Agents of peace or enablers of violence? The proximal effects of mediators in international disputes

Lesley G. Terris, Orit E. Tykocinski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The international relations literature typically portrays mediators as effective agents of dispute de-escalation. Upon mediation onset rivals are expected to lower the flames of conflict and enter into negotiations. We argue, however, that the mediator’s presence may actually prompt and facilitate conflict escalation, particularly immediately following the onset of mediation. Hostilities, which may be motivated by rivals’ strategic need to signal resolve, may be further energized by the belief that the mediator will curb retaliatory actions. In this sense, the mediator is perceived as an “insurance policy,” reducing both the perceived likelihood and the potential costs of escalation. To explore this phenomenon, we track rivals’ behavior patterns in the six-month period after mediation onset in intrastate conflicts, 1995–2010. We find that in 42% of the conflicts, the arrival of the mediator was significantly associated with increased hostilities. We discuss this pattern and examine factors that might be linked to its occurrence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Interactions
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • conflict escalation
  • insurance effect, bargaining
  • mediation, negotiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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