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Mediation in the osce area conference

Mediation in the OSCE Area Conference
Challenges for Mediation

Mediation challenges can be broken down into three major categories. The first is related
to the international environment, the second is related to the nature of current conflicts,
and the third is related to the supply side, i.e. the number of institutions willing to
undertake a mediation effort. This paper will look briefly at these challenges as
background to Pamela Aall’s presentation on challenges to mediation on July 15. This
paper will look briefly at these challenges and is largely based on the introductory chapter
written by Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson and Pamela Aall for their
forthcoming book, Conflict Management and Global Governance in an Age of

Challenges from the international environment

The international environment provides an important backdrop to any effort to resolve
conflict, whether it is an interstate or intra-state conflict. The principal challenge that the
current international environment poses for mediation is its changing nature. The state of
the world has been called many names--the post-Cold War era, the post 9/11 era, a G-
zero world (in which no country dominates the global agenda), the end of the unipolar
moment, the era of failed states, a post-modernist world, the age of terrorism, the rise of
the rest, and the Pacific century. None of these labels adequately describes the world we
live in. Yet, they point to a common denominator—the global order is breaking apart,
national sovereignty is changing, boundary lines are becoming more fluid, new norms are
forming, old norms are withering away. A systemic transformation is occurring in which
we see some regions on the rise, some in decline, and some in open revolt. A new order
has not yet materialized. In fact, with the emergence of new actors representing different
institutions and using new approaches and methodologies, there is a diffusion of agency,
authority, and action that will make a new global order unlikely to materialize soon.
While rapid changes in the international environment can sometimes provide unexpected
opportunities for conflict management engagement, they more often are destabilizing –
it’s hard to put together coalitions, to develop cohesive pressure to urge parties to rethink
their positions, to offer real alternatives. In these circumstances, mediators sometimes
expend more energy on developing outside support for a process than they do on the
process itself. When the international system itself is in transition, international interest in
any particular conflict goes down.

Challenges from the nature of current conflicts
In addition to dealing with changes in the international system, mediation in today’s
world also has to be prepared to engage with many different types of conflict. Each type
of conflict brings its own obstacles and opportunities, making it difficult for mediators to
apply lessons from one conflict type to another. While every conflict is different, most can be assigned to one of four different varieties: 1. Conflicts over legitimacy. This is an emergent – or more accurately, re-emergent -- type of conflict, and its future shape and scope are only dimly visible today. Writing in 2005, Zbigniew Brzezinski foresaw that “the central challenge of our time is posed not by global terrorism, but rather by the intensifying turbulence caused by the phenomenon of global political awakening. This scenario foresaw that the world’s somnolent would rise into political awareness and demand change in the relation between rulers and the ruled. While these conflicts focus on legitimacy issues within a state or society, they also carry the risk of spillover and regional spread, including for third-party institutions that try to help smooth the transition or support the government-in-place. Unless handled skillfully, this type of conflict risks drawing them in on behalf of contending sides, creating a fresh layer of polarization. 2. Conflicts arising from weak states. A second, more familiar category of conflict results from state fragility or failure leading to political collapse, a vacuum of authority, and humanitarian crisis. Such scenarios emerged with a vengeance after the Cold War ended and bipolarity came to a sudden end. Numerous factors contribute to the weak state phenomenon – e.g., the spread of criminal networks that undermine legitimate state authority, trade in arms and looted commodities, economic stagnation, the politics of greed and corruption that hollow out state institutions, and the manipulation of sectarian and ethnic diversity by political entrepreneurs. As a result, state weakness takes many forms and can descend into conflict along several pathways, some of which are more threatening to international order and the interests of major powers than others. A major share of such conflicts are recurrent cases where peace agreements break down (e.g., the DRC and Sudan) and intractable cases where peace efforts fail to get at the underlying sources of violent strife (e.g., the Naxalite conflict in India, Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand, or the Tuareg rebellions affecting Mali and Niger). 3. Existential conflicts. A third category of conflicts revolve around the perception of existential threats – in other words, threats to the existence or viability of one group due to the actions or attitudes of another group or groups. Because of the zero-sum nature of the dispute, these conflicts often become intractable. A substantial portion of the most intractable cases derives from the circumstances and decisions made when things fell apart after major wars and imperial decline. Kashmir, Cyprus, the Balkan wars, the Korean peninsula, the Armenian-Azerbaijan dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, and even the Israeli-Palestinian case all contain a variant of this group of what could be called imperial legacy conflicts. Such cases are impacted in the political rivalries of successor or neighboring states, captive to forces larger than the immediate territorial confines of the contested land. While regional organizations may be the most likely candidates to try to mediate these conflicts, they are also likely to mirror such divisions which will make mediating the conflicts difficult. 4. Major Interstate Conflict. A fourth type of case is the possibility of a return to armed confrontation and outright conflict between great powers and/or rival regional powers. Admittedly, various schools of thought come to distinctly different conclusions about the emerging international system and the relationships among its most powerful states. But a case can be made that however much war has been devalued and delegitimized as an instrument of national policy over the decades, it may be unwise to discount the chance that major state rivalry, structural tests of strength or sheer miscalculation could trigger outbreaks of inter-state war.
It is sometimes implied that current conflicts are more complex than conflicts of
yesteryear. This is probably not the case, but there have certainly been changes in a
number of factors that increase the lethality and destabilizing potential of current
conflicts – weapons of mass destruction, the capacity for mass mobilization, the identity-
based, zero-sum nature of current conflicts which allow them to erase shared interests
among diverse communities and spread easily across borders. While a number of studies
have shown that there is now less conflict and fewer conflict-related fatalities than
previously, it seems that those conflicts that remain are hardened in ways that make them
difficult for the parties to resolve and quite resistant to outside engagement. In addition,
current mediators may have to deal with several different types of conflict
simultaneously. Engaging in peacemaking in Mali, for instance, will require mediators to
work with a weak state on a conflict over legitimacy and identity, with serious
international spill-over effects.
Challenges from the supply side: not enough or too many mediators
One important trend has been the broadening of the conflict management field to include
many different players. While governments/states and intergovernmental organizations
remain centrally important in conflict and conflict management, they increasingly have to
share their roles with a growing list of others, both within their own societies and within
the so-called international community. Conflict has become more distributed, but conflict
management has become distributed as well. However, effective mediation in this
“distributed” environment is not easy. For a number of years, there has been a growing
awareness of the problems posed by too many mediators – opportunities for forum
shopping by the conflict parties, lack of coordination among mediating institutions,
difficulties in establishing leadership and creating momentum in a mediation process,
opportunities for preventing or resolving disputes lost because of differing agendas
among the institutions sponsoring the mediation efforts.
Equally serious, however, is the possibility that no one will step up to the plate and take
full responsibility for a mediation process. This might happen when significant powers
prefer to “outsource” mediation to regional organizations without giving them the
authority or resources to be effective. The paralysis can also affect intergovernmental
organizations, such as the UN and the OSCE, when they are hampered by membership
debates over the best course of action – including whether or not to engage at all.
Prolonged engagement is also a challenge to NGOs, which may be reluctant to start a
process that they cannot sustain or withdraw from an ongoing process because they lack
the resources to continue.
Meeting the challenges: “messy multilateralism” or more coordinated action

In a world of fractured governance and diffused authority, it is apparent that responding
to conflict will require a diverse portfolio of instruments and actors to deal with a wide
array of different security challenges. That is because each actor (or set of actors) and
institutions have their own strengthens and weaknesses, but no single actor or set of
institutions has a decided comparative advantage (or legitimacy) over the others. The
issues represented in current conflicts range from regional rivalries to the spread of
nuclear materials and weapons, from transnational organized crime and terrorism to cyber
security, and conflicts of the more traditional variety that occur within and between
states. By their nature, many of these challenges are best, in fact, only met by collective
effort. In the descriptive phrase of Richard Haass of the US Council on Foreign
Relations, it is a world of “messy multilateralism.”
However, there is greater order in that “messiness” than may first appear to be the case.
The UN plays an essential role, and is establishing a rich playbook for collaborating with
regional organizations. In addition, regional states and security organizations at times
offer an effective alternative to UN engagement, as they increasingly assert their role as
legitimizers and gatekeepers of international action. Beyond these alternatives, there is a
growing variety of evolving multi-lateral approaches to deal with the collective action
problems of a complex and globalized world. They include the new and not so new mini-
lateralism of coalitions of the willing, as well as increased civil society engagement with
official peace processes. And there are also increased numbers of examples of collective
conflict management – improvised forms of collaboration which bring together a variety
of official and non-official institutions – to support mediation efforts. An example is the
International Contact Group for the Philippines, an initiative that brings together four
countries and four international NGOs (Japan, UK, Turkey and Saudi Arabia,
Muhammadiyah, The Asia Foundation, the HD Centre and Conciliation Resources) in a
unique arrangement to support the Mindanao peace process.
In order to work well in this distributed conflict and conflict management environment,
however, mediators need to recognize that they need to work through teams and
coalitions, throwing diplomatic energy into developing coordinated and layered
responses, and working closely with regional and local actors that have the knowledge,
legitimacy and capacity to act in constructive ways. Mediating in this environment is a
team effort, but it is not an organized, highly structured game like football. Nor is it a
relay race, in which one player does his or her best, and then hands off to another. This is
perhaps a new game where the central challenge is to devise new rules of engagement
and cooperation among a diverse group of participants whose fields of action and core
objectives differ. In other words, mediators and mediation efforts will need to
communicate, cooperate, and be prepared to move forward or stand back when
appropriate. Instead of sitting out the opportunity to engage or attempting to engage as sole operators, mediators and their institutions will do better if they collaborate with others in a flexible and adaptive way. i Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall, Conflict Management and Global Governance in an Age of Awakening (Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace Press and Waterloo, ON: Centre for International Governance Innovation, forthcoming). ii Zbigniew Brzezinski, “The Dilemma of the Last Sovereign”, The American Interest, Autumn, 2005) iii Stewart Patrick, Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats and International Security (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). iv Sumantra Bose , Contested Lands: Israel-Palestine, Bosnia, Cyprus and Sri Lanka (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. v Richard N. Haass, “The Case for Messy Multilateralism,” Financial Times, January 5, 2010. vi Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall, eds., Rewiring Regional Security in a Fragmented World (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2011); and Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall, “Collective Conflict Management: A New Formula for Global Peace and Security.” International Affairs, 87, No.1 (January 2011): 39-59.  



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