International peacebuilding efforts reflect the geopolitical landscape in which they operate. In line with sentiments that celebrated liberal universalism, the end of the Cold War marked a transformation in how peacebuilding was conducted. Rather than primarily focusing on maintaining order and the settlement of territorial conflicts, peacebuilding efforts began to expand their scope by including institutional reform and state design. By considering liberal democratic states as less vulnerable to conflicts, both between states and within states, peacebuilding aimed to establish the necessary requirements for a liberal state: democracy, a system of (human) rights, the rule of law and opportunities for free trade. In other words, the liberal peace theory started to consider liberal democracy as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for situations of conflict. Peacebuilding has therefore been infused with a set of norms, with democracy providing the ideological framework for it. This so-called liberal peacebuilding has been the topic of a lively academic debate. However, these discussions are focused primarily on the post-agreement phase of peacebuilding interventions. Less attention has been paid to the role of such norms in peacemaking, in which mediation activities are a crucial instrument. Mediation is defined here as “a process whereby a third party assists two or more parties, with their consent, to prevent, manage or resolve a conflict by helping them to develop mutually acceptable agreements.”
This Essential sheds light on the role of democracy in mediation practice within an analytical framework that was developed as a result of a research project investigating the growing influence of norms in international peace mediation processes. In order to do so, it first assesses different interpretations of democracy. Thereby, it identifies equality and collective decision-making as the two core norms of the concept that gain normative power in the framework of the liberal peace theory. Second, it categorizes those two elements in the mentioned analytical framework to understand their normative role in peace mediation activities. Third, it highlights practical considerations with regards to the design of a mediation process as well as the role of mediators in striving for mediation outcomes that respect democratic values.