Peace Process: on Substantive Definition

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2022-66-9-5-18
E. Stepanova,
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation.

Received 15.05.2022. Revised 25.05.2022. Accepted 24.06.2022

Abstract. Prevailing formal, technical definition of the “peace process” reduces it to a more or less linear sequence of peace agreements. Such definitions lack substance and do not fully account for realities of contemporary conflicts and conflict management. Nor does empirical evidence support inherently positive interpretations of the notion of the “peace process” that are still widespread and create heightened expectations about such processes’ outcomes. During past four decades, two thirds of armed conflicts lacked any peace process. In the first two decades of the 21st century, negotiated outcomes accounted for just a quarter of all conflict outcomes. Nor do peace processes, launched due to war and mostly during war, require or quickly lead to sustained secession of fire that is more likely to take place at the later stages of the process. Realities of contemporary peace processes hardly match any “ideal model” of a linear process that leads to a comprehensive peace agreement. Full and final peace agreements are becoming less frequent, while on-and-off, nonlinear, parallel, fragmented negotiations, ceasefires, partial and local agreements proliferate. The very notion of a peace process as a mere sequence of formal written agreements is inadequate, even as individual agreements are easier to identify, code and count in respective datasets. The article argues that the way to define a peace process, identify and distinguish it from other conflict-related negotiations and contacts requires qualitative analysis of its substance. It inspects and revises two basic substantive criteria of the “peace process” definition that deal with what the parties are talking about and who the negotiating parties are. Unlike technical contacts or ceasefires, peace processes are not mainly about discussing forms and methods of warfare or its humanitarian symptoms, but are primarily centered on dialogue between conflict parties on key underlying incompatibilities over which the conflict has been fought. Such incompatibilities always have a political dimension (socio-political, ideological, related to ethnic/religious/socio-cultural identity, political economy, and international (geo)politics). The article suggests to place the main focus on the peace process rather than on individual agreements as its (interim) products. It also argues for making the need to address key incompatibilities at dispute a sine qua non criterion for any negotiations to qualify for a peace process. This allows to distinguish peace processes from more technical talks and most ceasefires, to account for a broader range of substantive negotiation formats (including initiatives that did not lead to an agreement), and to identify when a peace process starts (whenever talks on key contested incompatibilities begin). Decline in sustained, comprehensive, final peace agreements coupled with the rise in ceasefires, temporary partial agreements and locally negotiated deals do not necessarily imply decline in, or marginalization of, peace processes. On the contrary, this only underscores the imperative of handling a focused, substantive negotiation process over feverish “race for agreements” that are often premature or externally imposed upon the conflict parties. The second mandatory definitional criterion pertains to which armed actors’ involvement is principal or decisive for settling key incompatibilities and which ones could be sidelined and further marginalized with no major detriment to the peace process. The former include main military actors, with major presence on the ground and a degree of social support. These actors cannot be substituted for by international stakeholders/mediators or civil society groups. A negotiation format that ignores the principle “one does not choose one’s enemy/negotiation protagonist” and fails to directly involve representatives of the main protagonists on the ground hardly qualifies for a peace process. Fragmentation of violence and proliferation of non-state actors in modern conflicts further actualize the need to set certain limits for the peace process’s inclusiveness and distinguish key parties from smaller, more local or ultra-radical, irreconcilable actors. While a degree of armed actor’s social support is important, a decisive parameter is often an armed actor’s overall, especially military, potential sufficient to destabilize any peace process that it is not part of. At the same time, the range of potential participants in peace processes could also be reasonably broadened, especially with regard to non-state actors, to better reflect evolving conflict patterns. This could be done by extending the notion of peace processes to include substantive talks not only with, but also between major non-state actors. Local agreements and ceasefires could also sometimes be seen as part of a peace process, but only provided they are to some degree related to the conflict’s key political incompatibilities. Overall, a peace process should neither be seen as an end in itself to be achieved at any price, nor downgraded to a category secondary to a peace agreement. Of key relevance for defining and identifying a peace process is its substance, inclusiveness, and pertinence to central issues contested by military means. The article postulates and attests the primacy of (a) qualitative criteria and analysis for adequate definition of a peace process and (b) a category of “peace process” over peace/ceasefire agreements.

Keywords: peace processes, negotiations, peace agreements, ceasefires, armed conflicts, conflict outcomes


  1. Said E.W. Peace and Its Discontents: Essays on Palestine in the Middle East Peace Process. New York, Vintage Books, 1996. 188 p.
  2. Cordell K., O’Leary B., Wolff S., eds. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Politics of Stalemate. (The Association for the Study of Nationalities). Abingdon, Routledge, 2019. 142 p.
  3. Asseburg M. The One-State Reality in Israel/Palestine: A Challenge for Europe and Other Parties Interested in Constructive Conflict Transformation. Pathways to Peace and Security, 2021, no. 2 (61), pp. 96-109. DOI: 10.20542/2307-1494-2021-2-96-109
  4. Witbeck J. Peace, process or worse. Al-Ahram Weekly, 1999, no. 461, pp. 23-29.
  5. Zartman I.W., ed. Elusive Peace: Negotiating an End to Civil Wars. Washington, DC, Brookings Institution, 1995. 353 p.
  6. Saunders H.H. Sustained Dialogue in Conflicts: Transformation and Change. New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 312 p.
  7. Brewer J.D. Peace Processes. International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Wright J.D., ed. 2nd ed. Oxford, Elsevier, 2015, pp. 648-653. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.96043-4
  8. Petersson T., Hogbladh S., Oberg M. Organized Violence, 1989–2018, and Peace Agreements. Journal of Peace Research, 2019, vol. 56, no. 4, pp. 589-603. DOI: 10.1177/0022343319856046
  9. Högbladh S. Peace Agreements in Armed Conflicts: Focusing on Finding a Solution to the Conflict Incompatibility. Pathways to Peace and Security, 2021, no. 2 (61), pp. 11-23. DOI: 10.20542/2307-1494-2021-2-11-23
  10. Stepanova E.A. Armed conflicts in the early 21st century: Typology and directions of transformation. World Economy and International Relations, 2020, vol. 64, no. 6, pp. 24-39. (In Russ.) Available at: 
  11. Sticher V., Vukovic S. Bargaining in Intrastate Conflicts: The Shifting Role of Ceasefires. Journal of Peace Research, 2021, vol. 58, no. 6, pp. 1284-1299. DOI: 10.1177/0022343320982658
  12. Badanjak S. The PA-X Peace Agreement Database: Reflections on Documenting the Practice of Peacemaking. Pathways to Peace and Security, 2021, no. 2 (61), pp. 24-42. DOI: 10.20542/2307-1494-2021-2-24-42
  13. Kapshuk Y. Conceptual Ambiguity in Coding the Categories of Peace Agreement and Peace Process. Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, 2021, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 3-27. DOI: 10.1515/peps-2020-0003
  14. Bell C., Badanjak S., Beujouan J., Epple T., Forster R. et al. PA-X Peace Agreements Database and Dataset, Version 4. 1990-June 2021. Edinburgh, Political Settlements Research Programme, University of Edinburgh, 2021. 71 p. Available at: (accessed 10.03.2022).
  15. Darby J., MacGinty R. Contemporary Peacemaking: Conflict, Violence and Peace Processes. Houndsmills, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 296 p.
  16. Harbom L., Högbladh S., Wallensteen P. Armed Conflict and Peace Agreements. Journal of Peace Research, 2006, vol. 43, no. 5, pp. 617-631. DOI: 10.1177/0022343306067613
  17. Ghais S. Inclusivity in Peace Processes: Civil Society and Armed Groups. Contemporary Peacemaking: Peace Processes, Peacebuilding and Conflict. Mac Ginty R., Wanis-St.John A., eds. Cham, Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, pp. 235-259.
  18. Chufrin G., Saunders H. A Public Peace Process. Negotiation Journal, 1993, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 155-177. DOI: 10.1111/j.1571-9979.1993.tb00698.x


  1. Principles of Peacekeeping. United Nations Peacekeeping. Available at: (accessed 30.04.2022).
  2. Terminology. United Nations Peacekeeping. Available at: (accessed 30.04.2022).
  3. The Decline in Global Violence: Evidence, Explanation and Contestation. Human Security Research Group Report. Simon Fraser University. Vancouver, Human Security Press, 2013. 118 p. Available at: (accesses 01.05.2022).
  4. UCDP Peace Agreement Dataset, Version 22.1. 1975–2021. Uppsala Conflict Data Program. Department of Peace and Conflict Research. Uppsala University (Sweden). Available at: (accessed 18.07.2022).
  5. Human Security Report 2012. Human Security Research Group Report. Vancouver, Human Security Press, 2012. 230 p. Available at: (accessed 01.05.2022).
  6. UCDP Conflict Termination Dataset Version 3–2021. 1946–2020. Uppsala Conflict Data Program. Department of Peace and Conflict Research. Uppsala University (Sweden). Available at: (accessed 30.04.2022).
  7. UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset, Version 21.1. 1946–2020. Uppsala Conflict Data Program. Department of Peace and Conflict Research. Uppsala University (Sweden); Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) (Norway). Available at: (accessed 10.03.2022).
  8. PA-X Peace Agreements Database and Dataset, Version 6. 1990–April 2022. Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP), The University of Edinburgh. Available at: (accessed 18.07.2022).
  9. Peace Accords Matrix (PAM). Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame. Available at: (accessed 10.03.2022).
  10. Definitions. Department of Peace and Conflict Research. Uppsala University (Sweden). Available at: (accessed 10.03.2022).
  11. PA-Local: Peace Agreement Dataset (Local Agreements). Political Settlements Research Programme, The University of Edinburgh. Available at: (accessed 18.07.2022).

Registered in System SCIENCE INDEX

For citation:
Stepanova E. Peace Process: on Substantive Definition. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2022, vol. 66, no. 9, pp. 5-18.

Comments (0)

No comments

Add comment






Dear authors! Please note that in the VAK List of peer-reviewed scientific journals, in which the main scientific results of dissertations for the degree of candidate and doctor of sciences should be published for the “MEMO Journal” the following specialties are recorded:
economic sciences:
5.2.5. World Economy.
5.2.1. Economic Theory
5.2.3. Regional and Branch Economics
political sciences:
5.5.4. International Relations
5.5.1. History and Theory of Politics
5.5.2. Political Institutions, Processes, Technologies


Current Issue
2024, vol. 68, No. 5
Topical Themes of the Issue:
  • Are There Any Ways to Break Through the Korean Nuclear Impasse?
  • Contemporary U.S. Taiwan Policy: Balancing on the Edge
  • The Gulf Monarchies’ Vision of the Global Order Transformations and the Russian Place in It
  • At Post-Soviet Space
Submit an Article
The Editorial Board invites authors to write analytical articles on the following topics:
  • changes in the processes of globalization in modern conditions
  • formation of the new world order
  • shifts in civilization at the stage of transition to a digital society

The editors are also interested in publishing synthesis articles / scientific reviews revealing the main trends in the development of certain regions of the world - Latin America, Africa, South Asia, etc.