‘Ripeness for Peace’

Understanding why Peace Agreements fail – Part II

The North East region, including the Nagas, has been yearning to find resolutions to their political question and to live in peace with their dignity and rights. Despite various peace agreements, most of them have failed to achieve this illusive peace. 

A tactical approach of most governments has been to manage the conflict, sometimes through military force, sometimes through peace processes and sometimes a combination of the two. Very rarely have we seen governments shift gears from a policy of management to resolution and transformation. Governments rely on a template anchored that asserts State authority, coercion, division and superficial compromises without conceding core principles. Repeating this cycle ensures governments to maintain relative peace while not conceding any rights and maintaining the State centrality through either weakening armed groups or providing incentives to stay within the framework of an agreement, without resolving the core issues. These templates only result in a peace without rights and effectively remove possibilities of a sustainable enduring peace. 

In a Stanford University news release: Why peace agreements often fail to end civil wars Stephen Stedman, the author of Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes is quoted as saying that negotiated accords are usually “incomplete, vague and expedient agreements that are bad for implementation.” Other analysts and researcher have also identified more spoilers such as: violence, insecurity, ongoing divisions, different interpretations of agreements, vague provisions for future political arrangements and the gap between aspiration (expectation) and the contents of an agreement. 

Jasmine-Kim Westendorf in her investigation on Why Peace Processes Fail: Negotiating Insecurity After Civil War points out that civil wars are, at heart political processes. She states that, “Peace processes fail when they do not respond to this central characteristic.” One of the central findings in her investigation was that security building, governance building, and transitional justice initiatives within the peace process were “primarily technocratic exercises that attempted to ‘fix’ the infrastructure and systems of states.”

Her findings further reveal that, the result of this technocratic approach is that the peace processes become “effectively depoliticized,” and does not respond to the political and social contexts. In other words, the relationship between the society and the state is overlooked and the agreement does not engage with the politics of conflict and peace. As a consequence, she says that the peace processes “were often manipulated and captured by elite interests.” She cites another key explanation for peace process failure that centers on the process and structure of peace agreements. For instance, a peace agreement is likely to be signed only when all the armed groups involved in the conflict are included in the process. 

Hence, while peace processes help in ending armed confrontation, the current template of peace negotiations induces entrenched situations of ‘neither war, nor peace.’ Perhaps a way forward out of this entrenchment is to expand I. William Zartman’s theory of the “ripeness for peace” which suggests that conflicts are ripe for resolution when the conflicting groups have reached a ‘hurting stalemate.’ It hinges on the willingness to realize that the human, political, cultural, social, environmental, and economic costs are too high and accepts that the path of violence is too costly and can no longer help achieve the goal. 

Peace processes built upon this realization are more likely to implement and honour agreements. However, to ensure that the agreements can lead to enduring peace, the peace process needs to be reframed away from the dominant technocratic bureaucratic approach. Only then can a new process be forged with unity and coordination through defining the problems and exploring possibilities for peace with rights and dignity.  

For Nagas to build peace, they will need to collectively understand why agreements fail. This requires a long-term commitment based on statesmanship, imagination, humility, sincerity and tenacity to build bridges, to mend broken relationships, to collaborate together and agree on a strategic plan that connects with future thinking. Only then can a lived shared humanity be realized through harmonious means.  

This is the second and final of a two-part series.