The Third Side: What Do Referees Do?

What Do Referees Do?

Establish Rules for Fair Fighting

Having a code of conduct in place plays an important role in containing conflict. At the international level, referees may establish rules that forbid the use of nuclear weapons. Similarly, referees at the community level may persuade street gang members to settle their disputes using fists rather than guns. Referees have even arrived on the Internet. America Online, the world's largest Internet provider, has recruited nearly fourteen thousand volunteers to patrol over a hundred and eighty thousand continuing conversation groups to ensure that people do not harass, threaten, or deliberately embarrass others. The following essays provide more information about the establishment of rules to help limit conflict.

  • Jus ad bellum (just war) : There is a strong presumption against the use of violence and aggression. The rules of jus ad bellum pertain to the conditions under which states can acceptably wage war. These include just cause, right intention, and proportionality.
  • Jus in bello (justice in war): Belligerent armies are entitled to try to win war, but they cannot do anything that is, or seems, necessary to achieve victory. There are restraints on the extent of harm, if any, which be done to noncombatants, and restraints on the weapons of war. These restraints aim to limit war once it has begun.
  • International law: International law has emerged from an effort to deal with conflict among states, since rules provide order and help to mitigate destructive conflict. Sources of international law include treaties, customary practices, and general legal principles. These laws aim to set limits on state action.
  • Rights: Human rights norms refer to some basic moral rights and entitlements to humane treatment that cannot be taken away. There are certain things that human beings should never do to other human beings.
  • Principles of Justice and Fairness: The principles of justice and fairness point to ideas of fair treatment and "fair play" that should govern all modes of exchange and interaction in a society. Adherence to these guidelines can help to limit the destructive effects of conflict.
  • Ground Rules: These rules spell out behavior and procedures that people consider fair but tend to abandon when carrying on a fight. Such rules are often used in mediation and negotiation to ensure that parties treat each other with dignity and respect.
  • Confidence Building Measures: Confidence-building measures (CBMs) aim to lessen anxiety and suspicion among the parties by making each side's behavior more predictable. Some measures attempt to make military capabilities more transparent and to clarify the intention of military and political activities. Others establish rules regarding the movement of military forces, as well as mechanisms for verifying compliance with such rules. Such agreements are meant to build trust among the conflicting parties and limit escalation.

Remove Offensive Arms

One way to stop people from using dangerous weapons against each other is to take them away. The following essays offer information about how to reduce the spread and use of dangerous weapons in order to limit violence.

  • Arms Control and Non-Proliferation: This includes efforts to reduce the likeliness of war and the economic costs of preparing for war and to limit the scope of violence should war occur. Referees may play a role in helping parties to manage escalating arms competition and establish rules forbidding the use of nuclear, biological, chemical or other weapons of mass destruction.
  • Disarmament: disarmament is the reduction in size or destructive capability of an actor's capacity for violence. This is often a valuable tool for reducing the likelihood and dangers of conflict.
  • Mobilization Slowing: Mobilization slowing is aimed at limiting the speed or extent of mobilization during a crisis; it allows for alternative policies, which may avert heightened conflict by better controlling the escalation process.
  • Arms Embargoes: While embargoes are increasingly used as a symbolic gesture toward undesired actions, they are also sometimes used in the hopes of limiting the resources and material that an actor has to inflict violence on others.
  • Ceasefire: A ceasefire is a temporary cessation of violence that does not settle the larger conflict but is intended as a step in that direction, giving time and "space" to peacekeepers and peacebuilders.

Strengthen Defenses Non-Offensively

It is not easy to persuade people to lay down their arms. Many efforts at disarmament in the twentieth century have failed in good part because the weapons themselves were treated as the primary problem, instead of as an unfortunate response to a condition of insecurity. Once people feel safer through strengthened defenses, they become more willing to discard their offensive weapons. The following essays outline ways to strengthen one's defense without going on the offensive.

  • Military Force Restructuring: Military developments, postures, and organizational structures have long influenced defense doctrines and perceived threats of aggression. In times of peace, treaties have been used to structure military developments in such a way as to favor defensive rather than offensive military postures.
  • Buffer Zones: A buffer zone is a physical area that separates opposing forces, wherein certain rules are to be respected by all parties to an existing or potential conflict in order to avoid escalating hostilities. The larger the physical area between disputants, the greater the warning time each actor has of an impending military confrontation. This reduces tension and lessens the potential for unnecessary conflict escalation.
  • Understanding Power: Power takes many forms. Most often people think about force or, on the international scene, military power, but power has many nonviolent and constructive manifestations.
  • Coercive power, grounded in physical strength or superior weapons, is not the only type of power, but it is one that is commonly used and considered effective.
  • Exchange power is a "softer" form of power that can be more effective than force, yet can strengthen one's defenses.
  • Integrative Power is another "soft" form of power, upon which all other forms of power depend.
  • Coalition Building: The formation of a coalition can shift the balance of power in a conflict situation and alter the future course of the conflict. People who pool their resources and work together are generally more able to resist threats than those who do not.
  • Nonviolence: Non-violent tactics are one way to defend oneself without going on the offensive. The opponent, caught off guard by one's refusal to initiate violence or even to reciprocate violence, may come to question his/her own behavior or stance.

For More Information


Much of the material on this user guide is drawn from www.thirdside.org. Thanks to William Ury and Joshua Weiss for giving us permission to republish their material here.