Beyond Intractability
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Failed Peacemaking Efforts Stage
Louis Kriesberg

September 2003

As conflicts escalate, efforts to interrupt and transform the conflict are likely to occur if some partisans see the course of action as self-destructive or mutually destructive. Intractability is avoided by stopping the violent eruptions, which if they continued, would block constructive or tractable ways of proceeding. For example, in Canada during the 1960s, the Quebec separatist movement was growing rapidly, and the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ), a tiny Maoist organization, carried out bombings and robberies.[1] In October 1970, these actions culminated in the kidnapping of two public officials, one of whom was killed. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, and the FLQ was outlawed. Subsequently, violence as a means of winning independence was generally repudiated by advocates of Quebec's independence, and the separatist movement has since relied on elections and negotiations instead.

External actors also may intervene to interrupt what appears to be an increasingly intractable conflict. This intervention may take the form of imposing arms embargoes or economic sanctions, or of conducting quiet or forceful mediation of imposed ceasefires. Appropriate well-timed interventions can be helpful, but interventions often fail to end or transform intractable conflicts. Some interventions freeze the conflict, ending violent efforts to change the status quo, as happened with the U.N. peacekeeping intervention in Cyprus.

The repeated failure of one adversary to impose an ending, the failure of parties to negotiate an ending after making efforts to do so, and the failure of external intervention to stop or transform the conflict confirm its intractability. Often these failures discourage new attempts and create a burden of mistrust to be overcome. Consequently, the struggle continues, although perhaps at a low level and with no overt physically injurious conduct. Sometimes, the conflict persists with violent exchanges and occasional large-scale outbreaks of violence, as in the case of recurrent Indian-Pakistani conflict over the control of Kashmir.

The failure to sustain an agreement that was reached is a severe setback to the transformation of an intractable conflict. Supporters of the agreement, who come to believe that the other side violated the agreement, feel deceived, even betrayed, and are less trusting of any future accord. Such failures in Sri Lanka, the Sudan, and in many other places attest to this experience. The consequences of the failures of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to adhere to the agreements they made after the signing of the Declaration of Principles in September 1993, and the subsequent explosion of violence, profoundly embittered nearly everyone associated with the peace process.[2]

The failures affect each side's identity and reinforce their stereotypical perceptions of the enemy. Members of each side tend to view themselves as virtuous and the enemy as duplicitous. New grievances are sometimes added to the old ones. Goals may be set, which are intended to avoid such failures in the future. For some people, the response is to emphasize even more coercive methods to impose adherence to any future agreement.

[1] K. McRoberts, Quebec: Social Change and Political Crisis (Toronto: McCelland & Stewart), 1988.

[2] Louis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Resolution, 2nd Edition (Rowman & Littlefield), 2002.

Use the following to cite this article:
Kriesberg, Louis. "Failed Peacemaking Efforts Stage." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <>.

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