Peace Agreements and Negotiations

Kendra Dupuy tells us how there's more than one way to end a war.
What are the dynamics involved in negotiating peace? How many types of peace are there?

And what can be done to ensure an agreement
will actually be implemented?
It's far easier to start a war than to end one, and today Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) researcher Kendra Dupuy is here to share about what that process looks like, what different factors influence peace agreements and just how hard it is to transform a ceasefire into lasting peace.

When thinking about how wars end, the classic image of military victory easily comes to mind. The Second World War is an obvious example, but armed conflicts like in Sri Lanka and Spain's Basque Country also count.

Then there's when a conflict stops without ever being resolved. Think of the seasonal fighting that happens in Afghanistan (due to harsh winters), or conflict pauses in Colombia, Peru or India. These are when groups are lying low rather than being committed to peace.

Then there are extended ceasefires, like in the Korean War, the Israel-Palestine conflict and various post-Soviet frozen conflicts. Ceasefires in general are complicated to propose and implement, because it requires trust that the other side isn't going to violate it when you're particularly vulnerable. That, and they can be an opportunity to regroup and rearm for the next round of violence.

But then there are negotiated agreements, which are by and large the standard way to end armed conflicts these days. These often involve negotiations with mediation, where a third party helps the parties communicate effectively.

All of the above are fascinating to study, because we're dealing with questions like why do armed groups sign peace treaties when it's in their interest to keep fighting? Or why do certain agreements stick while other ones fall apart? And how do you generate enough trust to cooperate with hostile forces? What challenges are there in creating and implementing agreements?
The Triple Handshake in the Peace Treaty Between Israel and Egypt | wikicommons
When you start paying attention to questions like the ones above, you start seeing some interesting trends.

For example, the number of conflict diads, where two or more parties are at war, that have been mediated hasn't increased – it's been steady. A single peace process can end up with a number of peace agreements that've been implemented (or failed) separately.

The UN and the international community have been taking on a much larger role in war termination and peacemaking efforts over the last few decades, with a marked uptick in negotiated endings to conflict since the Second World War. The UN is still the most active mediator, followed closely by the US, and then the African Union, Russia, France, Norway, the UK, Kenya, Malaysia

These days, mediation happens more in Africa and Europe than in the Americas, Asia or the Middle East.

To define some important terms, peacemaking is a "range of political and diplomatic activities intended to halt ongoing conflicts. The process of settling an armed conflict, where conflict parties are induced to reach agreement voluntarily to end a conflict."

Peace agreements are considered "formal, documented agreements between parties to a violent conflict to establish a ceasefire altogether with new political and legal structures." These could take different shapes, like a regular ceasefire, comprehensive agreements, partial agreements or implementation agreements.

There are many different actors involved in peace negotiations, with the two parties to the conflict usually being at the table. This isn't always the case, though, like when Afghan negotiations took place in Germany and left out the Taliban. Other actors can include local and international NGOs, third-party governments, the UN, donors, the World Bank, diplomats and other envoys.

Then there are the ones who are doing the behind-the-scenes work: trying to bring people to the table, shuttling people to and from peace talks (sometimes from the jungle), providing venues, paying the bills, even picking menu items or agonizing over seating arrangements.

Third party actors who do this can be big organizations like the Carter Center (founded by former US president Jimmy Carter) or the Crisis Management Initiative. Powerful diplomats are often involved, like the American George Mitchell, who assisted in the Irish crisis, or the Norwegian Jan Egeland, who worked with Israel and Palestine. Smaller actors like religious leaders, community hands or other groups can also be active in the negotiation or mediation processes.

One way of classifying the different initiatives in a peace process is a model known as the Tracks of Diplomacy.

The Three Tracks of Diplomacy

Top-Level Leadership
Track I usually involves leaders in suits signing papers around a table. There are plenty of pictures taken, and is the fruit of a long process involving the other tracks. Gender-focused scholars point out that these often involve men more than women.
National & Regional Leadership
Track II involves influential leaders at the regional, religious, social, cultural and academic level involved in backroom meetings and preparation. This can also involve preparing parties for negotiation, suggesting concessions, unofficial dialogue, or social networking.
Grassroots Leadership
Track III involves local and civil society groups trying to build peace from the ground up. These can involve unofficial third parties working to build peace among ordinary citizens, or trying to build social cohesion. Organizations like Search for Common Ground are a good example of this.
There's also talk of a 'Track 1.5' which can involve the same high-level mediators & leaders but in the context of behind the scenes work. NGOs and civil society groups can also negotiate back and forth between the major parties or act as mediators.

The question of what groups, and in particular what countries, can make a solid enough mediator is a complicated one. May nations or organizations aren't always perceived as neutral, and thus their presence can problematize the negotiations.

Norway, where we are taking this peace research course, has been presented as a good mediator country, and this has become part of its international identity. It's put forward as a small, independent country that has limited power and less of a colonial past. This narrative is often challenged when looking at their relationships with the Sami people up north, a relationship that has parallels to other colonial relationships to indigenous people.

But the country remains heavily involved with the UN and hosts the Nobel Peace Prize (all the other Nobel prizes are given in Sweden). Norwegian Church Aid helped a lot in Sudan, and it was heavily present with the Oslo accords between Israel and Palestine.

Ultimately no group or person can be completely neutral, and neutrality is one of the factors that can help make a peace agreement more comprehensive, and thus address more of the relevant issues at stake. And addressing more issues can help with the eventual implementation of the treaty.

Because even the most solid, comprehensive agreement, and with all the negotiations and hand-shaking and champagne and close-door assurances in the world, if no one actually follows up to make sure the agreement is put into place, the deal is approximately as good as a dead fish.
The Yalta Conference Negotiations | wikicommons


A good peace agreement not only needs to be a road to new statehood – it has to be clear about what the next steps should be. And this usually ends up asking who gets a piece of the pie – the goodies, so to speak. Who gets to be minister of justice or the treasurer. Who decides when elections will be held, and with what rules. Who gets the headache of trying to integrate rebels back into everyday life – often this means giving them places in the political system, as was proposed in the peace agreements with the FARC rebel group in Colombia. This all is controversial at best.

Military issues can sometimes seem the most pressing, with jobs like disarming and reintegrating soldiers or rebels. Then there are peacekeeping operations, or security guarantees to be made.

Then there are the social issues: education, dealing with child soldiers, considering the issue of gender in conflict (especially if sexual violence was used as a weapon), development, reconstruction, the return of forced migrants.

And then there are the folks who benefit from there not being any peace at all – these are known as spoilers.

The issue of spoilers is particularly tricky, as most peace agreements (statistically speaking) are already more likely to fail than to succeed. They don't need any more help to fall through.

Different groups also have different ideas of what kind of peace is more realistic. A peace that's achieved through negotiation is three times as likely to fail than after a military victory, for example.

And when things fall back into fighting, there are those who wonder at what cost are these negotiations happening? Maybe negotiated agreements cost more lives in the long run because they take so long. That was the argument behind dropping the atomic bomb on Nagasaki: do this now so that thousands more won't die. Maybe a military defeat, some suggest, causes less people to die in the long run.

On the other side, others claim that the conditions that often follow military defeat can directly lead to another war – think of the Treaty of Versailles after WWI, and how it pressured Germany into letting Hitler eventually take the reins. There's some data that indicates that episodes of recurring violence following negotiated treaties tends to be less.

Either way, though, even just getting people to the table is difficult enough. It's hard to get both parties to make promises that they can/will want to hold to. And sometimes there's no bigger party that can guarantee implementation of the peace deals, or security for groups that feel particularly vulnerable. Giving up your weapons can make you feel a great deal more vulnerable than you were.

That, and agreements are usually signed by elites who may not have a good feel for tensions that still exist on the ground. They can, like ceasefires generally, allow people to re-arm. And maybe people will be so addicted to the attention a peace process gives that, when it's all over, the only way to take the spotlight back is with a gun.

Solutions to credible commitment problems like these often include initiatives to build trust between the parties, again often with the help of third party supporters or mediators. There can also be institutional solutions that constrain actors and make it more difficult to break the treaty. These have to be done with the aim of including all the relevant groups, as passing them over (like the Taliban) can make a peace process less likely to be go through.

Then there are those spoilers again – how to deal with people who are going to do as much as possible to ruin the peace process? These pose perhaps the greatest danger to the proceedings. It could be a rebel group, a government or members of civil society who undermine the peace process because they see it as a threat.

Some strategies that have been tried to deal with spoilers have included threatening them with physical violence, shaming them publically/culturally, threatening them with a deadline (known as the 'departing train' strategy) or excluding them from certain privileges at the table.

But even with all these issues, people continue to make peace agreements anyway. And the numbers are bearing out: there are still more conflicts ending than starting.

It's just ending those long-lasting conflicts that's proving harder and harder.

Negotiating Peace In Liberia

We look at the African country of Liberia as an example of a successful peace agreement. The nation had a level of violence in their civil war that can't just be explained by greed or opportunity: they had numerous armed groups fighting to capture a state that controlled natural resources.

There were also complicated social and historical factors, like how the country received freed American slaves who then enslaved locals and created a number of ongoing grievances that've played out over history.

There were two stages of the war, one in 1989-97 and again from 1999-2003. The country is not at war now, but prior to 2003 there were many agreements that gave certain concessions to warlords, which in turn created incentive to form new armed groups in order to be on the receiving end of peace-agreement resources.

There's another problem known as adverse selection, a term often associated with insurance. The problem for insurance providers for risky activities, like windsurfing for example, is that the people who would buy insurance are the ones who are most likely to engage in risky activity anyway. Sometimes even buying insurance, as it can make people feel like they are reducing their risk (or softening the consequences in case of failure), can make people behave in riskier ways.

In a similar way, the people who were drawn to run for political candidacy (or take charge of rebel groups) themselves may not prove the highest-quality options for the position. In Liberia, the people who tried to get positions of leadership often ended up having traits that led to more violence.

There were a number of factors that helped make the 2003 agreement more stable.

First, a peacekeeping mission was implemented that had a mandate to fight back against violations. A large disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) campaign was implemented with international assistance. All the groups involved in the fighting were allowed to participate in a civilian-led transitional government – civil society groups and political parties were also invited, making the process highly inclusive.

The previous president, Charles Taylor, was forced out of power and fled the country (he had been indicted for crimes related to the conflict in neighbouring Sierra Leone). Getting him out worked to change the game, with more people then willing to lay down arms.

A now-famous documentary entitled Pray the Devil Back to Hell explored one specific factor: the presence of a unified women's movement that put pressure on all sides to come to an agreement. The involvement of women in peace processes, and the strength of the resulting agreements, is a topic we will be looking at in more detail in a later seminar.

The film is worth a watch: check out the trailer (or rent the movie from Vimeo) below.
Kendra Dupuy was a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) until 2019. She now works for Norwegian People's Aid.

Josh Nadeau is a freelance writer and peacebuilding practitioner.
He studied at PRIO in 2018.
Banner photo taken from the Israel-Jordan peace process on wikicommons
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Further Reading
Give War A Chance
Luttwak, Edvard. (1999).
Foreign Affairs 78(4): 36-44.
Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes
Stedman, Stephen John. (1997).
International Security, 22(2): 5-53.