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Consequences of Excluding Armed Actors from Peace Negotiations

The following analysis appears in Volume 4, Issue 2 of the Peace Science Digest.

Citation: Ghais, S. (2019). Consequences of excluding armed groups from peace negotiations: Chad and the Philippines. International Negotiation, 24(1), 61–90.

Keywords: negotiations, civil war, peace agreements, rebels, peace negotiations

Negotiating the end to a civil war is a complex process involving many actors and interests. Who gets to negotiate on whose behalf? Who is included and who is excluded? For peace negotiations to be successful and durable, many aspects of the process need to be better understood. The author of this research examines the relationship between armed group inclusion/exclusion and durable peace. She presents two case studies from Chad and the Philippines to test the following theoretical argument: Armed actors excluded from peace negotiations are more likely to renew armed conflict after a peace agreement. Peace processes need to be inclusive, so all parties to the conflict have the opportunity to influence the agreement and address their grievances and interests. The latter typically include self-interested gains such as political leadership roles for rebel leaders, government positions for fighters, and amnesty from prosecution for war crimes. The theory is simple: Those who are included can negotiate those issues. Those who are excluded need to continue tofight to achieve those gains.

The two country case studies were chosen to test this theory of inclusion and exclusion. Both cases were unique in that the government chose to negotiate with one rebel group while excluding another. Groups with the capacity to mobilize significant constituencies and undermine an agreement were considered in the study. The case study in Chad was a conflict over the central government. The case study in the Philippines was a conflict involving a Muslim separatist movement in a Christian-majority country.

The author develops the following model on the inclusion and exclusion of armed groups. Armed groups included in negotiations advocate for their self-interests/private benefits, moderate their stances, and remain committed to the agreement reached. Armed groups excluded from negotiations lack this commitment, remain with their unresolved grievances, and therefore are motivated to continue their armed actions.

Figure 1 Causal mechanism: Inclusion/exclusion of armed groups in peace negotiations

Both cases ended up supporting the author’s model. In Chad, included and excluded rebel groups had the same grievances and goal. Those who were included in the peace process (the Movement for Democracy and Justice) reached a compromise with the government once they had a place at the table. Those who were excluded (the National Resistance Alliance) resumed armed action. The case in the Philippines also provided strong support for the basic theory. One of the groups excluded from the negotiations launched a military assault as a sign of protest against their exclusion.

The primary finding from this research is that the exclusion of some rebel groups from peace negotiations can perpetuate a civil war. Even if it seems logical to follow a two-party negotiation process for the sake of simplicity, including all groups from the outset of negotiations is more effective. That way, those who might otherwise be excluded will participate in a peace process rather than return to their military strategy.

Contemporary Relevance:

The importance of good and lasting peace agreements cannot be overemphasized. Peace agreements are the beginning of complex, difficult, and long-term processes toward reconciliation after the violence of (civil) war. If we consider current armed conflicts such as Syria, Yemen, Somalia, or Mali, it is understandable that a quick resolution to stop the killing and end the suffering would be front and center of any peacemaking efforts. Any steps in this direction should be supported. Although we might assume that a simpler peace process with fewer parties at the table would more quickly result in halting the violence, an inclusive peace negotiation and a speedy end to the fighting may not be mutually exclusive. It is within the power of the parties to the conflict and those who can exert outside influence on them to initiate more inclusive processes that are more likely to lead to committed peace negotiations and follow-through should agreements be reached. Otherwise, it is too easy to fall back into cycles of violence.

While agreements are the outcomes of negotiation processes, they must be viewed as steps within broader conflict trajectories. Peace agreements must be designed to normalize relationships between fighting parties and ultimately contribute toreconciliation. As the research has shown, negotiations unfortunately don’t always follow this good process. Those designing peace negotiations should consider the research discussed here as they weigh the inclusion and exclusion of certain parties in the process.

Talking Points:

  • The exclusion of some rebel groups from peace negotiations can perpetuate civil war, rather than hastening a resolution.
  • Based on research, we can theorize that when armed groups are included innegotiations, they negotiate for their self-interests/private benefits, moderatetheir stances, and remain committed to the agreements reached.
  • Based on research, we can theorize that when armed groups are excluded from negotiations, they lack commitment to the process and agreements, remainwith their unresolved grievances, and are motivated to use violence to reach their goals.

Practical Implications:

Excluding actors from negotiation is contradictory to the basic definition of the process. A “Negotiation is the process whereby the parties within the conflict seek to settle or resolve their conflicts.” If not all major parties in a specific conflict can participate in some form, the process itself is already flawed. Major parties are those that need to be involved in ending the conflict or who can sustain or reignite it.

At the very least, the parties need to be communicating. While not always considered part of the official negotiation process, informal communication between the parties — beyond simple threats and insults — already constitutes a form of negotiation, even if it simply entails talking about how to officially negotiate. Often the nature of a conflict and the perceived wrong-doings by adversaries might not always allow for direct negotiation. We must remember that the conflicting parties’ constituencies are a major influence on them. In other words, they have to achieve and maintain their legitimacy by responding to their constituents while at the same time tryingto engage their “enemies” constructively. Therefore, creative efforts transcending the official peace negotiations need to be pursued as well —whether sports or cultural exchanges or economic collaboration — where hostilities can be reduced outside of the official negotiation context. The former brings humans together around shared interests, whereas the latter often starts off with parties in locked-in positions. Creativity in building peace can be found by adopting a moral imagination as explained by peace scholar and practitioner John Paul Lederach. Conflict resolution practitioners should imagine people “in a web of relationships that includes [their] enemies,” foster the understanding of others as an opportunity rather than a threat, pursue the creative process “as the wellspring that feeds the building of peace,” and “risk stepping into the mystery of the unknown” landscape beyond violence.

Continued Reading:

Hauenstein, M., & Joshi, M. (2019, February 13). Framework deal: A long-term path to peace in Afghanistan. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from 

Kaplan, O. (2014, January 27). Peace prospects for the Philippines. Retrieved April 22, 2019.

Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. (2018). State of implementation of the Colombia Peace Agreement: Report two. December 1, 2016 – May 31,2018 (No. 2). South Bend. 

Organizations/Initiatives:

Peace Accord Matrix by Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

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