Procedural Components of Peace Agreements

Julian Ouellet

September 2004

Peace agreements are composed of structural provisions, which determine WHAT is going to happen, and procedural provisions, which determine HOW peace is to be brought about and maintained. Subsequent essays in this section will discuss Dispute-Resolution Systems, Nation-Building Programs, Monitoring of Agreements, and Election Monitoring. All of these essays represent some aspect of the procedural components of peace agreements. This essay will provide a general overview of all these components.

In the case of interstate war, where there is a clear and decisive winner, the peace process is usually short and relatively problem-free. There are benefits associated with a decisive victory that make peace more sustainable. Chief among them is the ability to disarm and demobilize the opposing side. At the international level, enough states stop fighting and agree to a basic policy of non-interference.

However, at the intrastate level, more is needed. The disputants must find a way to live together with a level of security and justice that is acceptable to everyone. While ending violence is a start, the long-term problems of building infrastructure and wealth and revising the distributive policies of the government must follow if reconciliation and peace are to be achieved.

Table 1 below illustrates the relevance of various procedural components to this long-term goal of creating a peaceful, liberal and just society for both intrastate wars and interstate wars. As can be seen on the left side, timing is important; short-range, mid-range, and long-term issues must be dealt with sequentially (though there should be overlap between the stages).

Table 1
  Interstate Wars Intrastate Wars
Short-Range Concerns Disarmament/Demobilization
Monitoring Agreements
Monitoring Agreements
Dispute Resolution Systems
Mid-Range Concerns Monitoring Agreements Election Monitoring
Monitoring Agreements
Long-Term Issues   Nation Building

Peace Timelines

Caroline Hartzell argues that good peace agreements lay out guidelines and deadlines for the implementation of future measures.[1] Some measures need to be implemented quickly, while others cannot be implemented until earlier stages are completed.

Figure 1, below, illustrates a simplified timeline of conflict and agreement stages. On the left are the beginning stages of conflict in which the conflict emerges, escalates, and becomes violent. Eventually, however, most conflicts de-escalate, and a settlement is reached. That however, is not the end of the conflict---but only, as this chart shows, the midpoint. Agreement implementation is equally as critical as agreement signing. This is where the procedural components come into play, as it is the procedures set out in the agreement that determine HOW the agreement is to be implemented.

As is shown in Figure 1, the first stage of most peace agreements involves disarmament and demobilization. Procedural provisions should designate who is to be disarmed and de-mobilized, at what speed, and what, if anything, is to be done to reintegrate those former combatants into the peaceful societies. Re-integration is key, because without it, former combatants may feel that they were better off during the period of conflict than they are during the new period of peace. In this instance, they may become spoilers, trying to de-rail the peace agreement and go back to the conflict which benefited them more.

Next (but very soon) must come efforts to provide basic security and rebuild the social infrastructure. In the interim period, security will need to be guaranteed by an outside third party. Since economic and physical security are the foundations of successful reconciliation, those issues must be dealt with before the moral and cultural substance of an intractable conflict can be successfully addressed.



A lasting peace is built upon continued acceptance of the terms of the peace agreement. At the same time, the peace agreement must be flexible enough to deal with changing circumstances. Some components need to be long lasting: dispute-resolution systems and nation-building programs must have long-term effects. Ultimately the goal is reconciliation, and the decreasing "salience" of identity as shown above. Agreement monitoring and election monitoring, on the other hand, are short term: they may only be relevant shortly after the peace agreement has been negotiated.

Some processes are that are helpful at one stage, may actually be harmful at another. For example, as Call and Stanley point out, disarmament and demobilization are important early in the peace process, but maintaining strict rules about disarmament and demobilization may cause problems over the long term.[2]

Problems for Long-Term Peace

Stephen Stedman notes that in countries recovering from civil war, the lack of basic security and infrastructure invariably leads to the failure of peace agreements.[3] Rarely is the problem that the parties cannot strike a bargain. Often, the parties reach agreement, but are unable to enforce it. This is where third parties come in.

The Crucial Role of Third Parties

Barbara Walter argues that third parties are able to enforce the terms of a peace agreement that the combatant parties would agree to, but would otherwise be unable to effectively guarantee.[4] Here, we must differentiate from third-party negotiators and third-party guarantors. Commonly, in intractable conflict, we refer to the role of third parties simply in the context of negotiation and mediation. However, often the role of third parties in violent conflict is to force acquiescence.

At a fundamental level, we should recognize the problem of failed states as a loss of the basic monopoly on legitimized violence. Third parties can, when so motivated, help to restore this monopoly. The monopoly on legitimate violence and the means to support that monopoly is critical for every state. Procedural components for peace agreements usually revolve around creating the centralized control that characterizes successful states.

In the act of agreement monitoring, major or regional powers frequently assist with peacekeeping operations. Effective peace agreements detail the manner in which third parties will monitor the agreement and for how long. Third parties play a similar role in election monitoring. In less-developed states, election monitoring may play a crucial role in a stable peace. If the underlying problems in a civil war come down to the distributional justice of the political system, then the elections that determine who controls those decisions become crucial. Separate from the basic role of monitoring agreements is the design of dispute-resolution systems. Third parties may not be required in the design of the dispute-resolution systems, but they are often required during the implementation.

One common problem in enforcing a peace agreement is the presence of spoilers--parties that have an interest in revising the status quo or who profit more from the conflict than the peace.[5] Third-party powers can limit the effectiveness of spoilers because they often have better-trained, better-equipped forces and those same forces can help enforce the processes of dispute resolution.

During the nation-building phase, major or regional powers are usually the crucial component to a sustainable peace. Thus, during the design of the peace agreement, those major powers must agree to the manner and substance of their aid during the nation-building phase. In many cases, for better or for worse, this aid comes from the IMF and the World Bank.[6] As is illustrated in the set of essays on Development and Conflict, aid from these IGOs comes with a lot of strings and many problems. Yet, without aid, failed states are unlikely to be able to succeed at nation building. Developing sound economies, and social and political institutions are all essential if stable peace is to be attained.

[1] Caroline Hartzell, "Peace in Stages: The Role of an Implementation Regime in Nicaragua," in Ending Civil Wars, eds. S. Stedman, D. Rothchild, and E. Cousens (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002), 353.

[2] Charles T. Call and William Stanley, "Civilian Security," in Ending Civil Wars, eds. S. Stedman, D. Rothchild, and E. Cousens (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002), 303.

[3] Stephen Stedman, Implementing Peace Agreements in Civil Wars: Lessons and Recommendations for Policymakers, [article on-line] (accessed 24 April, 2003); available from , Internet.

[4] Barbara Walter, "The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement," International Organization, Vol. 51, No. 3, (Summer, 1997), pp. 335.

[5] Stephen Stedman, "Introduction," in Ending Civil Wars, eds. S. Stedman, D. Rothchild, and E. Cousens (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002), 1. Dowty 1974.

[6] The World Bank Group, "Post-Conflict" [article on-line], accessed on 9 May 2003. Click here for link.

Use the following to cite this article:
Ouellet, Julian. "Procedural Components of Peace Agreements." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2004 <>.

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