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SRSG mediation in civil wars: revisiting the "spoiler" debate.

In transitions from war to peace, mediators and other foreign interveners identify "spoilers" as one of the main threats to peace processes. Profiling would-be spoilers and developing appropriate typologies to prevent them from using violence has become prevailing wisdom at the United Nations and beyond. This article argues that the spoiler typology has limited utility as a tool to guide the action of mediators and help them devise winning strategies. It asserts that there are no fixed spoiler types; actors' propensity to use violence depends on conditions that affect their capability and their opportunity structure, It uses the twin notions of capability and opportunity to identify ripe situations for mediation and for peace implementation. It also utilizes these notions to reflect on the appropriateness of various strategies that the international community can use in its attempt to bring about peace to war-torn countries. The article suggests that it is not actors, but contexts, that need to be profiled. Furthermore, international custodians do not simply react to situations; they have a profound impact on shaping the opportunity structure of civil war actors, and their willingness to implement policies that increase the cost of violence goes a long way toward determining whether or not local actors will use violence. KEYWORDS: spoilers, violence, mediation, civil wars.


EXPERIENCE HAS DEMONSTRATED THAT ONE OF THE GREATEST RISKS TO mediation comes from parties who believe that peace threatens their interests (e.g., their power or the benefit they derive from the war economy) and who then use violence to undermine the process. (1) This statement encapsulates current wisdom about the manner in which the international community, particularly UN-appointed mediators, should engage "spoilers." Should UN mediators engage actors who use violence to derail peace processes--like Jonas Savimbi or Radovan Karadzic--in their search for a negotiated solution? Based on the groundbreaking work of Stephen J. Stedman, the spoiler research program put forth two key policy implications for UN mediation in civil wars. Peace processes, it argued, hinge on: (1) a correct diagnosis of spoilers; and (2) an appropriate management strategy. Whereas some spoilers could be convinced, cajoled, or coerced into joining the peace process, others (dubbed "total spoilers") could not and should not be engaged with. The difference between total spoilers and other types of spoilers resides in the combination of two factors: (1) an unwavering attachment to "total goals," goals that are not open to compromise; and (2) a low sensitivity to costs and risks, translating into a high commitment to achieve those goals, no matter the sacrifices that lay ahead.

The spoiler debate is consequential because it goes to the heart of a key issue in any war-to-peace transition: the ability to identify actor types and to craft appropriate strategies to bring these actors on board. As Katia Papagianni remarks in her contribution to this special focus section, this is not only important for peacemaking; it also has consequences for peacebuilding. (2) Spoiling not only prevents the signing of a peace agreement; it can also derail the agreement's implementation. Therefore, mediation is not only needed to secure the parties' presence at the negotiating table; it remains relevant in smoothing out the wrinkles of implementation.

This article casts doubt on the utility of the spoiler typology as a tool to guide the action of mediators and help them devise winning strategies. In opposition to prevailing wisdom, I argue that there are no fixed spoiler types; actors' propensity to use violence depends on conditions that affect their capability and their opportunity structure. (3) I use the twin notions of capability and opportunity to identify situations ripe for mediation and for peace implementation. I also use the same notions to reflect on the appropriateness of various strategies that the international community can use in its attempt to bring about peace to war-torn countries. Rather than depict the international community as an outside actor merely reacting to the violence of insiders, I argue that the international community needs to sharpen its analytical tools to better assess conflict environments and develop appropriate policies. I also surmise that the implementation of such policies depends in great part on the international community's willingness to take necessary measures to increase the costs associated with the use of violence. Thus, this article has special implication for the special representatives of the Secretary-General and for those institutional innovations within the UN system, such as the mediation support unit, that are working to address the negotiation dimensions of exits from civil wars.

Spoilers, Mediation, and Peace Implementation

In his 1997 article, Stedman reminds us of an important and underappreciated fact: the role that individuals play in mediation and peace implementation processes. (4) He identifies three types of spoilers: limited, greedy, and total. In his typology, these differ on two dimensions: the kind of goals they seek to achieve and their sensitivity to costs and risk, which he labels as commitment to the achievement of the aforementioned goals. Spoilers, Stedman adds further, can be equally located inside or outside a peace process.

The spoiler typology has clear implications for outsiders involved in mediation and peace implementation. It warns mediators against undue naivete. As Stedman cogently puts it, one must not "blithely [assume] that all parties that sign peace agreements do so in good faith, or are equally trustworthy." (5) The identification of trustworthy partners is key to the success of mediation attempts. The two lessons that the UN associates with mediation and the management of spoilers are eloquent in this respect. First, the report of the UN Secretary-General on enhancing mediation and its support activities asserts that spoiling is "particularly likely when talks are making progress or when agreement is near, since internal divisions within rebel movements or Governments become more pronounced and lead to hard-line break-away factions that are opposed to the process." (6) Second, the report stresses the need
  to identify whether a spoiler problem resides in the leadership or
  the constituents. Where there is considerable intraparty
  disagreement between moderates and hardliners, the leader
  may sign an agreement but be afraid to implement it for fear
  of backlash from hardline constituents. Careful assessment of
  spoilers' motivation is required for the mediator and the
  international community to respond appropriately. (7)

Short of the presence of reliable local partners for peace, mediators must select those actors most likely to be brought into the process. They must also be prepared to quickly counter attempts at spoiling during the early implementation phases. If transitions from war to peace are to succeed, custodians must be able to identify threats to peace implementation and devise appropriate strategies. Custodians have pursued three major strategies to manage spoilers: (1) inducement, which entails giving the spoilers what they want (default mode); (2) socialization, which requires the establishment of a set of norms for acceptable behavior by which to judge the demands and the actions of parties, and involves material and intellectual components to elicit normatively acceptable behavior; and (3) coercion, which relies on the use or threat of punishment to deter or alter unacceptable behavior or reduce the capability of spoilers to disrupt the peace process. In Mozambique, SRSG Aldo Ajello used multiple inducements at key junctures in the peace negotiations to ensure the continued commitment of the Mozambican National Resistance Movement (RENAMO) to the peace process. The Italian government even gave RENAMO financial incentives to secure its compliance. (8) In Somalia, the United Nations decided to use force against warlord Mohammad Farah Aideed when he was deemed responsible for ambushing Pakistani peacekeepers. (9)

The spoiler typology has been criticized on a number of counts. Some analysts question whether it can provide the ex ante ability to correctly diagnose spoiler types. (10) Others argue it pays too much attention to individual, as opposed to structural, factors. (11) In earlier research, (12) I have argued that the notion of spoiler is problematic for three main reasons that prevent its use as a diagnostic tool for mediators and custodians of peace. First, the typology suggests that 50 percent of spoilers have changing preferences over outcomes and actions (see Table 1). It, however, offers few leads as to the determinants of change. Second, the standard definition of spoilers conflates a behavior (the use of violence) with an objective (derailing peace). Yet there are no a priori logical reasons why actors who want to derail peace would necessarily use violence. This is the perennial methodological problem of the dog that does not bark. Third, the total spoiler category suggests that there are actors who are impervious to logic and rationality. However, an empirical review of cases suggests that extremists have, on occasion, not only come to the table but proven to be reliable partners in peace. Examples include, but are not limited to, the apartheid regime of South Africa and the Mozambican National Resistance Movement (RENAMO) in Mozambique.
Table 1 Actor Preferences Over Outcomes and Actions as per Stedman's

                  Preferences Over  Limited Goals     Total Goals

Preferences over  Low commitment    Limited or        Greedy
actions                             greedy            spoilers

                  High commitment   Limited spoilers  Total

In brief, the "perils of profiling," to use the title of Kelly Greenhill and Solomon Major's article on spoiling, are many. (13) First, as they argue, is the underestimation of the role of structural factors. Second is profiling's notorious difficulty to deal with the transformation of actors in the course of a conflict. Third is its inability to address the problem of the dog that does not bark--actors who derail peace through nonviolent means. Last, but not least, is the danger of demonizing certain types of actors dubbed extremists and therefore excluded from the political processes surrounding peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

Reframing Violence in Peace Processes

Profiling would-be spoilers is an enterprise fraught with dangers. Yet strategic deception is a real danger in peace processes. Where does that leave mediators as they attempt to achieve peacemaking and to lay the foundations of peacebuilding processes? The rest of this article develops an alternative approach. First, I present a different reading of violence that frames the resort to weapons as a strategic option affected by three factors: the actors' (1) assessment of costs, (2) assessment of capabilities, and (3) appreciation of the opportunity structure within which they operate. Then, I draw implications from that reading for mediators seeking to ensure successful peace negotiations and peace implementation.

If profiling does not work in identifying would-be spoilers ex ante, it is because most parties to a conflict, no matter how extremist their views, both desire peace (because war is costly) and want to get away with as much as they can in the event of an agreement (they have incentives to defect for unilateral gains). On this count, the difference between an extremist and a moderate has well been captured by Stedman. (14) It is the extent to which actors are willing to go to achieve their objectives; in other words, the costs that the particular actor is willing to incur to achieve unilateral gains. This reflects the fundamental fact that peacemaking and peace implementation are, at heart, political processes. The role of such processes is to affect the actors' evaluation of the costs they are willing to incur in pursuit of their objectives. Mediation and peace implementation are also political processes in another sense: they create winners and losers, insiders to the process and outsiders. Where they sit affects the actors' reasons to derail a peace process. It also affects their evaluation of the costs and benefits associated with such a decision.

The Manifold Logics of Violence

Not all outsiders want to derail peace processes; neither do all insiders want to preserve them. There are three broad sets of reasons why outsiders might see peace as a threat. First, their ideology is premised on fighting the enemy as is the case, for example, with the Palestinian Hamas. Political actors are interested in remaining politically relevant; (15) for such groups compromise is tantamount to political suicide. Second, the groups derive financial benefits from the continuation of conflict and they do not want to see the war economy unravel. (16) Finally, groups that are sidelined for strategic considerations (either because they are considered relatively insignificant or because their presence at the table may prevent the inclusion of other factions) fear losing whatever marginal influence and power they yielded during the course of the conflict. In the first and third instance, and in fundamental opposition to the logic of the second scenario, the decision to derail peace is prompted by fears of losing one's political voice as opposed to concerns over one's economic benefits. (17)

While there might be obvious reasons for outsiders to fear processes in which they are not involved, the same does not hold for insiders. Peace settlements are, in essence, elite pacts (18) in which actors negotiate terms that allow them to maximize their gains in light of the conditions under which they are negotiating. Peace negotiations occur at a time when both sides, for whatever reason, agree to accept the military outcome be it symmetrical or asymmetrical as the basis for determining the political payoffs accruing to each. (19) In such circumstances, insiders have vested interests in peace processes that secure what they believe to be as much gains as they can achieve. (20) Insiders' fears of peace implementation and subsequent desires to derail peace have often been linked to the credible commitment problem, (21) the inability of parties genuinely interested in peace to trust each other to keep promises. (22) They have also been interpreted as proof of strategic deception with insiders using peace processes as a respite in the fighting to regroup and rearm. (23) Again, we see a fundamental difference here between the logics underpinning an otherwise similar behavior.

Deepening the problem, as I argue elsewhere, is the fact that violence has been conflated with opposition to peace. (24) This is neither a theoretically sound nor an empirically verifiable proposition. As I have already sketched out above, insiders may sign peace agreements for strategic considerations. If and when they use violence, these actors clearly intend to derail the peace process. Others intend to live up to their commitments, but end up facing a security dilemma. Should they use violence, these actors are not seeking to derail peace; rather, they are expressing concerns with the (non)implementation process. Outsiders can also resort to violence for a variety of reasons. Some seek to derail peace whether on ideological grounds or for financial reasons. Others might use violence to signal their desire to be included at the negotiating table. Violence is therefore deployed to differing ends by parties favorable and those opposed to a given peace settlement. Parties favorable to peace may resort to violence to express discontent with implementation failures. Parties opposed to peace may use violence to overturn the tables on the agreement. To simply say that an actor resorted to violence tells us little about their attitude toward peace. Likewise, observing the nonuse of violence should not automatically comfort us in believing that an actor is favorable to peace. Peace processes can be sapped in multiple nonviolent ways. (25)

Violence as a Strategic Option: Costs, Capabilities, and Opportunity

Whatever their reasons to do so, actors considering the use of violence must answer two questions in the process. First, they have to assess the costs associated with their strategic option as well as their capabilities to go ahead with it. Second, they have to decide whether the opportunity structure is favorable. (26) In other words, not only do they have to assess whether they are willing and capable of going ahead with their strategic option, they must also include an appreciation of the manner in which others will react to their move.

Not only do the categories "insider" and "outsider" affect the reasons why actors might consider resorting to violence; they also deeply affect an actor's assessment of the costs and benefits of such a strategic decision. Peace processes provide insiders with voice; they can express their concerns and ask for the redress of grievances. Insiders also typically gain material, political, and symbolic dividends associated with peace implementation. The longer peace lasts, the more "the structure of incentives works to trap them in the politics of moderation." (27) For such actors, assessing the use of violence requires them to factor in not only the cost of fighting, but the loss of peace dividends as well Further, insiders have to worry about the international audience costs of their decision--the risk that they will be seen as reneging on a commitment and, therefore, excluded from future negotiations. This stands in stark contrast to outsiders who are left out of peace processes and, therefore, have nothing to lose from the failure of such processes. Not only may these actors have lucrative stakes associated with the continuation of the conflict but, as discussed above, they may face real political and military costs should peace be implemented. In other words, for outsiders, the costs of peace are many whereas the costs of a return to violence are fewer. Indeed, not only do they not face the same international audience costs as insiders, it is also highly unlikely that the domestic audience of a party excluded from the peace process will fault its leaders for this exclusion. (28) For excluded parties, or outsiders, the only cost to consider is that of a military escalation.

Actors considering the use of violence may find themselves aided or constrained by the broader conflict environment. Two categories of factors can be used to decipher the impact of the environment. These are capabilities--the means available to facilitate the use of violence, and opportunities the constraints on violence created by the strategies of other local or international actors. Taken together, they define environments that are more or less susceptible to violence.

Financial resources are the single most important determinant of a group's capability to sustain violence. They are necessary to enlist fighters and buy equipment. Typically, access to financial resources requires some connection to the outside world. This can be in the form of: (1) valuable tradable commodities and a regional underground network to produce, ship, and trade these commodities; or (2) foreign patrons. While demobilization and disarmament are key components of any peace process, (29) war economies allow insiders and outsiders alike to sidestep demobilization and disarmament programs and finance parallel military networks. (30) The support of foreign patrons works in similar ways. As Table 2 illustrates, taken together, these two elements combine to create particularly unstable conflict environments by offsetting some of the costs associated with a return to violence.
Table 2 Capability: Assessing the Volatility of the Environment

                    War Economy         No War Economy

Foreign patrons     Extremely volatile  Volatile
No foreign patrons  Volatile            Low volatility

If capabilities refer to the means necessary to sustain the strategic option of violence, opportunity refers to the existence (or lack thereof) of barriers that make this a costly option. The literature discusses opportunity mostly in terms of the commitment of foreign actors to oversee the implementation of peace processes and decisively deal with would-be spoilers. (31) For this commitment to be credible, foreigners must calibrate their engagement to the reality of the situation. For example, if the conflict environment is highly unstable, a symbolic deployment of troops in the capital city will not send a strong signal. (32) The initial deployment of approximately 6,000 Blue Helmets in the Democratic Republic of Congo, at a time when various military actors in the country were estimated at as many as 60,000, is a glaring illustration of this problem. Military deployments are, however, but one way in which foreigners can make the option of violence costly.

As I will discuss further below, other strategies are necessary, particularly in view of the critique of spoiling as a diagnostic tool that I developed earlier in this article. Current understandings of commitment do little to address the issue of the nonviolent spoiler. The use or the threat of military force also will do little to assuage the concerns of insiders who feel that peace implementation is not proceeding at the pace that it should. In such situations, concerned foreigners must develop nonmilitary strategies to raise barriers to the use of violence and generate loyalty to the peace process.

Implications for SRSG Mediation in Civil Wars

How does the proposed framework help SRSGs deal with the prospect of violence? Are there old lessons to reaffirm or, alternatively, to unlearn? Are there new lessons to consider? In this concluding section, I systematically review the implications of this alternative reading of violence for international mediation efforts in conflict situations. First, I review implications for the issue of spoiler identification. Second, I look at implications in terms of appropriate strategies to stem violence.

To Profile or Not to Profile?

The diagnostic problems associated with the notion of spoilers do not mean that any attempt to profile actors should be abandoned. Rather, the alternative framework developed in this article suggests that such profiling must take a different set of considerations into account.

First and foremost, I have argued that preferences over outcomes are not as fixed as the spoiler typology suggests. Though I do not develop this intuition in this particular piece, I have argued elsewhere that even identity extremists, those actors most likely to be dubbed total spoilers, do under certain conditions enter into and abide by the rules of peace negotiations and subsequent peace processes. (33) Current UN publications seem to make much of the difference between hard-liners and moderates; and so does academic research that suggests one of the solutions to total spoilers might be a change in leadership. Instead, this article suggests it might actually be more important for SRSGs and other mediators not to select interlocutors on the basis of their moderation. In fact, the discussion of cost assessment above echoes the fundamental lessons of research on mediation and intervention. The narrower that the basis of a peace agreement is, the more difficult it will be to sustain. Likewise, the clearer that the benefits are to various factions from the peace deal and the stronger the commitment of third parties to providing the factions with security guarantees, the greater are the chances that these factions will be deterred from resorting to violence. This lesson holds significant implications for how the United Nations conducts conflict vulnerability analysis. In particular, my conclusions suggest that the UN should better think about the spoiler variable in its conflict assessment models. Rather than identifying potential spoilers ex ante and tailoring mediation and other conflict management schemes accordingly, scenarios should evaluate variable security guarantees, assess narrower or wider criteria for inclusion, and analyze the resulting configurations and the ways in which these may create incentives and/or disincentives for local actors to resort to violence.

Second, and pursuant to the first point, I have suggested that the most significant dichotomy might be that between insiders and outsiders to the peace process. I have argued that this distinction provides a better key to under-Standing the motivations of various actors to resort to violence. I have also argued that the cost-benefit calculations are fundamentally different for insiders and outsiders. All else being equal, the use of violence by insiders is expected to be more costly than the use of violence by outsiders. Mediators trying to minimize the risks of violence might thus want to ensure that the mediation process is as inclusive as possible. This contradicts suggestions to the effect that some actors especially, those labeled total spoilers, should not be engaged with by the international community. In his 2009 report, the UN Secretary-General seems to generally agree with this conclusion. (34) Deciding who to include in a mediation process and how to include them is fundamental. In general, the process should be as inclusive as possible because excluded parties have greater motivation to act as spoilers. (35)

However, none of this should be read as a plea not to profile--quite the contrary. At most, this is a warning that systematic information must be gathered about all actors in a conflict situation, insiders and outsiders to the peace process alike. This information-gathering exercise is intended to provide mediators with as accurate an assessment as possible regarding the groups' ripeness to enter into negotiations. For example, as is already well established in theory and in UN practice, considerable intraparty disagreement between moderates and hard-liners might seriously hamper a leader's ability to deliver on his or her promises. However, this intraparty disagreement, if it puts the leader's position at risk, might affect the preference ordering of an otherwise extremist actor. They might then be more open to compromise in an attempt to strengthen their position at the helm. (36) Not only are motivations not fixed, they are also multiple and often competing, and any serious attempt to grapple with them should go beyond the facile tendency to ascribe one dominant motive to a group.

Creating Ripeness: Mediator Strategies and the Management of Violence in Peace Processes

The concept of ripeness is not new. It has variously been applied to identify constellations favorable to the negotiated settlement of armed conflicts. (37) This analytical framework does, however, hold two new implications for the understanding of ripeness. Mediators can bring about ripeness in two complementary ways: (1) by attempting to affect actors' capabilities to sustain a return to fighting, and (2) by narrowing or closing down windows of opportunity of which actors may want to prevail themselves. They can and must also extend their efforts beyond the peacekeeping phase into peace implementation to ensure that the barriers against violence do not only prevent spoilers from derailing peace, but that they also discourage insiders and outsiders alike to use both violent and nonviolent means to this effect.

The UN has already internalized the major lessons with regard to capability. Its report on mediation has noted that "spoilers have the greatest incentive to defect from peace processes when they have independent sources of income to pay soldiers, buy weapons, and enrich themselves. Where income from the export of narcotics or valuable commodities cannot be stopped, peace is less likely." (38) The Secretary-General's report on enhancing mediation and its support activities further notes that "the role of international actors is crucial to the control of spoilers and the recent judicious imposition of targeted sanctions has been used to good effect in a number of situations. ... External actors must also be dissuaded from supporting spoilers with weapons, money and sanctuary." (39) In other words, the two major factors accounting for the volatility of conflict environments have been identified, even if not always consistently acted on, by the United Nations.

Equally, if not more important, is the international community's role in erecting barriers against violence and shutting any window of opportunity before actors seize it. Though this is not the sole domain of the SRSG, he or she is instrumental in developing appropriate strategies and identifying requisite resources to implement them. As suggested earlier, barriers to violence are of two kinds: exogenous and endogenous.

Exogenous barriers are those physical hurdles that custodians of peace place in the way of those actors, both insiders and outsiders, who seek to use violence and therefore risk derailing the process (whether that is their intended objective or not). Simply put, this is about the international community's willingness to implement policies that increase the cost associated with the use of violence. The standard policy is to deploy troops with the mandate to use robust force, if needed, to keep the peace. SRSGs can be instrumental in securing troop commitments by providing compelling arguments to this effect before the Security Council.

Less systematically studied or even considered as barriers to violence are what I call endogenous barriers, the creation by mediators and other custodians of peace of conditions conducive to the deepening of actors' loyalty to peace processes. This has been noted in the 2009 report of the Secretary-General on enhancing mediation and its support activities.
  Although United Nations mediators do not themselves employ
  disincentives, other actors, such as the Security Council, sometimes
  do. ... In such instances, mediators have helped parties to weigh up
  their options and consider how to avoid incurring such costs.
  While disincentives have been widely studied and applied, positive
  incentives have not received much attention and further work to
  refine them is merited. (40)

There are, however, important reasons why SRSGs and the UN system in general should pay more attention to these endogenous barriers, if only because they are the most likely to prove sustainable in the long run and permit the exit of international troops. Another crucial reason is that positive incentives are more likely to help secure the loyalty of insiders to a peace process.

More often than not, peace agreements are pacts between unwilling partners often forced to compromise because they could not prevail on the battleground. These agreements can be particularly vulnerable to insider violence for two reasons: (1) because one or more actors may not be serious about peace, but use the process as a way of buying time; or (2) because the actors' attachment to the agreement is only a function of expected gains. One of the most egregious examples is probably the Union for the Total Independence of Angola's (UNITA) Jonas Savimbi's decision to walk out on the Lusaka Accords because of his failure to secure election to the presidency of the republic. (41) Even though "Savimbi and UNITA received more from the Angolan settlement than any of the losing parties in El Salvador, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and Zimbabwe received in theirs," (42) Savimbi calculated that electoral results were "too meager a prize to persuade [him] from trying his luck at winning power through war." (43)

This raises the following question: How can custodians prevent insiders from derailing peace either by resorting to violence or by other means? Briefly put, I contend that there are three types of strategies to this effect: (1) forcing actors to comply; (2) engaging them in a political process that offers some kind of security guarantees; and (3) helping them rebuild relations of trust. (44) The first strategy involves the use of violence discussed earlier. Its most obvious shortcoming is that it does little to change actors' attitudes toward the peace process. In such instances, there is a high likelihood that violence will resume as soon as the peacekeepers depart. The second strategy involves the creation of political structures that allow all insiders access. These institutionalized channels for voice, often in the form of power sharing, are the most common solution currently implemented to curtail credible commitment problems. However, analysts increasingly question its ability to secure long-lasting peace and democracy because actors tend to instrumentally support the system only as long as it guarantees them the gains made at the negotiating table. (45) Recent developments in Bosnia and Lebanon underscore this point. More than ten years after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement and the Ta'if Document of National Accord, some of the signatories are now reconsidering their commitment to these peace agreements, raising serious questions about the sustainability of the peace that they brought about. As for the third strategy, peacebuilding, it involves societal transformation and seeks to ultimately forge "meaningful long-term relationships between former enemies." (46) While most demanding, this strategy is more likely than the other two to develop a profound sense of loyalty to peace.

Although theoretically underdeveloped, these positive incentives and the attendant strategies seem more likely to prevent the use of violence and the derailment of peace in the longer term. This highlights an argument put forth by Papagianni in her contribution to this special focus section and one already acknowledged in the 2009 report of the UN Secretary-General on enhancing mediation and its support activities.
  Mediation does not end once an agreement is signed. Formal and
  informal good offices or mediation are required throughout
  implementation. ... Understanding parties' interests and seeking
  innovative ways to address their concerns is as important in this
  context as in any other. Some of these issues can be dealt with by
  means of the dispute resolution mechanism that is established, but
  others call for wider dialogue between diverse groups
  within society. (47)

SRSGs, Mediation, and Sustainable Peace: Concluding Thoughts

Violence, no matter what its motivations, has the potential to derail peace processes. This article has argued that the most appropriate way to apprehend violence requires analysts and practitioners to go beyond the label of spoilers. I suggested that profiling groups who use violence as spoilers who want to derail peace was at once analytically inaccurate and practically harmful to the efforts of mediators seeking to build the foundations of sustainable peace. I also argued that mediators can work on limiting the capabilities of actors to sustain a return to fighting while, at the same time, shaping the opportunity structure within which actors make their decisions in such ways as to raise costly barriers to this particular option. Short of using force to elicit compliance, SRSGs and other mediators must hone their skills at manipulating, what Donald Rothchild labels "noncoercive incentives"--insurance, purchase, and legitimation. (48)

In conclusion, it is only fair to reflect on the limits of the possible. Mediators can and should help create ripe moments. They also can and should work not only to identify appropriate strategies, but also to obtain requisite resources. However, mediators cannot do the heavy lifting on their own. Absent a political will at the Security Council and a real desire for change on the ground, mediation efforts and peace implementation processes will continue to be vulnerable to violence. Pressures for a "light presence" and "early exit" translate to custodian strategies focused on the short rather than the long term. That is, I surmise, one reason why the international community continues to relegate organic approaches to peacebuilding far behind institutional power-sharing solutions and robust peacemaking initiatives. Increasingly, analysts and practitioners stress the need for "resolve" in the face of would-be spoilers. (49) Unfortunately, the use of force, even if it silences the guns in the short term, is unlikely to bring about sustainable peace. Nor can simple institutional arrangements to share the political pie substitute in the long term for a real desire to live together and build a common vision. This raises the thorny issue of ownership of the peace process. "Some peace processes are largely creatures of the international community. They reflect the desired outcome of key states in the international community rather than the wishes of local communities." (50) Even the best methods, the more adequately resourced strategies and the SRSGs with the strongest backing at the Security Council, cannot replace the lack of a common national vision for the future.


Marie-Joelle Zahar is associate professor of political science at the Universite de Montreal, and research director of the Reseau Francophone de Recherche sur les Operations de Paix, where her interests include conflict resolution, civil wars, peacekeeping, and postconflict reconstruction. She is coeditor with Stephen Saideman of Intrastate Conflict, Government and Security: Dilemmas of Deterrence and Assurance (2008). Previously, she has held research fellowships at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation, the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, and the Centre d'etudes du monde arabe moderne at the Universite Saint-Joseph in Beirut, and has consulted for the LIN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

(1.) UN Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Enhancing Mediation and Its Support Activities," UN Doc. S/2009/189 (8 April 2009), p. 11.

(2.) Katia Papagianni, "Mediation, Political Engagement, and Peacebuilding," this issue.

(3.) The argument builds on Marie-Joelle Zahar, "Political Violence in Peace Processes: Voice, Exit and Loyalty in the Post-accord Period," in John Darby, ed., Violence and Reconstruction, vol. 1, Research Initiative on the Resolution of Ethnic Conflict Series (Southbend, IL: Notre Dame University Press, 2006), pp. 33-51.

(4.) This has been duly acknowledged, particularly in Kelly Greenhill and Solomon Major, "The Perils of Profiling: Civil War Spoilers and the Collapse of Intrastate Peace Accords," International Security 31, no. 3 (Winter 2006/07): 7-40.

(5.) Stephen John Stedman, "Peace Processes and the Challenge of Violence," in John Darby and Roger MacGinty, eds., Contemporary Peacemaking: Conflict, Violence and Peace Processes (London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2003), p. 107.

(6.) UN Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Enhancing Mediation." p. 11.

(7.) Ibid.

(8.) Martin Rupiya, "Historical Context: War and Peace in Mozambique," in Jeremy Armon, Dylan Hendrikson, and Alex Vines, eds., The Mozambican Peace Process in Perspective (London: Conciliation Resources, 1998), p. 15.

(9.) Stephen J. Stedman, "Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes," International Security 22. no. 2 (Autumn 1997): 13-14.

(10.) Marie-Joelle Zahar, "Reframing the Spoiler Debate," in John Darby and Roger MacGinty, eds., Contemporary Peacemaking: Conflict. Violence and Peace Processes (London: Palgrave-Macmillan. 2003), pp. 114-124. This objection does not simply reflect an academic concern with the predictive power of theories. Inasmuch as Stedman's argument rests on the international community's ability to identify spoilers and develop the appropriate management strategy, the notion of early identification is key to his conceptual edifice. See Stedman, "Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes," pp. 5-53.

(11.) Greenhill and Major, "The Perils of Profiling," p. 7.

(12.) Marie-Joelle Zahar, "Political Violence in Peace Processes"; Marie-Joelle Zahar, "Reframing the Spoiler Debate."

(13.) Greenhill and Major, "The Perils of Profiling."

(14.) Stedman, "Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes," pp. 9-11.

(15.) This assumption is eminently reasonable because no leader should be expected to sign on his demise.

(16.) This argument was first expounded in Michael Berdal and David Keen, "Violence and Economic Agendas in Civil Wars: Some Policy Implications," Millennium 26. no. 3 (1997): 795-818.

(17.) For more on this and on the ways in which postconflict democratization can be "conflict-inducing," see Kristine Hoglund, "Violence in War-to-Democracy Transitions," in Anna K. Jarstad and Timothy D. Sisk, eds., From War to Democracy: Dilemmas of Peacebuilding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 80-102.

(18.) Timothy D. Sisk, Power Sharing and International Mediation in Ethnic Conflicts (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1996), especially, chap. 5; Caroline Hartzell and Donald Rothchild, "Political Pacts as Negotiated Agreements: Comparing Ethnic and Non-Ethnic Cases," International Negotiation 2, no. I (1997): 147-171; Elisabeth Jean Wood, "Civil War Settlement: Modeling the Bases of Compromise," paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Atlanta, September 1999.

(19.) Paul Kecskemeti, "Political Rationality in Ending War," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 392, no. 1 (1970): 105-115.

(20.) See Elisabeth Jean Wood, "Modeling Robust Settlements to Civil War: Indivisible States and Distributional Compromises," Santa Fe Institute Working Paper, October 2003, pp. 4-10.

(21.) Barbara F. Waller, Designing Transitions From Violent Civil War, IGCC Policy Paper No. 31 (San Diego: University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, 1998). A modified version of the argument was subsequently published as Barbara F. Walter, "Designing Transitions from Civil War: Demobilization, Democratization, and Commitments to Peace," International Security 24. no. 1 (1999): 127-155.

(22.) James Fearon, "Commitment Problems and the Spread of Ethnic Conflict," in David Lake and Donald Rothchild, eds., The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict: Fear, Diffusion, and Escalation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), pp. 107--126.

(23.) Don Horowitz is the foremost defender of the thesis of strategic deception. Don Horowitz. Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).

(24.) Zahar, "Political Violence in Peace Processes," pp. 38-40.

(25.) Two such ways include a refusal to play by the rules of the political game, thus resulting in state paralysis, as has been the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina; and the perpetuation of an underground economy that ensures easy access to resources and, eventually, weapons leading to a climate of insecurity, even in the absence of outward violence.

(26.) A similar argument is developed by Timothy D. Sisk in his most recent book where he describes these dynamics in terms of the "violence-negotiation nexus." Timothy D. Sisk, International Mediation in Civil Wars: Bargaining with Bullets (London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 2-9.

(27.) Sisk, Power Sharing and International Mediation, p. 82.

(28.) A decision to resort to violence might even be interpreted as standing up to outsiders who fail to acknowledge the actor as a legitimate part of the conflict and, therefore, of the peace process. For a discussion of similar dynamics in international crises, see James Fearon, "Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes," American Political Science Review 88, no. 3 (Sept. 1994): 579-581.

(29.) Joanna Spear, "Disarmament and Demobilization," in Stephen J. Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth Cousens, eds., Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002), pp. 141-182.

(30.) The regional dimension of war economics has until recently been downplayed in analyses of peace implementation. In an important addition to the literature, Michael Pugh and Neil Cooper document the existence of regional dynamics that underpin the political economy of conflict. They further argue that the neglect of such dynamics has detrimental effects on our understanding of conflict dynamics and on the ability to design workable solutions for transition to peace. See Michael Pugh and Neil Cooper, with Jonathan Goodhand, War Economies in Regional Context: The Challenges of Transformation, A Project of the International Peace Academy (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2004).

(31.) See especially B. F. Walter, "The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement," International Organization 51, no. 3 (Summer 1997): 335-364.

(32.) Sarah-Myriam Martin-Brule, "Tackling the Anarchy Within: The Role of Deterrence and Great Power Intervention in Peace Operations," in Stephen M. Saideman and Marie-Joelle Zahar, eds., Intra-state Conflict, Governments and Security: Dilemmas of Deterrence and Assurance (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 182-204.

(33.) Marie-Joelle Zahar, "Handling Spoilers: External Actors, Mediation and the Prospect of Violence," in I. William Zartman, Mark Antsey, and Paul Meerts, eds., External Efforts to Promote Negotiation in Internal Identity Conflicts (manuscript under review).

(34.) UN Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Enhancing Mediation," pp. 11-12.

(35.) Ibid., p. 6.

(36.) Recognition and selection by the international community as an interlocutor can serve to strengthen the hand of leaders in internal strife. Recent examples of this dynamic include the tug of war between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.

(37.) See, particularly, I. William Zartman, Ripe for Resolution: Conflict and Intervention in Africa (New York: Oxford University Press: 1989); and Stephen J. Stedman, Peacemaking in Civil Wars: International Mediation in Zimbabwe, 1974-1980 (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1991).

(38.) UN General Assembly and UN Security Council, "Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations," [the Brahimi Report] UN Doc. S/2000/809 (21 August 2000).

(39.) UN Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Enhancing Mediation," p. 12.

(40.) Ibid., p. 10.

(41.) Terrence Lyons, "The Role of Postsettlement Elections," in Stephen J. Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth Cousens, eds., Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002), p. 222.

(42.) Stephen J, Stedman, "Negotiation and Mediation in Internal Conflict," in Michael Brown, ed., The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), p. 370.

(43.) Thomas Ohlson and Stephen J. Stedman, The New Is Not Yet Born: Conflict Resolution in Southern Africa (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1994), p. 193.

(44.) See Marie-Joelle Zahar, "Understanding the Violence of Insiders: Loyalty, Custodians of Peace, and the Sustainability of Conflict Settlement," in Edward Newman and Oliver Richmond, eds., Spoilers and Peace Processes: Conflict Settlement and Devious Objectives (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2006), pp. 40-58.

(45.) Donald Rothchild and Philip Roeder, eds., Sustainable Peace: Power and Democracy After Civil Wars (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005).

(46.) Brandon Hamber, "Transformation and Reconciliation," in John Darby and Roger MacGinty, eds., Contemporary Peacemaking: Conflict, Violence and Peace Processes (London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2003), pp. 224-234.

(47.) UN Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Enhancing Mediation," p. 14.

(48.) Donald Rothchild, Managing Ethnic Conflict in Africa: Pressures and Incentives for Cooperation (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1997), pp. 99-102.

(49.) This plays itself oat in debates over armed humanitarianism and political conditionally. Michael O'Hanlon, Saving Lives With Force: Military Criteria for Humanitarian Intervention (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1997).

(50.) John Darby and Roger MacGinty, "What Peace, What Process," in John Darby and Roger MacGinty, eds., Contemporary Peacemaking: Conflict, Violence and Peace Processes (London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2003), p. 4.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL FOCUS; Special representative of the U. N. Secretary General; potential "spoilers" of peace processes
Author:Zahar, Marie-Joelle
Publication:Global Governance
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:90ASI
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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