This article argues that mediation and political engagement by third parties can contribute to peacebuilding by strengthening the political processes in countries exiting civil conflict. Third-party engagement can create the political space within which long-term reconstruction, development, and reconciliation issues can be discussed among national actors. Given that peace agreements are frequently mere cease-fires representing short-term deals among elites, mediation and political engagement can assist the transformation of these deals into long-term commitments and inclusive national politics. Specifically, mediation can contribute to peacebuilding in three ways. First, mediators contribute to peacebuilding by working toward peace agreements that serve as frameworks for the opening up of the political process as opposed to agreements that lock in detailed, long-term governance models and concentrate power in the hands of the wartime elites. Second, in the period immediately following the signing of peace agreements, mediation helps parties adhere to the agreements and settle any remaining issues. Third, mediation contributes to making transitional governments workable and, as much as possible, ensures that they gradually lead to more inclusive political processes.
This essay examines the transitional periods following peace agreements and leading to elections and new constitutions. It discusses the advantages of gradually expanding political participation during these periods, despite the arguments of several scholars that political liberalization in the absence of strong state institutions carries significant risks. The article argues that political participation in transitional periods may be expanded through inclusive elite consultations on issues such as elections, vetting of institutions and new constitutions, and through wider national dialogue efforts including civil society. The essay recognizes the risks of premature elections, but argues that the goal of reforming state institutions cannot be achieved in the absence of a national political process. This argument relies on the insights of the constitution-making literature, namely that lasting institutions tend to result from lengthy and inclusive constitution-making processes. It also relies on the civil war settlement literature according to which belligerents need credible guarantees that their interests will be protected in the post-agreement period before laying down their arms. The essay argues that guaranteed inclusion in the transitional process and influence over the outcome of the transition offers such assurances to former belligerents that their interests will be respected in the new political reality.
This article places the Iraqi National Conference of August 2004 in a comparative context by examining the role of national conferences in transitional and post-conflict countries. It argues that national conferences do not contribute significantly to a transitional process, if a prior political agreement on the process and on the role of the Conference among key stakeholders is absent. In Iraq, the disagreement over the transitional framework created by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council impeded a truly inclusive Conference from taking place. A core of established political parties, distrusted by the opposition, controlled the Conference preparations. A transparent preparatory process did not take place; the Conference did not serve as a forum for genuine dialogue. Finally, the National Council elected by the Conference did not expand political participation to credible opposition figures.