Neither War, Nor Peace 

Understanding why Peace Agreements fail – Part I

The history of humanity has shown us that peace is an essential condition for society to flourish and for its peoples to live their lives in dignity. However, history has also revealed that it is relatively easier to draw people into a conflict, than to transition into a situation of peace and harmonious coexistence. The fact is that most governments spend more resources developing their military infrastructure than dismantling structural violence toward cultures of peacebuilding. Does this mean that War is a casualty of Peace, or is Peace, a casualty of War? 

James Schear, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, US Department of Defense captures this dilemma when he says “for most of the parties in most of these conflicts, war is a safer bet than peace” In a Stanford University news release Why peace agreements often fail to end civil wars, Schear gives the example of Angola, where “war is often safer because it has ‘a familiar pattern; it imposes order, stifles dissent, generates profits, provides employment, provides a pathway to advance.’” 

Peace, on the other hand, Schear says “is a leap into the unknown. It involves bargaining concessions, contingent exchanges of promises that can come undone... Most of all peace involves loss of political control and cohesion. It tends to dissolve the glue that cements wartime coalition.”

Schear’s statements confirm how institutionalized structural violence continues to reinforce preparing for war where death and destruction are inevitable expected outcomes. Hence, what could a culture of peace offer that is a positive constructive means of creating a shared harmonious humanity?

Peace practitioners can testify to the fact that the task of peacebuilding is often dirty, messy, uncertain and embroiled with lot of grey areas. Peace processes are never black and white. Despite good intentions and investment of resources, they very often fail to lead to a consolidated sustainable peace often times due to their protracted nature, as in the Naga situation.

In her monograph, Peace Accords in Northeast India: Journey over Milestones, political scientist Swarna Rajagopalan while examining the 13 accords signed in the North East region between 1949 and 2005 found that “only one – the Mizo Accord of 1986 – was successful in creating an enduring peace.”

Rajagopalan identifies some crucial loopholes in why peace processes failed to secure enduring peace. She says, “Most often, mediators and negotiators have seen a peace accord as an endpoint instead of viewing it as just one part of a peace process.” She adds why “accord-making processes in the Northeast have been flawed: pre-accord talks have not been inclusive; the provisions agreed upon with one group frequently conflict with the interests of another; accords contain provisions that cannot be implemented; or they do not deal with core issues. Moreover, no responsive and accountable political infrastructure has been created in Northeast India either for conflict resolution or for governance itself.”

The experience of peace agreement failures is not limited to the North East. It’s a global phenomenon that has been occurring over an extended period. For instance, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) informs us there were around 119-armed conflicts between 1989 and 2004. And during this time, a total of 139 peace agreements were signed in 46 conflicts. This means on an average each one of the 46 conflicts entered into an agreement at least 3 times. Furthermore, UCDP adds that the failure rate of peace agreements between 1989 and 2004 is about 45 percent within five years.

This means that even where ceasefires and peace processes may successfully prevent a resumption of armed conflict, they are often unsuccessful in establishing durable peace. Instead, in its place entrenched situations of, what Jasmine-Kim Westendorf describes as, “neither war, nor peace” are created. To overcome this entrenched situation requires reflection on current approaches to peacebuilding and exploring new ones. 

Rajagopalan calls for holistic peace processes and says they are more important than peace accords on their own. Successful peace processes, she argues, “should contain multiple platforms for dialogue, build civil society's ability to engage in the process, be inclusive and sustained, involve separate pacts for each area of agreement rather than omnibus accords, and imagine nonterritorial solutions.”

One may not agree with all of Rajagopalan’s suggestions, however, a new template of building sustainable peace is imperative. In the current world order, bilateral negotiations in a multi-lateral world is limited, and what is even more revealing is the fact that negotiations as a tool in protracted armed conflicts are restricted. Therefore, a holistic peace process implies the need to democratize the peace process where the focus is not limited to the negotiating table alone, but imaginatively creating the space where there is an interplay of resolution, reconciliation and reconstruction.

This is the first of a two-part series.