There is more than one school of thought when it comes to the role and importance of peace agreements within the overall process of reaching the negotiated settlement of an internal conflict. One approach, perhaps best described as “constitutive”, views the substance of the peace agreement as key to the overall process, which will reflect its strengths and weaknesses, virtues and shortcomings. A “good” agreement will result in durable peace; a “bad” agreement will result in delays, setbacks, or even the collapse of the peace process. That approach thus stresses the stringent requirements that the provisions of an agreement should meet: precision of wording, technical feasibility, international legitimacy, detailed implementation timetable, among others. One implication is that a mediator is duty bound to ensure that negotiations between the parties meet these high standards, even if it means standing up to impatient by-standers and the parties themselves.
The “instrumental” school does not ascribe the same centrality to the agreement, whose negotiation is but one of many stages in a complex transition. It should therefore not be made to bear alone the burden of the entire process. Concern over the agreement’s imperfections in terms of wording, feasibility or legitimacy should be weighed against the paramount need to maintain the momentum of the overall transition. Ambiguities, lacunae, even stark impossibilities are acceptable costs. Over time ambiguities will be lifted, lacunae will be filled, amendments will be made to take account of impossibilities and, most importantly, the relevance of seemingly intractable issues will erode as the parties gradually learn to value accommodation over confrontation. Implementation, in that sense, not only cannot, but should not, be expected to be a mirror image of the original agreement.
The report gives the following recommendations:
- Examine closely the solution given to each one of the vital concerns. Some of them may not be addressed explicitly in the peace agreement, but the UN must be privy to whatever confidential understanding may have been reached.
- If vital concerns have not been addressed or if their implementation is referred entirely to the international community, it is prudent to assume that there is no settlement yet. This does not suggest that the UN should turn its back on the peace process – it is usually neither politically feasible nor desirable. It does imply, however, that the UN should propose that additional steps be taken by the parties in order to reach an “implementable” settlement. Additionally, it can offer, if appropriate, substitution or verification steps of its own to facilitate the process. If the agreement has already been signed, the UN can insist on an “interim period” before the implementation timetable begins, in order to remedy the failings it has identified.
- Consider that the parties can overestimate their political influence and that it is consequently safer to require in all cases a power-sharing mechanism that will manage the implementation phase. It will serve as a fall-back position to keep the weaker party interested in the peace process if it should suffer political difficulties. It will also increase the weaker party’s leverage on the stronger party and, therefore, the effectiveness of UN verification. Power-sharing mechanisms can be extended beyond elections, if elections are to be held, to protect the process against major electoral setbacks.
- Remember that even when it is not mentioned explicitly in the agreement, the issue of the parties’ financial resources is foremost in their list of priorities. Ascertain whether a solution has been found; and if not, require that it be found before implementation begins.
- Consider that if the substantive part of the settlement is likely to face significant domestic opposition – and weak international support -, its implementation should be front-loaded even if it means that the UN mission will not yet be present in the country. The operational constraints on UN deployment must not dictate the timing of a transaction on which the organization will have little leverage anyway.
- If it appears that little trust or no trust exists between the parties, the UN will find it difficult to implement a mediation strategy. Consider, in this case, the possibility of suggesting changes in the implementation timetable in order to introduce “demonstration implementation” at the beginning of the process, on which the parties’ mutual confidence can be built up.
- If that mistrust affects the relationship between military leaders from both sides, unmanageable issues of physical security could well emerge during implementation. As a matter of utmost priority, bring about a rapprochement between them before demobilization begins.
- If the terms of the agreement depart from international law and the current liberal consensus, the tools of substitution and verification are in jeopardy, among other reasons because the international community will turn its back on the process. A country or group of countries with stakes in the settlement may be willing to replace the UN as “sponsors” of implementation.
- In the unfortunate case when a reliable group of friends has not been established yet, the UN should seek to create quickly a partnership with a few major donors and international organizations that are prepared to invest money and political authority on behalf of the peace settlement and to share responsibility for streamlining international assistance in terms of both technical and political inputs. The International Financial Institutions should be included. Like a weak party to a peace settlement, the UN should secure that partnership before it is formally committed to its implementation role. Its influence over donors, and even its own agencies, will decline afterwards.