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Gestures of Conciliation: Factors Contributing to Successful Olive Branches.

Gestures of Conciliation: Factors Contributing to Successful Olive Branches. By Christopher Mitchell. New York: St. Martin's, 2000. 333p. $65.00.

The end game of peace negotiations between international actors has received a great deal of scholarly attention over the years. Much of this effort focuses on the processes by which states, leaders, or diplomats achieve durable solutions to differences previously difficult to resolve. Christopher Mitchell offers a significant contribution to this literature by centering his attention on the observable starting points of peace, those with the potential to trigger a sequence of interactions that eventually produce an important agreement between previously conflicting sides.

Mitchell focuses his analytical energy not on general conflict resolution but on resolution of the most protracted and entrenched conflicts. The most significant contribution of his approach lies in its ability to advance our understanding not only of peace processes but also of peacemakers' adeptness in starting productive interactions between adversaries. Although he is interested in the full process of interactions associated with peaceful international solutions, Mitchell singles out the importance of initial conciliatory gestures (or olive branches). This core concern allows him to differentiate, theoretically and empirically, between initial gestures that are quickly rejected and those that lead to a series of cooperative actions and reactions between foes. By closely assessing the key factors associated with both successful and unsuccessful conciliatory gestures, Mitchell draws conclusions that can guide academics, consultants, and diplomats in their selection of first-stage peace tactics.

The major focus is an assessment of what factors make it more likely that conciliatory initiatives will achieve any measure of success in bringing staunch international antagonists significantly closer to peace. Exactly what is meant by success? Mitchell, as he does with most aspects of beginning peace processes, devotes significant attention to answering this question (chap. 3). In the end, he suggests the possible utility of an ordinal scale of short- to medium-term success for conciliatory gestures (p. 57). In the abstract, this scale is fine, but operationalizing it would be (as Mitchell does point out) a difficult chore. This points to a general shortcoming evident throughout the book.

Although numerous hypotheses are presented (p. 124 and chap. 14), the book does not go nearly far enough in enabling them to be tested rigorously. Mitchell mentions this a number of times, but it still poses problems. For instance, getting two analysts (from the same or opposite sides of a dispute) to agree on the exact meaning of certain concepts would be almost impossible. Mitchell spends a great deal of time discussing the meaning of his concepts, but he does not offer operational definitions that would eliminate fuzzy interpretations of how the empirical world might support or falsify his hypotheses. Such operational measures are not always easy to provide, but their absence is notable. This is too bad, as this volume's painstaking attention to concept and nuance begs for testable empirical hypotheses.

In the final chapter, Mitchell offers thirty-nine hypotheses. He conceptualizes these as a list of factors that will have a positive effect on the success of conciliatory gestures. There is no mention, however, of their relative importance. Surely, the author must have good reason to believe that some are more integral to success than others. Mitchell is aware of this but suggests (p. 290) that sorting out relative importance is a matter for empirical investigation and testing. Unfortunately, the difficulty of matching operational indicators to his concepts limits our ability to do this. The influence of his book could have been even greater if he had developed a weighted list of these factors or, perhaps, a process model detailing the contingent or necessary status of some factors compared to others.

Much of the theorizing is connected to Mitchell's key empirical launching pad--the relations between Egypt and Israel from 1971 to 1979. The book offers a splendid account of the key interactions between these two states over the period, but much of the grist for Mitchell's hypothesis mill comes from his close consideration of this single case. There is attention to theory in the area, and occasional mention is made of other peace processes (e.g., the United States and North Vietnam, Argentina and Britain), but lessons learned from Israeli-Egyptian interactions (most notably those surrounding Sadat's offer to visit Israel in 1977) strongly influence the development of theoretical expectations. What if Mitchell had focused almost exclusively on another case? Would the hypotheses have been significantly different? This is, of course, the risk one takes basing inductive theory on a small number of cases.

In discussing structural changes that may be conductive to conciliation (pp. 70-81), Mitchell gives a nod in the direction of quantitative social science by citing a few articles that deal with the "level" of conflict. These works are still worthwhile but are dated and have been surpassed to some degree by more recent efforts. For instance, the link between vital issues (including territorial integrity) and conflict escalation has been examined by such authors as Paul F. Diehl (ed., A Road Map to War: Territorial Dimensions of International Conflict, 1999), Paul K. Huth (Standing Your Ground: Territorial Disputes and International Conflict, 1996), and John A. Vasquez (The War Puzzle, 1993). Furthermore, chapter 10 contains an interesting discussion of signaling and its importance without mentioning prominent contributions by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and David Lalman (War and Reason: Domestic and International Imperatives 1992), James D. Fearon ("Signaling versus the Balance of Power and Interests," Journal of Conflict Resolution 38 [June 1994]: 236-69 and "Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes," American Political Science Review 88 [September 1994]: 577-92), and Kenneth A. Schultz ("Domestic Opposition and Signaling in International Crises," American Political Science Review 92 [December 1998]: 829-44). Nevertheless, Mitchell should be commended for reaching outside his own methodological orientation in referencing at least a small number of formal and quantitative international relations pieces.

Although Gestures of Conciliation has a number of shortcomings, on balance its contribution to the literature is overwhelmingly positive. Mitchell's attention to the importance of factors surrounding initial conciliatory moves in protracted conflicts is very worthwhile. His rich examination of a wide range of variables involved in the contemplation and implementation of such moves deserves to be read by practitioners and students of conflict resolution alike. This book should become a required text in graduate courses on the techniques of successful conflict resolution. Furthermore, its richness of ideas but lack of empirical testing provide fertile ground for future work, including many doctoral theses.

Paul D. Senese, SUNY, Buffalo
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Senese, Paul D.
Publication:American Political Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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