Third party roles in conflict situations

A third party might be needed because the parties to a conflict cannot find a solution without external assistance. They may need help with issues, process and substance.

Issues may be so complex, numerous and associated with principle that the parties are unable to shift positions to any possible zone of agreement.

Process is difficult because one or more of the parties finds it hard to do the necessary preparatory work, communication and issues of procedure are problems, and emotions are highly charged.

Substantive differences seem insurmountable and the parties need help in differentiating positions and interests; finding relevant facts and information; establishing objective criteria; identifying realistic constraints; inventing options; exploring ideas without commitment; and in arranging a possible package deal.

Third party roles

The following table describes the roles that a third party can play.

Role Description
Catalyst To act to bring two parties to consider negotiations to resolve their conflict.
Facilitator To provide a site and administrative arrangements for a discussion by two parties.
Educator To explain to a party, for example, the domestic politics of another party as it affects the negotiating process.
Sounding board To provide a party with reactions as to the acceptability of its proposals.
Summarizer To provide an objective record of discussions between two parties.
Translator/ Interpreter To explain what one party actually means in a proposal that can otherwise appear negative or unclear.
Bridge-builder To provide a basis for two parties to achieve contact when neither is able or prepared to go the necessary distance.
Resource-expander To provide assistance (economic, military, or other), verification or monitoring as part of a negotiated settlement.
Face-Saver To have a party make or appear to make concessions to a third party, rather than to the other party in the conflict.
Reality Agent To tell a party truths or perceptions regarding its approach or proposals that it is unlikely to hear from another source.
Bearer of Bad News To tell a party things it will not like to hear, but that it should know as part of a negotiating process.
Scapegoat To take responsibility for a negative event in negotiations rather than give or have blame fall on another party.
Inventor To assist parties by creating additional options and expanding alternatives.
Change Agent To assist parties in changing their attitudes, perceptions or behavior.
Repository of Trust and Commitments To accept and hold commitments that one or two parties are not prepared to give to each other until specific actions have been taken or all parts of an agreement are complete.
OSCE endeavor

The OSCE field presence strives to be an honest broker, faithful to its principles and mandate, seeking to retain the trust of each party in the conflict. This can sometimes be difficult. It can be hard to maintain a working relationship with a host government which approved your mandate, but violates OSCE principles and commitments; and opponents who may also violate OSCE principles and commitments.