government forces holding significant urban areas and the army losing confidence. If this situation had continued, Annan’s basic concept — a U.N.-supervised cessation of hostilities to create space for political dialogue — could have been workable.”
— This is the old, one dimensional way to view attempts at conflict mitigation. But one critical side it misses is the effect of outside, preponderant powers and how this part of the equation can radically alter the playing field. For example, in Syria, the conflict is NOT between syria and an opposition – it is FAR beyond that. As such, the conditions of negotiation and conflict are radically different AND, because Syria is actually a fairly weak actor vis a vis its opponents, the opportunities can and should be far more open for its opponents to offer, perhaps, POSITIVE INCENTIVES which can 1) help fracture the regime if reasonable offers are rejected or 2) ease the regime actor into the guts of an international process that steadily drains the regimes ability and desire to exercise violence and project instability… either way flexibility is the possibility which must be seen and emphasized for the vastly preponderant actors!
Gowan’s standard, simplistic view does not allow for this aspect of dynamism which is critical in the current situation – reducing matters to “when both sides grasp that victory is unachievable”… But Mr, Gowan – what about when the weak regime actor sees benefits as well to mitigating conflict and moving into an internationalized process?