Director of the Global Negotiation Project, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School
Topics: Thirdsiders, transformation, violence prevention, intervention roles
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2004
Listen to Full Interview
- Conflict Transformation
- Polarization in Venezuela
- A Container for Creative Contention
- A Third Side Analogy
- Mediation as a Tool
- The Third Side in Every Culture
- The Third Side in the Middle East
- Media and the Venezuala Conflict
- Third Side Movement in Venezuela
- Artistic Third Siders
- The Third Side as a Self-Organizing Social Movement
- Shuttle Diplomacy in Venezuela
- Engaging Society in Venezuela
- The Third Side as a Container
- Nelson Mandela as a Third Side
- Meta Mediation
- The Equalizer in Intractable Conflicts
- Lessons from Venezuela
- Mobilizing the Third Side
Q: I usually ask people to start out with a very brief overview of their work.
Q: And they usually react just like that.
A: Right. Well I've been working in this field of conflict, conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation - call it what you will - for a little more than a quarter of a century. And I started off as an anthropologist, tried to look at what anthropology might contribute to the prevention of violent conflict, war in particular. And I've worked in a variety of settings from union management strikes in Kentucky coal mines, to family feuds, to business situations, to violent wars in different parts of the world. I worked for a long time on U.S.-Soviet relations on what might reduce the risk of nuclear war. And I've always been a little bit of a sucker for lost causes. I worked in Chechnya, I worked with Kurds, I worked in Indonesia, I worked all over.
Q: In all of those lost causes is there a particular instance of inspiration or inspirational witness that comes to mind?
A: Well one thing I'll just say, in the 25 years I've worked at the situation just looking for the toughest, most intractable conflicts, I've seen nothing that convinces me that conflict cannot be transformed. It takes time; it's the hardest thing you can do. It may take more time than in a Western conception of time; it might take 20 or 30 or 40 years, but I've seen remarkable turnarounds. I was witness in part to what happened in South Africa, and I remember going there back in the '80s when people around the world -- and there universally -- though this place was headed to civil war for as long as anyone could imagine. I was witness to what happened in Northern Ireland. And there's a half-dozen other places around the world where things like this are happening... right now in Sri Lanka. Also witness to what happened when the Soviet Union fell. I remember a group of historians gathered together in the early '80s, and were asked to estimate what they thought would be the casualities of the fall of the Soviet Empire. And the lowest estimate was in the many-millions and the highest was in the tens-of-millions. Just judging from history and the fall of the Russian Empire.
Q: In the sense that anarchy will ensue...
A: Anarchy, and civil wars, and power struggles, and so on. And you had a lot of conflicts, in the thousands, in the transition there. And so, not to speak of larger historical examples, like over the last 50 years watching what's happened between France and Germany, which may be one of the most intractable conflicts on the face of the planet. I mean Europe, if you think about it, Europe - take a long historical tour - Europe was the epicenter of war for the last millennium; Western Europe in particular. And now if you think about war in Western Europe it almost seems to people it almost seems unthinkable. And that's a shift in 60 years, from a place - I mean, if you took Europe in 1944 - torn by war, genocide, starvation, human rights abuse, dictatorships - then you take Europe 2004 it's not a paradise, but the shift has been amazing. And one of the questions to imagine is, imagine the world in 60 years hence, in 2064, the world right now has all those problems: war, genocide, starvation, human rights abuse, all of them, inequities between rich and poor - why can't we do the same thing?
Q: Well you have some ideas about how to do the same thing with the rest of the world, right?
A: I do.
Q: As of late, the notion of the third side.
Q: So let's take that in a contemporary context, and tell me about showing up in Venezuela and of course, using the sort of theoretical notion of the third side and trying to put it into flesh-and-bone in Venezuela.
A: Well, in talking about an on-going conflict you always have to be very cautious of ... Right now the conflict in Venezuela is still very much in process, and that's the thing about these social conflicts - the conflict in Venezuela, most basically, is a conflict that people around the world are all facing, the world as a whole is facing, which is the problem of huge social inequities. You have a small class of people who have a lot and most people who have very little, and that's the problem the world faces as a whole. And that problem is being engaged in Venezuela and it's taking the form of a very vicious power struggle between President Chavez and his supporters and those people who are called Anti-Chavistas. So the country is effectively polarized between Chavistas and Anti-Chavistas. When I first started working there a little more than two and-a-half years ago, there was widespread concern among international observers and inside Venezuela that this might lead to a civil war. And all they had to do was look across the border at Columbia and look what political violence there had done to turn that country into a whole series of interconnected wars, that have been really devastating. And so to me, what the real challenge was when I went down to Venezuela was to - I was really touched in the heart by the situation - was the possibility - because I've worked in situations like Yugoslavia and Sudan and other situations where the blood has already flowed, where millions of people have died, or hundreds of thousands. And always wondering, well, what could you do to try to anticipate these situations and prevent them, and Venezuela to me seemed to be very much in that situation. It was in a pre... not to say civil war was an inevitability, or even a probability, but definitely a possibility. Major, major social violence. And the question is, can you prevent it? Can it be prevented? And in Venezuela, in a country that was deeply, deeply polarized, deeply divided - so that anyone who tried to be in the middle, as it were, was called a "Nini," neither on one side nor the other, and there was no space for them. And there'd been a coup d'etat that had been reversed. So it was a very, very serious situation, so what I was invited to do by the Carter Center in the form of a friend of mine, Francisco Diaz from Argentina, was to come and offer a conference to seed the idea of the third side. In Venezuela, it seems like there are only two sides; there can be no third side. And the third side, let me explain, is not neutrals, or not just neutrals - some neutrals may belong to the third side; it's really people who stand for the whole. Who stand for all Venezuela, who are concerned with, "how do we make a Venezuela that works for everybody - all sectors in society? How do we create a peaceful Venezuela?" One way to think about it is, "How do we create a Venezuela that's good for the children of Venezuela?" The third side is the side that stands for the whole, so just to see this idea of the third side that - and you can have Chavista sympathies or you can be an Anti-Chavista and still be on the third side.
Q: That what I was going to ask you, because all this - whether you're on one side or the other, you consider yourself as someone who is advocating for the whole, and you think your way is the best way.
A: Yeah, but the difference between the third side was very well expressed at the conference which was one of the first times where Chavistas and Anti-Chavistas came together at a conference of maybe a hundred people for a day. Some were politicians, legislators, some were civil society, some were from universities, some were young, some were old, women, men, from different sectors, women's groups and so on, church groups, and there was a bishop there who said, "Let me just get three things straight: Number one, the 'other' exists. Number two, the 'other' has interests; they have needs. Number three, the 'other' has power. Whether we like it or not, let's just recognize those three things."
Q: Speaking to both sides?
A: To both sides. And to me, that's the voice of the third side, saying, "Look, both sides exist." The third side has respect for both sides and respect for the whole. The third side is a container for contention -- for creative contention. The third side is a container within which the conflict, the real issues, between the rich and the poor, and so on, can be activitely engaged and transformed. In other words, the form can be transformed from the destructive violence, or terrorism or coups into dialogue, negotiation, democracy. The aim of the third side isn't so much resolution, as the transformation of the conflict. The third side, in another sort of analogy, is a little bit like the immune system; it's a social immune system. Just like all of us carry viruses at any one point, but the viruses don't manifest because we have a strong immune system. Violence is a little bit like a virus; once it starts, it spreads very rapidly, and the question is what's the social immune system that holds the virus of violence (which is always potential in this situation) in check? That's a healthy third side and it takes various forms. But I noticed it very strongly in South Africa, where you had the churches and the women's groups and the businesses and the trade unions, all of civil society, engaged in an internal third side which was critical - supported by an external third side around the world of all the people who were concerned about it, basically saying, "Let's stand for a peaceful transformation of this conflict." That's what the third side says. The third side says "no" to violence, and "yes" to peaceful ways of dealing with conflict.
Q: Even in the face of perceived injustice?
A: The third side also stands for justice - see, the whole idea of the third side, particularly for those of us in the mediation field who tend to focus on our "tool" -- we've got a hammer, so everything looks like a nail, you know? But it's to realize we're one tool in the toolbox. We're one instrument in the symphony. One of the others is people who stand up for justice, and for example the people who practice non-violence. Sometimes non-violent action is a necessary part of trying to transform a situation. Mediation can't do that - mediation can't transform basic power realities. Net non-violent action can equalize the difference between the weak and the poor. There's peacekeepers; you have to deal with the basic power infrastructure as well as the softer forms that rely more on influence, like mediation. You have to deal with the real economic needs of people. The idea in Venezuela was... the whole idea is that the third side is not my idea, it's not anyone's idea - it's the oldest human technology for dealing with differences. I'm an anthropologist, as I mentioned, I've spent a lot of time with indigenous peoples around the world; they all have third side methods, and like the Bushmen in the Kalihari -- when they have a conflict, all the men and the women and the children of the society sit around and sit together in a circle. The third side is actually not a side, it's a circle. They create a container around the conflict. And they talk it out, and maybe it takes two, three, four, five days, and everyone gets engaged. If someone is about to about to use these poison arrows which are absolutely fatal, someone goes and hides the poison arrows out in the bush. Everyone has a role; everyone gets engaged. It's a kind of an emergent phenomenon, self-organizing. And the mediator is one role around ten or perhaps more roles that need to be played - all of which need to be actively played. The teacher is another one, the bridge-builder, the healer, the referee, the witness, the provider, the peacekeeper, the arbiter - every one of these roles is needed. They constitute a systemic response. That's what's needed - this coalition of active forces from within the society supported by outsiders. That's essentially what we tried to do in a small way in Venezuela, is to work with and identify and empower the third side within Venezuela using whatever resources we had from the outside.
Q: To hear you talk about it almost sounds like an evolutionary survival mechanism which has evolved into the species.
A: Well we wouldn't be around, we wouldn't be talking today, you wouldn't be interviewing me, if it hadn't been for the third side because human beings have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, and we've always had lots of conflict, but what's kept us going is this ability to invoke the third side, and in fact, war is largely a product of the last five to ten thousand years of human history -- in the form of highly organized violence between groups -- not that violence didn't exist before. And right now, in this particular moment, when the human family is actually coming together, when the human family is in touch with itself for maybe the first time in human evolution since the genetic Adam and Eve. And the question is whether this is a big family reunion going on, and like many family reunions it's not all peaceful and harmonious, and if we don't find ways to convene the third side, which is the council of the whole to hold all the differences, given our genius for devising weapons for destroying each other, we're not going to make it. So it's the key evolutionary mechanism. And it's the oldest one. It exists in every single culture, every single culture has its third side forms. What's called upon us today is to reinvent it, to reawaken it. What's called upon us is to find new mechanisms like the Internet, for example, as a third side tool. To be the eyes and the ears of the third side. To be a place for the third side to discuss, to awaken. And every single human being is a third sider. And we are. If you think about it as a family, and all those roles I talked about; if you're a parent, you play all those roles very naturally. In a healthy family system, you're playing the role of teaching your kids how to communicate, you're providing them with love, attention, food, sometimes you're peacekeeping, standing between them, sometimes you're refereeing, sometimes you're witnessing, sometimes you're healing, promoting apologizing and forgiveness, sometimes you're bridge-building, and it's those roles we need to play in situations that are deeply intractable. And people have always said to me, "What about the Middle East, that's the hard one, that's the icon of all conflicts, that's impossible, right?" My answer is, "Have we tried? Have we tried to play the roles we play in even in a single family? Who's healing right now in the Middle East? Where is our really large systematic effort to heal deep wounds? Who's peacekeeping? How much refereeing is there going on, how much dealing with justice and the arbiter? How much needs of the human beings are going on?" If you look at those and those aren't present, don't expect the conflict to be transforming anytime soon. So when we begin to try systematically, then I think we have a chance. So I would sum up by saying perhaps there's no more important challenge facing humanity today than the challenge of conflict and how we deal with our differences. And perhaps there's no more promising approach than the age-old human technology of the third side.
Q: And though it's organic, since this is the age of specialization, there's a whole cadre of people who dedicate themselves to this... So let's take it back to Venezuela then. You show up in Venezuela, the bishop makes his three very relevant points, and then what happens?
A: So we broke up that afternoon into different groups, there was a media group for people interested in how do we help with the media, there's a business group and people started to talk about different initatives, third side initiatives, to build a kind of internal peace movement within Venezuela. That was just a beginning meeting, then I was invited back a few months later. One of the things that really came up was the important role of the media in polarizing the conflict. The media was totally polarized: the private media were all against Chavez and then the government media were for him. And the media, by creating...sort of like the ocean in which fish swim, it determines consciousness in some sense...the media was really polarizing the conflict. And so I went back there a few months later, they invited me back, and said, "Well, let's focus on that. Let's see if we can have a seminar for journalists on both sides on ways to cover the conflict in ways that are constructive rather than destructive and polarized." And we had some very interesting sessions with the journalists, but one thing they told us was, "You know, we can do some things, but there's an editorial line which is set by the owners." So Francisco and I had a chance to meet with the owners of the private media and ...
Q: Major players there...
A: Very major players, and in Venezuela they were perhaps the most powerful people in the country, and the richest. And they were quite skeptical, needless to say, because they had very strong opinions about Chavez and they thought he was communist, a Castroite, a terrorist, etc. And we met with them, and it took a few hours of very heated conversation, and then at the very end, after us trying to explain the situation to them and the conflict and the consequences of it - civil war - they asked if we would open up a dialogue between them and President Chavez. And that's the way the third side works. Essentially we were working at NGO-type levels, and you go from one to the other and you're working up and down this pyramid - from the top to the grassroots. Over the ensuing couple of years we engaged - we developed - at that same time we decided to have a public conference on the third side, and they rented a theater in downtown Caracas, and we didn't know who would show up from both sides and they were a little afraid because both sides didn't get together and if they did get together they were afraid there would be violence. I think this theater could maybe hold 400 or 500 people and 700 or 800 people showed up. And they actually had the National Guard out there because they were concerned about violence and it was this whole big thing, but actually it was calm and 500 people came for the whole day to talk about the third side. It wasn't just one-way communication; what we did was to use that to break -- even in this tough theater-like setting - to get people to say, "Okay, who could be natural third siders, and where is the third side in this society, and what would be the music of the third side...?" and out of that meeting I asked, "Who would like to be on the organizing committee for this? Because this is something you've got to do." And I saw myself and our role was simply to try to empower or give hope to people or give some space to people and they had to do it themselves and they had an organizing committee and I think 50 people raised their hands or maybe more than that, and then they had a meeting and then out of that came a group that organized major public events all around Venezuela. There are networks of peace and they got children involved in schools and radio programs and TV programs and there was a whole grassroots organization that's still going on, under several names, but one of the names is (??? Spanish), "Here, there's room for everybody," "Here, we all fit." They're continuing right now to organize dialogue on both sides and even doing imaginative things, like street theatre, where you know, they'll put down a table and two chairs and they'll invite passersby to take a chair and engage in dialogue.
A: Oh yeah.
Q: That's fascinating.
A: Or ballet. I saw a West Side Story sort of ballet where they took the Chavistas and Anti-Chavistas...in one of the main plazas...
Q: And this all came from them?
A: This all came from them. I'm saying the third side comes from them. It has nothing to do with me - it comes from them. And things like, they had a big dance - like 2,000 young people on the third side and they ... it's quite amazing what's going on. They're organizing dialogues and it's on-going. At the same time that's going on on one level of that society, and on the other level we were working with government ministers, with media owners, with the President himself, the President himself went on national TV and said, "I'm a third sider." I'm not sure that necessarily advanced the situation, but we were just trying experiement after experiement to see. That's the way it works... can you create a container in which people can see other more peaceful ways of handling this? And the jury's still very much out and I think at the same time international observers, if you'd asked them two years ago, they would be very surprised there hasn't been much more violence then there's been. So it may very well be an example in the future of how a civil war, or a possible civil war or possible major civil violence, might actually be prevented. And that's what the world needs. We're just at the infancy of learning that. And to me the key tool is not the magic appearance of the magic mediator, it's the self-organizing movement from within the society, supported by outsiders, including mediators, facilitators and so on, but it's a self-organizing phenomenon that I call, "the Third Side."
Q: Now when you say working with the President, the ministers, the media, first of all, what does that mean? And the second part of that question is, when you met with the media moguls and they were very skeptical but ultimately decided that they wanted to open up some kind of chain of dialogue, and I'm assuming that "working with" has similar connotations in both of those contexts, what are you saying to these people and why are they buying it?
A: Yeah, well, first of all, never underestimate how difficult this is. I'm talking in retrospect. You never know if any of this is ever going to work. But for them, and again, coming at this from a third side perspective - you're on the balcony, like you can see more opportunities - when I met with the media I always tried to put myself in their shoes. I'm not there saying, "You should do this," and "You should do that." In fact, if you go in there, thinking you're going to give advice to people - at least that's my own impression, you don't get very far. But at the same time, what I said to them was, "Who am I? Yankee professor from Harvard..." It doesn't get you very far. I'll put it that way...
Q: They're not very impressed.
A: Not very impressed... right. So with them it was a breakfast meeting and they were sitting around the table, maybe 20 of them. And a lot of them, I knew, didn't want to be there necessarily, you know, "We're wasting our time here."
Q: Talking about the media?
A: Yeah, the media. But it was like, I thought, "How am I going to get to them? How am I going to persuade them? And it was ... and I'll just say to them, "Look I'm not an expert on this country, but I'll tell you what I've seen in other situations around the world, and here the signs of potential major civil violence." And I named a series of signs: The population starts arming themselves, the rumors start flying that the other side is about to attack, the media gets polarized, the military gets polarized, things like that.
Q: Those are the early warning indicators that ...
A: Yeah, and as I looked around the theatre, I asked, "How many people know someone who just bought weapons?" Almost all the hands go up. How many people heard a rumor in the last few months? So these were things to get people to go, "Yeah." So people could see the handwriting on the wall. When you're in a situation like Venezuela where people haven't experienced civil war, they don't think it's possible. So then I was just there, and then I looked around at them and looked them all in the eye and said, "The future of this country is in your hands. Whether or not this country - whether or not your children have a future is in your hands. And you can decide. Right now. Because you have a lot of power and the way you respond and the way you respond to the other side..." (because they felt Chavez at that time was provoking them). And I said, "From a negotiator point of view, let me just put myself in your shoes. You're going to play right into his hands, the way you respond. You're going to play right into his hands." So you take one side, then you go to the other side and say, "Look, what are you trying to achieve?" So it's not about begging people for mercy or for peace - but think about, "What is in your interest to do right now? What is your interest? And what is the best way to advance your interest?" And then you sit down with the other side. I had a chance to meet with President Chavez and the same thing - what is the best strategic move for him to advance his vision, which was of a Bulivarian Revolution. Then you look for, where is there an intersection there? It's not an agreement - in fact, we were far from an agreement - but what I did get them to consider... They certainly weren't ready to sit down with each other and they certainly weren't ready for an agreement, but I said, "Could you name me five steps, any one of which if President Chavez took, that would send you a signal that he was ready to do business in a different way? And what are five steps you could take?" And I asked him the same question and we did a little bit of proximity negotiation, shuttle diplomacy. I was staying at a little tiny bed-and-breakfast in Caracas and there was a garden outside, no one knew about it, it opened up and was behind some walls and so there we were able to bring some government ministers and sit them on the terrace outside my room and some of the media people and do a kind of shuttle diplomacy around trying to figure out what these steps were. And into the wee hours of the night. And in the end when we got these five steps from each side, they were pretty similar. They were pretty similar. These people were asking for respect, is basically what it was. Things like, no incitement to the military to overthrow the government could be broadcast on the TV. Or no calling the President an animal or a pig or something like that. And the same thing on the other side. No... and it started to... and again, everything was imperfect and incomplete... that process started to defuse perhaps the main tension point in the society at that point which was between the private media and the President. Which might have been the tension point which could have led to major violence. If he had closed down the stations, there might have been blood in the streets, so... just kind of working step by step. And I was only a little player in this, I was doing my bit, but Francisco was there all the time, and the Carter Center... President Carter would come in; Cesar Garvidio who was the former president of Columbia and head of the OAS, the Organization of American States, was involved. There were a number of players, and it was just trying to basically create a container for the forces within Venezuela to be able to realize, "Hey, we don't need violence." And you know you had the examples, I mean, within Venezuelan society and culture, I would say, there is a culture that despite really deep emotional, bitter differences and some blood flowing, is able to... I mean, like you had a demonstration in the middle of Caracas where there was a million people on one side and maybe a million people on the other and the two demonstrations meet and you think, "sure-fire trouble, bloodshed, and everything like that." And there were occasions when there was, but on this particular occasion, there were young men on both sides and during the demonstration got together and started playing soccer. I remember seeing on the front page of the Brazilian newspaper at the time. But to me it's those kinds of things that suggest Venezuelan culture, which has a third side strength to it. And this was all I was trying to ... my message ... and I did a lot of media work on TV and radio, and it was very simple. It was like, the mediators aren't going to come in and save you. You, the Venezuelan people, have the ability, I believe, to show the world you can actually prevent war before it happens. You've got this unusual opportunity and you can do it. And it's not something that just happens just at the top. There's a ??? (Spanish word) going on between the government and some of the opposition movements by having a ??? on every street corner. The society needs to get engaged and that's starting to happen. That's starting to happen. And certainly some points where escalation of major violence had been diffused, and as I mentioned, it's too early to say but I mean, but I hope Venezuela will go down as a good case example of a ... the potential prevention of a... calamity.
Q: And to be clear, even if the third side seems to be working it's not that there are not moments of tension.
A: Oh there are a lot of moments of tension; we're only still early in the conflict. The conflict will be running for years and years to come. The underlying conflict. And that's the thing. You've got to take that right perspective. Sometimes people just want it over with. And that would be nice, but it's like a couple that's having a very difficult relationship. They go away for a weekend marital workshop and say they come out with an agreement that says, "We've resolved all of our differences," everyone would laugh. But for some reason people expect that to happen with a complex social situation. It takes years. There's progress. And there's also genuine good to be found in conflict because you're engaging the real, live issues of a society instead of oppressing them.
Q: Right. Which is something I wanted to ask you about because the third side as a container for the level of conflict almost could be interpreted as suppressing a conflict.
A: Let me tell you something. My honest belief here is that world actually needs more conflict. And more actively engaged conflict. Because there is a lot of injustice, there is a lot of potential situations that have been suppressed, and therefore, because it needs more conflict, we need stronger containers. Containers are not... which the third side is a container... it's more like in Medieval ages they had these alchemists, they had these crucibles, and their whole idea was to turn lead into gold. The third side is like the crucible in which the lead of destructive conflict is turned into the gold of constructive conflict. And constructive confrontation and really engaging in the differences. But in order to do that, you really have to have a strong container. It's like, in order to make good soup, or good stew, you gotta have a strong pot. The pot doesn't suppress it, it contains it so that the energy and the work can actually be done.
Q: The pressure-cooker better be strong, right? So they had better luck than the alchemists. So, ok, but now, the idea of violence as an alternative in terms of bolstering the power of - or at least the position of -- the less powerful seems like it's still looming. I mean the idea of terrible injustice, and that it's not going to change unless we have a revolution, or unless there's some sort of violent protest. And I think Nelson Mandela is also a consummate third sider and always had command over the street riots to say, "Ok, when this isn't working, we're going to the streets..."
A: Right. Well see, Mandela to me is a great example of a third sider - he wasn't neutral, he was on one side and he stood for the whole. If you just look at his language, all throughout, from the very beginning - even back from the revonian trial??? Back in the '50s and early '60s was, "I stand for the whites and the blacks. I want the freedom of the blacks and the freedom of the whites and all of the other people in South Africa." And it's really interesting, I remember when he was released from prison after 27 years, and he goes and gives his first speech there, I believe it was in Parliament Square there in Capetown, and there's this huge... everyone's paying attention - all these TV cameras, and his first words are in Afrikans, the language of his adversary. Because he's trying to say, "I am standing for a South Africa that includes you." So he very definitely is a model third sider and again he is an insider and he was helped by the outsiders and that's what we need... the job of the mediator and people with mediation talent vis a vis the third side is often to play one of the roles that need to be played, one of the instruments that need to be played, but also we incresasingly need to play the role of what I call the "meta-mediator," which is to use your skills of facilitation and bring different people together to orchestrate or help orchestrate or bring together the different voices of the third side, from within the society, from outside the society, to bring the police, the military, the church people, the women's groups, the business - to bring all the different elements of society that really will make up... bring them into dialogue with each other in order to make a powerful third side.
Q: Two short questions and I promise I'll let you go. The alternative to violence there is what's interesting to me in the Mandela cases, as much as he was a third sider he still had this ace up his sleeve, that if things aren't going the way they should...
A: Right, in negotiation we call it your BATNA. Your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, and to me this why again some of the roles of the third side are using a power struggle; the ability to me to ... or of peace keepers who may have to use force minimally to be able to control a situation in some situations. So it's not all about sitting down and talking, you actually have to use all the instruments in a world that is sometimes prone to violence to be able to allow for the peaceful transformation of that conflict. So yes. Mediation alone will not change that power balance, and when you are representing the powerless or less powerful, you need to have power tools at your disposal. One of the key lessons, one of Mandela's key tools was the ability to mobilize global political opinion, to bring to bear sanctions, financial sanctions, and all of that. And as well as to bring about mass demonstrations on the streets, to paralyze, to bring about strikes, in other words - those instruments are sometimes necessary because one of the key roles in the third side is the equalizer. In order to have a fair and equitable negotiation you have to equalize, at least in that moment, the balance of power. And all of those instruments actually depend often on being able to rally mass public opinion and that's the third side. You know, there was an article in the New York Times during the Iraq War which said that -- speaking of the mobilization around public opinion of world - it said, you know there's now another superpower in the world. And that's global public opinion. And that's the third side. The third side is the voice of humanity or the voice of community saying "no" to violence as a way of solving problems and "yes" to other forms, which include power. Which aren't just negotiation, but include power but more peaceful ways of dealing with very real differences. It's about surfacing the conflicts; it's not about suppressing them.
Q: Global opinion then is like the witness writ large... very interesting...
A: Yeah it is. I mean, Gandhi understood this, too. He very cleverly played world public opinion and public opinion in India and here was a guy who never had any social power but what he did was, he had a real grasp of being able to mobilize the container, the circle, the third side.
Q: Ok, last question. Venezuela; too early too call? So far okay?
A: Yeah two or three years in is too early to call but it's still... the key thing is, even if you go back and rewrite the history of the last three years, here's a time when most, I would say, international observers would have expected a lot more violence and possibly even escalation to civil war that hasn't happened; it's a dog that hasn't barked. Now, could it still happen? Yes, I mean, it could still happen. But things ... and are a lot of people unhappy with the situation there? Yes. Is the conflict far from over? Yes, it's far from over but I'm just saying... I'm not saying it's a success story...
Q: No, no...
A: But I am saying that it's an example of - an experiment, one of those experiments going on the world today - of trying to prevent war before it happens.
Q: Right. And I think the global opinion also played a factor there when the coup, marginally supported by the United States, was condemned the world over....
A: And that's the third side. And Brazil, for example, and other Latin American countries said, "That's not the way we do business around here anymore..." and in fact they shamed the United States into remembering the ideals are democracy here, and so the United States had to change its tune.
Q: Ok, so lessons learned from that? Is it too early for lessons learned from Venezuela and the third sider...?
A: Oh no I don't think it's too early for lessons learned; it's too early to claim it as a success story. But there are a lot of lessons.
Q: Top three?
A: Top three lessons... I'd say one of them is, work from within the society and try to empower those inside society and the forces inside the society - the inner third side. The job of the outer third side is to empower the inner third side; it's not to come in and rescue the situation. Number two is media. Very important. The media, not in every situation but in most of these situations, the media plays an enormously important role. It can be destructive and can also be turned into a more constructive role. The media is key to the mobilization of the third side and to enter the conflict itself. So pay attention to the media. And number three, think about separating the roles so that... One thing that happened here was that the Carter Center, for example, was playing the role of let's say mediator, but it was also playing the role of electoral referee - an arbiter. And for example, when it called the elections, this last referendum, it called fair, then it was regarded by the opposition, which many people didn't regard it as a fair election, it diminished it's ability to play the role of the mediator. So you want to think about maybe separating the functions, the merit of separating the functions, so that you have different organizations playing different roles, that are working in coalition with each other, but not necessarily all played by the same organization.
Q: Right. The risk of tainting one decision in one arena.
A: At least think about that.
Q: That's interesting. Ok, I lied. Last question, thirty seconds. Major obstacles? Major obstacles to the third side in general, but maybe you can contextualize it in Venezuela?
A: Major obstacles to the third side... I think one thing is how do you mobilize it? How do you awaken it? How do you get people to realize the fact that they are third siders? Everyone is a third sider or potential third sider. Everyone has a role to play. And we need a language, third side is trying to give us a language and there may be better languages out there for all I know but we need a way to allow people to - get people to not think, "hey, it's none of my business." It's all of our business because it affects us all. Conflict anywhere right now affects us all, as the United States learned painfully on 9/11. So we all have a stake, and we all have a potential role to play, and to me, that's the great secret we're sitting with. How do you mobilize that or how do you awaken that? The media is a key mechanism. The website. The Web is a key mechanism. But I think we need new inventions for how do you awaken the nacent or latent power of lots of people playing lots of roles in a complex way that actually can work and we actually have examples of it working, like in South Africa or Northern Ireland and we need now to apply it to the other intractable conflicts around the world.
Q: All right. Well thanks so much, Bill.