Monitoring of Agreements

Julian Ouellet

November 2003

The key issues that must be designed into an agreement are standardized measures of compliance, transparency, methods of sharing information, and fluidity in enforcement mechanisms.

In many international agreements, from the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions to the 1993 Arusha Accords on peace in Rwanda, there are strong incentives to not comply with the agreement. (The Prisoner's Dilemma is a good metaphor for these situations.) There are several ways of overcoming these problems. One is to use third parties, who help ensure successful negotiations and can later help monitor and verify compliance with an agreement. This essay focuses on monitoring agreements, and methods that help ensure compliance with an agreement.

What is monitoring?

Peace agreements can be lethal instruments when they are poorly designed and poorly enforced. For example, the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda occurred after the failure of the Arusha Accords, partially because of an inability to monitor the terms of the agreement.[1]

One key to the ability to enforce a peace agreement is the design of the agreement itself. One cannot separate the terms of peace from the realization of those terms, so provisions for monitoring peace agreements are quite important.[2] According to Boulden, monitoring should be divided into two distinct areas:[3]

  1. monitoring, which can be either highly generalized or highly directed actions to gather information, and
  2. verification, "the process by which compliance of the parties to the terms of [peace] accords is judged."

Confusingly, according to Boulden, both monitoring and verification are sub-definitions of monitoring. A third sub-definition of monitoring, as information gathering, will be referred to as observation.

We can think of monitoring in terms of increasing levels of involvement:

  • At the lowest level, observation, we have pure passive watching and inspection. At this level, monitors lack the mandate to judge the actions of the parties being monitored; they simply observe what is going on.
  • As involvement increases, monitors will begin to judge, to verify compliance with the treaty. In this situation, parties may not only observe actions in relation to the agreement, but also judge and report violations. This is verification.
  • The last level, one that Boulden does not refer to, is enforcement. At this level, monitoring of an agreement involves not merely observing and compliance with the treaty, but also enforcing the terms of the agreement through positive and negative incentives.

In this context, how is agreement monitoring actually realized? We can look at types of involvement, but we should also explore the specific monitoring provisions that can stabilize an agreement.

Why do we need it?

Additional insights into the monitoring of agreements are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

Monitoring and verification can be understood in multiple contexts. At the international level, monitoring can apply to everything from environmental and trade agreements to peace agreements. However, provisions for monitoring will be remarkably similar from one agreement to another.

At all levels of involvement, one of the chief strengths of monitors -- be they third-parties or otherwise -- is to increase the amount of information shared among the parties. It is generally thought that rational people, sharing information, will be better able to agree and coordinate actions than those in information-poor environments.[4] After violent conflicts, when trust and information are scarce, it is easier for mediators to increase trust by increasing information flow, than vice versa.

How is monitoring done?

There are no hard and fast rules for designing monitoring agreements. If one looks at environmental agreements, one will find a plethora of methods and rules for monitoring, verification, and enforcement, but it is not clear that these rules apply to peace agreements or trade agreements. Likewise, looking at peace agreements does not immediately inform an environmentalist about methods of monitoring agreements. If one is looking for generalized rules for how to monitor, verify, or enforce agreements, it is difficult to find a comprehensive and generalized source.

It is helpful to compare issue areas, and to generalize some rules of thumb for designing monitoring procedures. Table 1 compares rules for monitoring environmental standards, as laid out by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, to rules laid out by the U.N. Peacekeeping Operations for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration. While this comparison is far from comprehensive, it provides good examples of tasks that might be included in monitoring procedures.

Environmental Monitoring Standards5 Disarmament & Demobilization Monitoring Standards6 Generalized Monitoring Rules
Transparent and open communication of information Develop monitoring plans prior to implementation Transparency
Respect mandates and jurisdictions Disputant parties have right to oversee monitoring Open involvement of all parties
Shared responsibility for implementation Military observers used for D&D; Civilian police monitors for public security Third-party access to, provision of, verification of data regarding compliance
Timely sharing of data between parties Verify compliance by
  • Data cross-checking
  • Reporting non-compliance
  • Supplementary action by sanctioned military forces in search, seizure, and destruction
Open access to and cross-checking of data by all involved parties.
Third-party access to data Cross-check data with disputant parties and independent sources Use open and standardized measures for compliance
Protection of proprietary information Procedures should be transparent Take active role against spoilers
Use of scientific standards Flexible methods: shift between self-enforcement and search & seizure Allow fluid shift between observation, verification, and enforcement roles
Standardized data and data management Persistent non-compliance should be referred to joint monitoring commission containing representatives from disputant parties
Public accountability; transparency Include disincentives for non-compliance
Reciprocal notice in case of termination Forcibly disarm spoilers
  Grant amnesty period
Institute rules & procedures for bearing arms

The guidelines summarized in the third column represent basic priorities that are important to most agreements. In particular, monitoring agreements require the transparency, flexibility, and level of communication implied by those guidelines.

Peacekeeper Monitoring and Verification

Verifying disarmament and demobilization can sometimes move beyond simple observation of the combatants' following the provisions of the peace agreement, to the active pursuit of compliance with the peace agreement.[5] Second-generation peacekeepers are defined by their ability to move beyond observation roles and toward active intervention. They are more likely to be actively involved, not just monitoring disarmament and demobilization, but in aiding the process. For example, NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina undertook enforcement as well observation and verification.[6] One requirement of the Bosnian ceasefire was the withdrawal of Serbian national troops from Bosnia. Bombing commenced when Serbia failed to withdraw, and the NATO mission role changed from passive observers to active combatants, using military intervention for enforcement of the peace agreement.

Self-Enforcement and the WTO

In trade unions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), monitoring is often self-enforcing. That is, the WTO itself is theoretically neutral -- it pursues justice through international law -- and it is in the best interest of every state and industry to monitor the practices of its competitors. In a state of perfect competition, it is in the interest of each actor to cheat and to catch cheaters. Put more simply, in any situation it is logical to maximize your ability to benefit from breaking the rules, while preventing your opponent from doing the same. The WTO, and the structure of competition within it, essentially encourages all participants to report others' noncompliance with basic agreements.

Yet trade agreements, while certainly contentious, do not hold the same risks as peace agreements. The failure of a trade agreement does not lead to war in the same way that the failure of a peace agreement does. Thus, while self-enforcement is one method of monitoring agreements, it is only useable in areas of low-intensity conflict with minimal risk of violent reprisal. Because trade agreements lack outside observers and enforcement mechanisms, they are also difficult to enforce. This can be seen in the attempt to control the trade in "conflict" diamonds.[7] In the case of the WTO, while monitoring is self-enforced, sanctions and judgments are handed down by the WTO itself. Put more generally, even in self-enforcing monitoring agreements, an outside source may be required to enforce sanctions based on verified violations.

Environmental Monitoring Problems and the Kyoto Protocol

It is difficult for environmental agreements to be self-enforcing because of the nexus of actors involved. Corporations, interest groups, and other non-governmental organizations are important not only in communicating information, but in actually designing and implementing the agreements. Environmental agreements are difficult to enforce and monitor, for the same reasons that they are difficult to agree to. Agreements involving multiple and diverse actors tend to be more difficult to monitor because they create a multiplicity of interpretations and enforcement protocols. Effective agreements will specify in their design the means of enforcement and the standards by which compliance is judged.[8]

The success of the Montreal Protocol and the failure of the Kyoto Protocol are two illustrations of this basic principle. One reason that the Montreal Protocol was successful was that there was a basic agreement on the severity of the problem and the requirements for successfully dealing with the problem. Widespread agreement on the issue can lead to widespread agreement on the methods of monitoring and enforcement. In the end with environmental issues, the agreements must largely be self-monitored within each nation. Another important issue associated with the success of the Montreal Protocol is the relatively low cost of compliance.

We can see in the Kyoto Protocol a fundamental failure on all of these accounts. The scope and nature of the problem, carbon-dioxide emissions, is widely disagreed upon. If agreement on the problem is impossible, agreement on how to monitor compliance to any ameliorative agreement is certain to be impossible as well. Additionally complying with the agreement imposes high economic costs for both developing and developed countries, making compliance unlikely and monitoring difficult.

Two Implementation Regimes

Timing is also an important issue in monitoring. In designing monitoring plans, as agreements overall, one must choose between single-stage and multi-stage implementation. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Single-stage implementation is less susceptible to spoilers, but more likely to fail in intractable conflicts. It is an all-or-nothing proposition; the peace agreement will either work and be implemented accordingly, or it will fail. Multi-stage agreements allow more flexibility in terms of content and trust building, but because of their extended time frame, they allow much more room for spoilers to disrupt the process.


Formal agreements are generated when cooperation is necessary and communication and trust are scarce. Low levels of trust and communication are also the conditions most likely to sabotage the agreement. Monitoring agreements is one way to build trust and communication while enacting the provisions of an agreement.

The key issues that must be designed into an agreement are standardized measures of compliance, transparency, methods of sharing information, and fluidity in enforcement mechanisms. Parties must agree on what constitutes compliance. They must also be transparent not only in collecting data, but in compiling and judging the meaning of the data that they collect. The data must be shared with all involved parties. An effective agreement will also be able to move fluidly between observation, verification, and enforcement as needed.

Lastly, different conflicts require different time horizons for successful implementation. As levels of intractability rise, it becomes more necessary to extend the time horizon of the implementation regime. However, as the time horizon extends to multi-stage processes, the threat of spoilers and stagnation increases. Agreement monitoring is vital to a successful agreement, but the guidelines for implementation will vary as the level of intractability increases or decreases.

[1] Khadiagala, Gilbert. "Implementing the Arusha Peace Agreement on Rwanda," in Stephen John Stedman (Editor), Donald Rothchild (Editor), Elizabeth M. Cousens (Editor) Ending Civil Wars. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers; (December 2002)

[2] James, Alan. The Politics of Peace-Keeping (New York: Praeger Press, 1969).

[3] Boulden, Jane. The Verification and Monitoring of Peace Accords. United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. Available at:

[4] Milner, Helen. Interests, institutions, and information: domestic politics and international relations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

[5] Peacekeeping Tasks. John Hopkins University: Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Johns Hopkins University: Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Conflict Management Program. Available at:

[6] Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-Combatants (op. cit.)

[7] "Blood Diamonds are For Never," available at:, and "Conflict Diamonds: Sanctions and War" available at (No longer available on UN website. See Levy, Arthur V. (2003) "Diamonds and Conflict: Problems and Solutions," Chapter 4 for UN General Assembly Resolution on "Conflict Diamonds." Available at: )

[8] CCME Statement (op. cit.)

Use the following to cite this article:
Ouellet, Julian. "Monitoring of Agreements." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: November 2003 <>.

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