16 May

What is a peace process?

Posted By Politybooks

Jon-TongeThe term peace process has become widely used to describe efforts to manage and resolve conflicts. Yet the term is slippery and imprecise. What, exactly, constitutes a peace process? How do we quantify peace and distinguish it from the mere absence of violence? Can we recognise the start and endpoints of a peace process? Why do some processes succeed and others fail? My book Comparative Peace Processes attempts to address these questions.

The inspiration from the book arose from the seeming lack of clear answers to these questions. I recall the BBC reporter Jeremy Bowen once commenting that if there were two words he would ban from the vocabulary of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would be ‘peace’ and ‘process’ as neither were in place. Yet episodic attempts at resolving the conflict persist and the label has endured. Other intractableconflicts have been more successfully managed. Arguably there is no such thing as conflict without end, a problem which cannot at least be partially resolved.

Comparative Peace Processes offers an upbeat analysis of the growing sophistication of political prescriptions which can be used to diminish or eliminate conflict. The range of measures, such as: consociation, cantonisation, confederalism, partition, devolution, have grown in sophistication, range and applicability. Peace-making has grown in scope and capability, as part of a process of policy-learning. It has also grown in applicability as the vast bulk of conflicts have become internal, ethno-national or ethno-religious clashes. Peacemakers apply their conflict-amelioration skills across a wide range of regions.

However, the book is certainly not based upon liberal utopianism. It is sympathetic to Realist perceptions that ultimate political outcomes may often be shaped by military fortunes and the willingness of states to compromise. The choice of case studies reflects mixed approaches to peace processes.These range from the pursuit of outright victory over opponents pursued, to very different levels and in markedly varying contexts, by the Sri Lankan and Spanish governments, to the forensically detailed processes of negotiation undertaken by the British government in the case of Northern Ireland.

The Israeli-Palestinian case highlights the problems of the absence of trust and the lack of an honest broker; the Lebanese study demonstrates how sec-building can triumph over state-building in consociational cases, whilst the Bosnian example shows how a subtle interplay of consociation and confederalism can begin to repair the damage of vicious secessionist struggles.

Finally, the book emphasises how the study of peace processes needs to continue to develop well beyond the grandstanding of the ‘big agreement’. Research needs to focus increasingly upon issues of implementation. These cover aspects of decommissioning and demilitarisation, but extend well beyond. Restorative justice for the families of victims, or more retributive measures, such as punishment for perpetrators,are peace process ‘essentials’, but too often are an afterthought amid the concentration upon securing the deal. The consequences for long-term peace and security can be severe and the book makes a plea for a less blinkered approach to the shaping of peace.