Revising Peace Agreements

Why Peace Agreements Fail and Recommendations for the Future

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Peacekeepers Provide Security at Trial in DR Congo
Revising Peace Agreements : Why Peace Agreements Fail and Recommendations for the Future - Soledad Herrero

The end of the Cold War was expected to reduce conflict; instead, it was soon followed by numerous conflicts, most of them intrastate and highly resistant to peaceful resolution.1,2 Even with a decline in the number of conflicts over the last decade, the trend toward peace is by no means clear.3

Conflicts are longer, recurrent, and taking place in states that suffer emergencies of governance. The chances of achieving long-lasting peace differ case by case. Evidence suggests that civil wars that finish with military victory have a 15 percent chance of returning to war, while in the case of negotiated settlements, the chances increase to 50 percent.4

Typically, peace agreements fail either because of problems in their design or challenges that occur during their implementation. To understand unsuccessful attempts at peace, we need to understand the characteristics of post-Cold War conflicts and the differences between wars ended through negotiation versus military means.

First, intrastate conflicts are being driven by disparities in identity and horizontal inequalities.5,6 The conflicts that arise from these root causes are often poorly tackled, given the short timeframe afforded to peace agreements. As a consequence, settlements that fail to address these fundamental issues do not hold.7

Second, the duration of conflicts has expanded, and the underlying reasons for the discord can thus shift over time. Frequently, there is “fog of peacemaking,” whereby it is difficult to accurately assess the motivations of all of the different parties involved. Peace agreements designed to address the initial causes of conflict usually fail to address the new elements, which have subsequently come into the mix or even supplanted the original disputes.8

Third, in contrast to military settlements, whereby victors can take actions to destroy their opponent’s capacity to resort to violence, peace agreements imply a framework of concessions that accommodate the interests of antagonistic parties. When the calculations that led parties to agree to the terms of a peace agreement change, parties may decide that adhering to the settlement promises fewer gains than resuming the conflict. Since settlements rely greatly on cooperation, the determination of one party to spoil the process will easily disrupt fragile mutual trust. As a result, the parties’ positions can become fragmented, manipulated, and radicalized.9

Finally, most current conflicts take place in unstable countries, where government capacity, rule of law, and economic opportunities are limited. Conflicts occur in volatile regions and are entrenched in a wider set of regional disputes. Even when parties are truly committed to peace, they may be constrained by weak institutions and the state’s lack of monopoly on force. Inadequate instrumental development limits parties’ capacity to meet commitments, creating an unstable environment embedded with risks of resumed violence.

Although there are no magic formulas to address the problems mentioned above, experience has identified some provisions that are critical to improving peace agreements’ chances of success. Generally, agreements with more details are easier to implement, as they leave less room for interpretation and manipulation. It is particularly important that agreements include implementation priorities and realistic deadlines. Beyond that, they should have flexible mechanisms to adapt to the fluid post-war environment.

Peace agreements should also contain effective security arrangements to avoid the security dilemma. Two provisions are particularly relevant. One is setting up a robust disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program, which lies at the heart of addressing security challenges. The second is establishing a mechanism to “demilitarize politics” by transforming armies into viable political parties that can compete for power peaceably.10 El Salvador is a good example of how such transformations can be achieved. Finally, civilian security provided through police forces can be less costly and more effective than military governance, considering the complexity of military structures in the aftermath of a civil conflict.11

Any workable settlement should involve, to the extent possible, all major parties, and the decision of which parties to include should incorporate an accurate assessment of connectors and spoilers.12

Negotiating only with moderates and leaving out the extremist—while tempting—is often a mistake. A more inclusive process will diminish the power of the spoilers to undermine efforts at peace.13 Rwanda paid a very high price in the Arusha Agreements for the exclusion of the extremist faction, Coalition pour la Defense de la République, which became the main perpetrator of the subsequent genocide.

A related provision is the distribution of political power, which, as the political scientist Roy Licklider indicates, is the root cause of conflict in most instances.14 In general, there are two options to ensure power sharing: assure all groups have a voice on the center state, or disperse central power to regions. However, plenty of evidence suggests that rushing to establish democratic frameworks through post-settlement elections is counterproductive—not limiting the likelihood of civil war, but having the opposite effect.15 This was the case in Bosnia, where elections conducted immediately after the Dayton Agreement consolidated the power of the ethnic extremists who had led the war. Consequently, interim political solutions are generally preferable.16

Successful short-term efforts include establishing a national-unity or reconciliation government, like in South Africa following apartheid, or the much more controversial option of delegating the management of a country to an international body, as in Cambodia.

Whichever political arrangement is chosen, it should enable the establishment of a set of institutions with the capacity to deliver security, make legitimate decisions, and create a working economy that distributes the dividends of peace. As Donald Rothchild argues, state capacity building should be addressed throughout the peace agreement, and not at a later stage when there is no longer a threat of violence.17

The success of a peace agreement is strongly linked to the quality and level of support given by outside powers, and to the buy-in of neighboring countries involved in the peace process.18 To consolidate international attention and coordination, former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Michael Doyle suggests using “strategies of enhanced consent,” including arrangements such as “Friends” groups and diplomatic coalitions, which can provide consensus on how to respond to noncompliance with coercive or voluntary measures.19

Central American peace agreements are often cited as successful case studies, due to their regional implementation regime. Syria’s influence in the Ta’if Agreements for Lebanon also exemplifies the role that regional interests can play. Additionally, peace agreements should incorporate provisions for the involvement of international development actors at the earliest moment in a peace process, which ensures their support not only in the transition but also the consolidation period.20

Finally, if peace is defined restrictively as the absence of armed conflict, one could argue that addressing the underlying causes of conflict and promoting reconciliation are not conditions, sine qua non, to achieving peace. Reconciliation should be an aspirational goal, but as with any aspiration, it may not always be possible to achieve. Using Michael Lund’s life history of a conflict, however, we must conclude that achieving the more embracing concept of “durable peace” in a just order requires content-specific solutions to be accompanied by reconciliation, with its four components of truth, mercy, justice, and peace.21,22 Only these components can address the deeper psychological and subjective aspects related to interpersonal and community relationships, as well as people’s experiences of loss and suffering. In so doing, we will move from a narrow orientation aiming simply at conflict termination to a broader and long-lasting concept of conflict transformation.

Notes & References

  1. According to the Human Security Centre, more than 95 percent of current wars are civil conflicts. Human Security Centre, Human Security Report 2005: War and Peace in the 21st Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 23.
  2. Charles King, “Power, Social Violence and Civil Wars” in Leashing the Dogs of War: Conflict Management in a Divided World, ed. Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall, (Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace Press, 2007), 26.
  3. The 2008 Uppsala annual survey identified that the number of con9icts remains at only two-thirds of the 1993 level. However, there is also evidence of a resurgence of armed conflict from 2007; in fact, some studies report an increase in the number of conflicts from 2003 to 2008. Oliver Rambsotham, Tom Woodhouse, and Hugh Miall, Contemporary Conflict Resolution, 3d edition (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2011), 71.
  4. Ibid., 228.
  5. Ted Robert Gurr, “Minorities, Nationalists, and Islamists: Managing Communal Conflct in the Twenty-First Century,” in Leashing the Dogs of War: Conflict Management in a Divided World, ed. Crocker et al., 131.
  6. Frances Stewart, “Horizontal Inequalities and Conflict: An Introduction and Some Hypotheses,” inHorizontal Inequalities and Conflict: Understanding Group Violence in Multiethnic Societies, ed. Frances Stewart (London: Palgrave, 2010), 10.
  7. Roy Licklider, “Obstacles to Peace Settlements,” in Turbulent Peace: The Challenges of Managing International Conflict, ed. Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson and Pamella Aall, (Washington DC: US Institute of Peace Press, 2001), 698.
  8. Roy Licklider “Comparative Studies of Long Wars,” in Grasping a Nettle: Analyzing Cases of Intractable Conflict, ed. Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall (Washington DC: US Institute of Peace, 2005), 33.
  9. Stephen John Stedman, “Spoiler problems in peace processes,” International Security 22, no. 2 (1997), 12.
  10. Terrence Lyons, “The Role of Post Settlement Elections,” in Ending Civil Wars: Thee Implementation of Peace Agreements, ed. Stephen Stedman, Donald Rothchild and Elizabeth M. Cousens (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002), 215.
  11. Donors are now using the concept of Security Sector Reform (SSR), which Charles Call expands to Justice and Security Reform (JSR). See Charles T. Call in Constructing Justice and Security After War, 3-26.
  12. Stedman, “Spoiler problems in peace processes,” 5-53.
  13. Stedman proposes three main strategies to deal with spoilers: coercion, socialization, or inducement. See Stedman, “Spoiler problems in peace processes,” 8.
  14. Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson and Pamella Aall, ed., Turbulent Peace: The Challenges of Managing Inernational Conflict, (Washington DC: Us Institute of Peace Press, 2001), 701.
  15. Marina Ottaway, “Is Democracy the Answer?” in Leashing the Dogs of War: Conflict Management in a Divided World, (Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace Press, 2007), 603.
  16. Ibid., 615.
  17. Donald Rothchild, “Settlement Terms and Post-agreement Stability” in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements, ed. Stephen Stedman, Donald Rothchild and Elizabeth M. Cousens (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002), 117.
  18. Stephen Stedman, Introduction to Ending Civil Wars, ed. Stedman et al., 4.
  19. Michael Doyle, “Strategies of Enhanced Consent” in Preventing Conflict in the Post-Communist World, ed. Abram Chayes and Antonia Handler Chayes (Washington DC: Brookings Institution, 1996), 491.
  20. Nicole Ball, “The Challenge of Rebuilding War-Torn Societies,” in Turbulent Peace, ed. Crocker, 727.
  21. Michael Lund, Preventing Violent Conflicts: A Strategy for Preventive Diplomacy(Washington DC: US Institute of Peace Press, 1996), 38.
  22. John Paul Lederach, “Civil Society and Reconciliation,” in Turbulent Peace, ed. Crocker, 842.
Soledad Herrero is a current MIPP candidate at Johns Hopkins SAIS. She holds a JD and a degree in Business Administration from University of Comillas, ICADE (Spain), and an LLM from University of London (UK). Soledad has worked for over eight years coordinating UNICEF programs related to protection, human rights, and humanitarian affairs. During her last assignments in Colombia and Sudan, Soledad acquired extensive experience in transitional justice, assistance to victims, child demobilization, and other issues related to conflict management.