Summary of "Reframing the Spoiler Debate in Peace Processes"

Summary of

Reframing the Spoiler Debate in Peace Processes

by Marie-Joelle Zahar

Summary written by: Brett Reeder, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: "Reframing the Spoiler Debate in Peace Processes", in Contemporary Peacemaking: Conflict, Violence and Peace Processes. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

"Reframing the Spoiler Debate in Peace Processes" seeks to redirect the research and analysis of spoilers (using Stephen John Steadman's definition: "...leaders who believe that peace threatens their power, worldview, and interests, and use violence to undermine attempts to achieve it"). Zahar begins her chapter by quickly explaining Steadman's typology of spoilers in which classification is based on two dimensions: their goals (limited or total) and their commitment to the achievement of these goals (high or low). Zahar views this "...classification attempt as evidence that spoiler tactics and objectives can change in the course of a peace process" and this prompted her to ask "what affects spoiler tactics and objectives?" While Zahar sees Steadman's typology as a "useful descriptive tool" she argues that it does not help to "...elucidate this question.", which she views as central to the task of understanding spoilers and "spoiler management."

According to Zahar spoilers change their tactics and objectives as either their motivation to spoil and/or the perceived cost of acting as a spoiler changes. She goes on to argue that Steadman's inside/outside distinction is directly related to a potential spoiler's motivation and perception of the costs of spoiling. This distinction refers to the fact that some spoilers are parties to peace negotiations and others are not. That is, inside spoilers emerge from within a peace agreement by reneging on their promises, while outside spoilers were never involved in the negotiation process in the first place.

Those inside a peace agreement have the ability to express their demands and are usually afforded guarantees of political representation. This provides some motivation to conform to their commitments, but these parties may decide to engage in spoiler activity because they don't trust the other parties (a "credible commitment" problem) or because the peace process fails to live up to their expectations. On the other hand those outside an agreement may view peace as a threat to their legitimate existence (possibly one based on violent resistance). Further, many outside spoilers face the possibility of losing the financial spoils of war and cannot expect that agreements will respect their demands (since they have not direct input). Thus, inside spoilers are motivated to spoil because the peace process is not meeting their expectations (or it was a strategic move all along and peace was never their intention), but outside spoilers are motivated to spoil because peace is a direct challenge to their very existence.

Whether a potential spoiler is inside or outside of an agreement is also directly related to a potential spoilers perception of the costs associated with spoiler activity which consists of costs associated with the resumption of fighting and costs associated with the loss of peace dividends. The resumption of fighting has direct military costs as well as international audience costs, or cost related to a factions reputation in the international community. Costs associated with the loss of peace dividends include the potential loss of political representation in the future regime as well as the loss of financial assets through control of, or privileged access to, the resources of the state. For parties inside a peace agreement these are all costs to consider, but for parties outside the agreement Zahar claims, "...the only cost to consider is that of a military escalation."

In "Reframing the Spoiler Debate in Peace Processes," Zahar begins with the work of Steadman, but argues that his spoiler typology is incapable of describing why spoilers change their objective and tactics. Though she does not fully answer this challenge herself, she points out that changes in motivation and in the perceived costs of spoilage activities directly affect the tactics and objectives of potential spoilers. She concludes by suggesting more research is done on the inside/outside distinction and that any future attempt to develop a spoiler typology start with two fundamental questions: "Why do actors want to spoil the process?" and "How do they asses the costs and benefits of spoiling?"