Examining structural components of peace agreements and their durability

AuthorEvan Hoffman,Jacob Bercovitch
Published date01 June 2011
Date01 June 2011
Examining Structural Components of Peace
Agreements and Their Durability
Evan Hoffman, Jacob Bercovitch
The authors address a question that is central to many ADR studies;
namely, are some peace agreements really better designed than others,
and, if so, will these agreements last longer? It is argued that peace ulti-
mately rests on the parties choosing to cooperate with one another to
uphold the terms of the agreement. Peace is thus framed as an ongoing,
dynamic process involving constant renegotiation. Mediators, therefore,
need to be forward-looking and mindful of how to craft an agreement
that has features that recognize the high likelihood that problems will
arise after the formal signing.
Arecent report from the Center for International Development and Con-
flict Management (CIDCM) at the University of Maryland concludes
that most recent armed conflicts are not new conflicts, but flare-ups of older
wars that have gone dormant for some time (Hewitt, Wilkenfeld, and Gurr,
2010). The idea that an armed conflict can apparently appear to be resolved
and then erupt again at some point later on is certainly not a new one. An
extreme example of this pattern is the civil war in Sudan that ended in 1972
and then re-emerged a staggering eleven years later.1This war then went on
for many more years until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was
signed in March 2005. Unfortunately, violent clashes in the Sudanese village
of Abyei during 2008 and recent tensions related to the upcoming national
elections are being viewed by many as a sign that the CPA is also at risk of
collapsing, thus signaling the possibility of the war resuming.
Although this example was intended to illustrate the point that wars
can seemingly be ended and then flare up again later, it also illustrates
CONFLICT RESOLUTION QUARTERLY, vol. 28, no. 4, Summer 2011 399
© Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Conflict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) • DOI: 10.1002/crq.20031
NOTE: Dedicated to Jacob Bercovitch—a true giant in the field of international mediation
and conflict resolution. His work will live on in all those who continue to strive for peace.
another important point. Namely, the reason some wars have started again
is because the peace agreement that brought the war to an end has col-
lapsed. That is, the belligerents, for whatever reason, have chosen to aban-
don cooperating in the ways the agreement specified and instead they have
chosen to take up arms again. Alternatively, as Werner (1999) states, it is
obvious that at least one belligerent must consider resuming fighting as
preferable to honoring the agreement (see Greenhill and Major, 2006/
Fortna (2004) outlines a number of reasons why a cease-fire agreement
can collapse. First, both sides are likely to have strong incentives to cheat
the agreement by initiating a new attack. As Fortna puts it, “whatever the
dispute at issue, belligerents have an incentive to take what they want by
force. And both parties have good reason to fear that their enemy would
like to do the same” (p. 12). Second, a fear of attack from the other side can
mean that one party’s attempts to ensure their own security may inadver-
tently bring them back to war. That is, “even when the cost of war out-
weighs the incentives to attack, uncertainty about the opponent’s
intentions can undermine cooperation” (p. 15), and cooperation from
both sides is essential to ensuring an agreement’s durability. Third, acci-
dents or involuntary defection, such as mistakenly crossing the cease-fire
line or accidentally discharging a weapon, can occur, and these have the
potential to trigger an escalatory cycle of retaliation. Lastly, one party’s con-
cerns over the distribution of resources and the relative gains of their adver-
sary created by the agreement can make cooperation more difficult. More
specifically, “Once fighting has ceased, concerns about distributional and
relative gains will affect the prospects for durable peace if one party comes
to believe that peace is favoring its opponent. Consolidation of control
over territory or uneven rearmament may make one side perceive that it is
‘losing peace’” (p. 19). Continuing to maintain the cease-fire will leave this
actor less secure in the future, giving it an incentive to reinitiate the fight
now rather than wait as it loses relative power.
Unfortunately, there is mounting evidence that agreements collapse at
a staggering rate. For example, Walter (1999) found that approximately
half of negotiated settlements will break down. A much more recent study
also found a similar rate of agreement collapse: in the Balkan war there were
at least ninety-one mediated settlements produced and almost half of these
settlements broke down within a week or less (Bercovitch and Gartner,
2006). Thus, there is an important need for further research on how to
improve the durability of peace agreements (Gartner and Melin, 2009).
400 hoffman, bercovitch

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