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
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