Summary of "Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes"

Summary of

Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes

By Stephen John Stedman

This Article Summary written by: Brett Reeder, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Stedman, Stephen John. "Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes," in Stern, Paul C. and Daniel Druckman, eds. International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2000.

In "Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes," Stedman attempts to "...develop a typological theory of spoiler management..." Stedman defines spoilers as "...leaders and parties who believe the emerging peace threatens their power, world view, and interests and who use violence to undermine attempts to achieve it." The article is intended to increase our understanding of spoilers and to aid "custodians of peace" in selecting the most effective strategy to manage them. Stedman defines custodians of peace as " actors whose task is to oversee the implementation of peace agreements" and he views them as "the crucial difference between success and failure of spoilers..."

Stedman's spoiler typology lists four "major problems" associated with spoilers: position, number, type, and locus. Position refers to whether the spoiler is inside or outside of the peace process. Spoilers inside tend to use "strategies of stealth" to undermine the process, while outside spoilers are likely to use overt violence. The number of spoilers is another "major problem." In many cases, there will be more than one spoiler, and each may have to be dealt with differently. Further, a custodian's dealings with one spoiler are likely to affect its dealings with the others.

The third "major problem" concerns the type of goals a spoiler has, as well as its commitment to those goals. Stedman identifies three types of goals: limited, total and greedy. A limited spoiler has very specific and limited goals. In contrast, a total spoiler demands total hegemony over a situation. Greedy spoilers fall in between the two, and have flexible goals that "...expand or contract based on calculations of cost and risk." It is important to keep in mind that a spoiler's commitment to its goals is not necessarily the same as goal type. For example, limited goals may be non-negotiable.

It is possible for spoilers to change types, but this largely depends on the fourth "major problem" -- the locus of the spoiler. The locus refers to the power base, and whether it lies primarily with the leader or the followers. Is the spoiler behavior coming from the leadership, or is it a reflection of the desires of the followers? If the locus is the leadership, a change in spoiler type is possible. However, a follower locus makes such a change much less likely.

These "four problems" associated with spoilers are used to match a spoiler to one of the three strategies for spoiler management: inducement, socialization, and coercion. Inducement is "...taking positive measures to address grievances of factions that obstruct peace." These grievances are usually based on a spoiler's claim that its behavior is based on fear, fairness or justice. When a spoiler is acting out of fear, it will usually demand some sort of physical protection. When acting out of a sense of fairness, it will usually demand material benefits. When acting out of a sense of justice, it tends to demand recognition or legitimacy. Inducement involves providing this security, material benefit or legitimacy and has become the "default strategy," largely because it is often the easiest strategy to implement. Unfortunately, when used improperly, inducement can exacerbate the problem -- as was seen in Cambodia regarding the SOC and in Angola regarding the UNITA.

socialization strategy involves establishing "...a set of norms for acceptable behaviors by parties that commit to peace or seek to join a peace process." This can be a long process and includes "...two components to elicit normatively acceptable behavior." These are the material and the intellectual components. The material component essentially consists of sets of carrots and sticks to reward or punish spoilers based on their behavior in relation to the established norms. The intellectual component consists of "...regular persuasion by custodians of the value of the desired normative behavior." In order for socialization to work, norms must be clearly established and communicated to all stakeholders and must remain consistent over time. The management of RENAMO in Mozambique is an example of such a strategy successfully implemented.

Coercion strategies rely on the threat of punishment. There are several variations of coercive strategies, including: threats, use of force, departing train, and withdrawal. Threats literally threaten a spoiler and demand that it falls in line. The use of force is intended to "defeat" the spoiler with military might. A departing train strategy implies that "...the peace process will go irrevocably forward..." whether the spoiler participates or not. The UN strategy in Cambodia regarding the Khmer Rouge is an example of a successfully implemented departing-train strategy. The withdrawal strategy is precisely the reverse of the departing-train, in which a custodian withdraws if the spoiler refuses to cooperate. This strategy must be implemented with care, as it can lead to tragedy, as was demonstrated in the Rwandan genocide.

Once a custodian has a good understanding of the position, number, type and locus of the spoiler(s), one of the three strategies (inducement, socialization, and coercion) can be appropriately matched to the spoiler. For total spoilers, the use of force or the departing-train are usually the only effective strategies. Inducement may be useful for limited spoilers, but only if their grievances are acceptable to the other stakeholders; otherwise, some level of socialization or coercion may be necessary. However, inducement should never be used with a greedy spoiler, as it is likely to simply "whet its appetite" for further grievances. Depending on the context, some coercion may be necessary, but long-term socialization is the only truly effective strategy for greedy spoilers. These matching rules are only guidelines, as strategies will have to be tailored to the specific context of the conflict.

Effective classification of spoilers allows custodians of peace to properly match their strategies to spoilers. Unfortunately, a custodian's "organizational blinders" often hinder effective classification. These organizational blinders include: prior commitments, doctrine, "holy grails" (overarching single values), organizational interests, and organizational roles. Custodians are people, and, as such, are fallible. But being aware of these potential "blinders" can help custodians to overcome them.

If custodians can effectively overcome potential organizational blinders and choose an appropriate strategy based on a careful diagnosis of the type of spoiler, peace will likely triumph. However, if a spoiler is incorrectly diagnosed and an inappropriate strategy is implemented, peace is likely to fail and lead to a loss of life.

In the first section of the article, Stedman states: "Peace processes create spoilers...Spoilers exist only when there is a peace process to undermine..." Thus, even discussing spoil