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Why peace agreements often fail to end civil wars

For some people sometimes, war is safer than peace.

Starting with that premise helps one understand why the United Nations, the United States and others so often fail to implement the peace treaties they help others negotiate. Add to that the incompetence, inconsistency and bickering of the would-be peacemakers and you get a better idea of why civil war seems to flare up in the headlines not long after the formal announcement that peace has broken out.

Four diplomats who have been involved in negotiating and implementing both failed and successful peace accords in civil wars made those points to a Stanford audience in Annenberg Auditorium on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. They were among eight such diplomats here for three days to meet with scholars studying how to give peace a better chance. During the public discussion moderated by former Secretary of State George Shultz, professor emeritus, the four who were involved in Cambodia, El Salvador, Angola and Bosnia emphasized the importance of outsiders ­ other countries and international organizations ­ reaching consensus on the key roles they should play in implementing ­ not just negotiating ­ peace.

The conference was designed as a "reality check" for scholars who are beginning a systematic study of the first three years of implementation of peace agreements in 15 civil-war-torn countries, said Stephen Stedman, a senior research scholar at Stanford's Center for International Security and Arms Control. He is the coordinator of six Stanford scholars who are part of the international team involved in the two-year study financed by the Ford Foundation. The conference was the first of four planned, and was funded by a gift from Reuben and Ingrid Hills of San Francisco to the university's Institute for International Studies.

Civil war, the most common type of war since the end of World War II, is far less likely to be ended by a negotiated agreement than wars between countries, Stedman found during his doctoral studies at Stanford in the late 1980s. At that time "there were calls for negotiated settlements in El Salvador and South Africa," he said, and "conflict resolution studies were focused on how to mediate civil wars under the illusion that all you needed to do was get an agreement and the war would end. "

Successful agreements were achieved in Zimbabwe, Namibia and El Salvador, "but then very quickly we ran into the problem children of Angola, Cambodia and Rwanda," Stedman said after the conference. "By a huge magnitude, more people died after the peace accords in Angola and Rwanda than during the civil wars that preceded them." Negotiating a second peace agreement after one has failed is often more costly in time, money and lives, conference participants said. Hence the urgency attached to implementation, rather than to mediation itself.

"The brutally depressing fact is that for most of the parties in most of these conflicts, war is a safer bet" than peace, James Schear, deputy assistant secretary of defense for peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs, told the campus audience. Schear previously worked for the United Nations in Cambodia and Bosnia. War is often safer, he said, because it has "a familiar pattern; it imposes order, stifles dissent, generates profits in Angola and other places, provides employment, provides a pathway to advance."

"Peace, on the other hand, is a leap into the unknown," Schear said. "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 coalitions together whether on the political left in El Salvador or among the non-communists in Cambodia or as we see today among the nationalist Serbs in Bosnia."

To be effective as peacemakers and keepers, the international governmental and private organizations involved must be more skillful and consistent in the signals they send, Schear and the others with implementation experience said. Implementation requires careful development of carrots and sticks for foot-draggers, they said. Too often, the peace agreements are vague, which makes implementation more difficult. Bureaucratic turf wars among the peacemaking organizations also don't help. Schear, for example, pointed out that the United States has eight different agencies involved in peacekeeping missions. A May 1997 presidential directive attempts to deal with coordination problems by requiring an overall plan and a team of senior officials from each agency, he said.

"Sometimes factors that facilitated the agreement are problems for implementation," said Margaret Anstee, who had the unfortunate experience of being assigned as the U.N. secretary general's special representative to the Angolan peace implementation. The 1991 Angolan agreement was brokered by the United States, Russia and Portugal without any U.N. involvement, she said, but the United Nations was designated to enforce it.

The brokers negotiated "winner-take-all" elections, like those held for congressional districts in the United States, she said. Both major factions assumed they would win the September 1992 elections, and when one, UNITA, lost with 40 percent of the vote, it went back to war. "You might say the operation was successful but the patient died," Anstee said, because the Western brokers did not take into account that in many Third World countries "control of the government is the prize ­ there isn't anything else."

When Angola's UNITA rebels went back to war, the U.N. Security Council took a year to apply sanctions, which were not effective, she said. An estimated 300,000 Angolans died in the year following the election. A second brokered peace is in trouble now, she and others speakers said, and the Security Council has issued new sanctions against UNITA.

In his recently published analysis of the "spoilers" of peace agreements and how they were dealt with in five situations, Stedman reported that part of the problem in Angola stemmed from the failure of American officials in Washington to recognize the true character of Jonas Savimbi, the UNITA leader. "Individuals [in the Defense Department and intelligence agencies] who knew Savimbi and had been romanced by him could not bring themselves to find him at fault. Likewise, the negotiators who worked hard to get an agreement could not believe that one of the signatories was rejecting a compromise solution outright," wrote Stedman, who was an observer in Angola at the time. In Rwanda, he wrote, the French government's connections to the former state government was partly responsible for the failure of U.N. management there. The international community dealt effectively with Renamo in Mozambique and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, he concluded, but not with the state government of Cambodia.

"From the beginning, we need to think about an integrated operation of peace-building," said Anstee, who is now a financial consultant to Bolivia. "That means involvement in reconstruction and restoring the possibility of economic and social development, establishing democratic institutions and providing training for a neutral police force."

International actors who bring warring factions to the bargaining table expect them to "turn into boy scouts" after signing an agreement, complained Y.K. Saksena, an Indian general who was the deputy force commander for the U.N. mission in Angola and more recently involved in U.N. planning for Sierra Leone. Disarming soldiers and guerrilla groups is no small task for the military units involved, Saksena said, because no one has an incentive to tell the truth about the numbers involved, and commanders often hold back weapons and troops because they don't trust the other side.

He and Anstee stressed that foot soldiers in civil wars become a problem quickly if implementation does not include provisions for their employment. "Soldiers have patience for about six months" after a peace agreement, Saksena estimated, but become "bandits" soon afterward if no other provisions have been made for them. Soldiers are used to "living off the land and killing to survive in sub-Sahara Africa," Saksena said, so that "totally observer-type peacekeeping missions are no longer feasible there. The observers are vulnerable to becoming hostages" of former fighters.

In his view, he said, international financial organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have more of a role in ensuring implementation of peace agreements than do U.N. "blue helmets" or other military units.

Alvaro de Soto, the U.N. assistant secretary general for political affairs who negotiated the peace agreement in El Salvador, stressed the importance of having only one lead mediator in negotiations ­ someone who is both knowledgeable of the particular conflict and consistently impartial. He also cautioned the international community against expecting mediators to achieve "justice" for victims of war atrocities.

During private sessions of the conference, human rights abuses emerged as one of the "sources of tension," Stedman said afterward. Some of the scholars and diplomats felt human rights violations should be given a higher priority than they have been in the past. "The mediators found that very problematic because they have to make deals with people who have guns and who have committed atrocities, and the implementers have to make them give up their guns," Stedman said.

Those at the negotiating table have "a strong temptation to turn the page and to seek amnesty for themselves," de Soto told the Annenberg Auditorium audience. Whether war criminals are brought to justice or not, he said, "may be less important than addressing the issue and facing the truth of what happened" in the country during the war.

The U.N., he said, has "slightly conflicting mandates." It's peacekeeping values call for its representatives to be neutral and seek the consent of the parties at the table, while its human rights policy calls for combating impunity for human rights violators.

Virtually everyone at the conference agreed that negotiated accords are usually "incomplete, vague and expedient agreements that are bad for implementation," Stedman said.

Said Anstee: "The U.N. works on the basis of political compromise, especially in the Security Council. This leads to ambiguous mandates." She urged a change in direction where the secretary general takes the initiative to present a "strategic, overall policy framework" to the Security Council, which then must act on it. Once the framework is in place, she said, "we need maximum delegation of responsibility to the field."

Nearly everyone at the conference felt that implementers need to be brought into the process before negotiations are complete, Stedman said, in order for them to have a better sense of what has been left out of the written agreement and where various parties are likely to waffle.

"The pattern tends to be that the implementers are completely divorced from the mediators. One set of individuals or states creates an agreement and hands if off to another group," he said. "The situation was a little different with Bosnia, where the Pentagon laid down very restrictive conditions for the negotiators. What was fudged and omitted was the civilian aspects of implementation in the Dayton accords. That was a total hand-off with very little forethought or strategy."

In his recent published analysis of how the international community has tried to handle parties who try to "spoil" a negotiated agreement, Stedman concludes that a "common denominator among the successful cases. . . is unity and coordination among external parties in defining the problem, establishing legitimacy for the strategy and applying the strategy."

In the failed cases he analyzed, Stedman wrote, "no international consensus formed about legitimate and illegitimate solutions to the civil wars." While they talk about having standards, he said, "the member states and many U.N. personnel seldom act like they mean it" when it comes to protecting peace agreements.

The comparison of recent examples, he wrote in the journal International Security, "counters the adage that solutions to internal conflicts must come from the participants themselves. In this study successful management of internal conflict has resulted from the willingness of external actors to take sides as to which demands and grievances are legitimate and which are not." SR

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