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Peaceful Methods of Resolving International Disputes

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Amara has spent some years of her life as a science teacher. She is a graduate in life sciences and has a master's in social sciences.


The history of using peaceful settlement methods goes back centuries. The earliest existing treaty dates back to about 3,000 BCE, where it was carved in stone and documents the successful settlement of a boundary dispute between Egyptian kings.

The mechanism for peaceful settlement of disputes developed by the Greeks remains unsurpassed to this day. Until the end of the 12th century, there was no provision in international law for the peaceful settlement of international disputes.

The only legal remedy was going to war. Of course, the method of arbitration was there, but it was only rarely used.

Jay's Treaty of 1794 between the United States and Great Britain marks the beginning of the extensive use of arbitration in modern times.

Chief Methods of Peaceful Settlement

Article 1 of the U.N. Charter obliges states to settle their disputes peacefully. Articles from 33 to 38 of the Charter (Chapter 6) deal with the methods of peaceful settlement. The methods are:

  • Negotiation
  • Good offices
  • Mediation
  • Commission of inquiry and conciliation
  • Arbitration and judicial settlement
  • Pacific settlement and regional agencies


Negotiation is a legal and orderly administrative process by which governments adjust or settle their differences.

Negotiations may be carried out by either heads of state or their agents, or by the exchange of notes. Some of the well-known examples of successful negotiation are the Indo-Pak Agreement on Minorities (1950), Indo-Pak, Indus Water Treaty (1960), and the Yalta and Potsdam Agreements during the Second World War.

Most international disputes are settled through the normal channels of diplomacy. Such machinery is provided both by the OAS and the UN.

Good Offices

When a third party offers its services with the view of composing differences between two states who are not willing to negotiate directly, it is said to tender its good offices.

In this method, a third party acts as a go-between. To illustrate, Kosygin, the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, played this role admirably at Tashkent between India and Pakistan in 1966.

The Shaat-al-Arab River boundary dispute between Iraq and Iran was resolved in 1975 through the good offices of the late Algerian President, Boumeddin.

Prime minister of India Indira Gandhi offered her good offices and sent G. Parthasarthy to bring the Tamil leaders to the negotiating table following the July 1983 carnage in Colombo against Tamils.


Mediation involves conducting negotiations through the agency of the third party. A mediator may look into the dispute either of his own initiative or at the request of the disputants.

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The distinction between "good offices" and "mediation" is subtle. The former is different from the latter in the fact that, unlike good offices, the third party itself takes part in the negotiations and suggests terms of settlement.

To illustrate, in 1905, President Theodore Rossevelt of the United States acted as a mediator in the Russo-Japanese war. Switzerland has also played this role in a number of disputes.

The UN Good Offices Commission for Indonesia (1947) performed a notable service in settling disputes between the Dutch Government and the Indonesian Republic after the Second World War. Count Berndotte functioned as a mediator on the Jerusalem issue in 1948.

Another example of mediation is the Colombo proposals (1963) negotiated by six Afro-Asian powers to settle the Sino-Indian border dispute.


Commission of Inquiry and Conciliation

A commission of inquiry and conciliation is a process of formulating proposals for settlement after the investigation of facts.

The First Hague Conference (1899) favored a commission of inquiry and the Second Conference (1907) favored conciliation. The League Assembly also endorsed this method in 1922, and within five years, about 52 conciliation treaties were made.

The use of commissions of inquiry, however, has been infrequent. The commission has to investigate the facts of a dispute, but it largely confines itself to a statement of facts and a clarification of the issues.

This technique was employed in the Dogger Bank incident of 1904. In this incident, some Russian warships fired by mistake on British fishing vessels in the North Sea.

The commission of inquiry provides a cooling off period while an investigation is underway and hostilities are suspended during the inquiry period.

Conciliation differs from inquiry in that it assumes an obligation on the part of third parties to take the initiative in the search for agreement.

The distinction between conciliation and mediation is more or less nominal. Mediation is commonly performed by an individual, but conciliation is by a committee, commission, or council.

Again, conciliation denotes the reference of a dispute to a body of persons for ascertaining facts, but in mediation, the initiation comes from the third party.

Conciliation is a constructive approach to non-justifiable disputes. In a nutshell, it is a combination of inquiry and mediation.

The UN has made successful use of such conciliation commissions in dealing with intricate problems, such as the Palestine issue. This method is better than arbitration or adjudication, as it has greater flexibility in comparison to the latter.

Arbitration and Judicial Settlement

Arbitration is a judicial process. It is different from conciliation in the sense that conciliation merely recommends a solution but arbitration decides a dispute. The former is friendly advice, while the latter is a legally binding decree.

On the whole, arbitration is the most important means of amicable dispute settlements. Its value resides in its quasi-judicial character. The methods of arbitration on disputes are consensual, flexible, and efficacious.

Judicial settlement or adjudication itself is a form of arbitration in which a permanent court acts as the arbitral tribunal.

Differences Between Arbitration and Judicial Settlement

Arbitration is different from judicial settlement in three ways:

  1. Nomination of arbitrators is made by the parties themselves.
  2. The tribunal's jurisdiction is voluntary; parties choose the principles or terms of reference on which the tribunal bases its findings.
  3. Its jurisdiction is voluntary.

The device of arbitration has been successfully employed throughout the centuries. The procedure was quite common among Greek city-states.


In modern times, the 19th century alone added some 400 examples of successful arbitration, the most famous one being the settlement of the Alabama Claims Controversy (1872).

In 1899, however, a Permanent Court of Arbitration was established by the Hague Conference. It was utilized in several cases. It decided about 20 cases between 1900 and 1932. The most famous awards of this court are the North Atlantic Fisheries Case and the Savakar Case (1910).

A real advance in the prospects for compulsory jurisdiction was made by the Permanent Court of International Justice and the International Court of Justice.

Both these world courts derive their authority from the same statute, and hence the I.C.J. is simply a successor or continuation of the P.C.I.J. The Carnegie Peace Palace at the Hague is the seat of the Court.

The jurisdiction of the Court comprises all cases in which the parties refer to it and all matters specifically provided for in treaties and conventions in force.

In general, therefore, the jurisdiction originally conferred was voluntary, but in fact, the Court has been given a wide compulsory jurisdiction through treaties and conventions in force and through the Optional Clause contained in Article 36 of the Statute.

This clause provides that states may of their own accord accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court in all legal disputes concerning:

  • the interpretation of a treaty
  • any question of international law
  • the existence of any fact which, if established, would constitute a breach of an international obligation
  • the nature or extent of reparation to be paid for the breach of an international obligation

Currently, about 45 states have accepted the optional clause, though in a few cases, their acceptance is hedged by reservations in areas involving "vital interests," "matters of domestic concern" or "national honor."

Pacific Settlement and Regional Agencies

The charter recommends the settlement of disputes by resorting to regional agencies of arrangements.

All regional systems make elaborate provisions for the peaceful settlement of disputes among their participating members. For instance, the O.A.S. Charter devotes an entire chapter to it.

In a number of political disputes among American states, the O.A.S. has played a very useful intermediary role. The U.N. Charter also provides for this procedure.

Article 1 of the Charter emphasizes the aspect of settling disputes peacefully. If parties to a dispute fail to settle their conflicts by the means indicated in Article 33, they may refer the same to the Security Council.

International flags flown together can suggest unity among nations.

International flags flown together can suggest unity among nations.

Notable Events in Peaceful Conflict Resolution

Here are some landmarks of these amicable methods:

  • Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes
  • League Covenant; the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice; the Geneva Protocol (1924)
  • General Act for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, adopted by the League Assembly in 1928
  • Inter-American Arbitration and Conciliation Treaties drafted at the Washington Conference (1929)
  • U.N. Charter and the Statute of the International Court of Justice;
  • Charter of the Organization of American States; and the Pact of Bogota (1948)


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Amara

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