The CSS Blog

Mediation Perspectives: Spoiler Alert – How Governments Can Undermine Peace Agreements

Pacman figure made with 9mm Parabellum cartridges about to eat the peace sign. Courtesy of Ragnar Jensen/flickr

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.

Most armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War have been civil wars. In contrast to wars between states, civil wars last longer – on average for seven to ten years – and usually end in some kind of settlement. Such settlements can result in mere ceasefires or, in more ideal cases, power-sharing agreements and genuine attempts to deal with the root causes of conflict. Yet one in two civil war settlements fail and violence reoccurs. Today’s blog provides one explanation for why this rate is so staggeringly high – the ‘spoiler’ role played by governments.

In most cases, peace deals in civil wars are signed when warring parties are weak, particularly the government. Military stalemate, exhaustion, and external pressure may encourage belligerents to settle at the negotiating table. Under such circumstances, a settlement is likely to be a compromise that still threatens some actors’ power, worldview and interests. As a result, they may try to undermine or ‘spoil’ the agreement in a way that allows them to reap the benefits they consider favorable, while not paying its designated price. The benefits may include retaining state power, gaining international or domestic recognition for committing to peace, continued exploitation of resources, and maintaining patronage networks, among many others.

Given these benefits, the underlying reasons why peace deals aren’t complied with are thus plentiful. Yet the media, as well as academia and its ‘spoiler theory’, all too often focus on the violent breaches of a peace and attribute blame to the rebel group. But since being a ‘spoiler’ works both ways, we’re left with a glaring question: How do governments impede or violate peace agreements and what non-violent means do they employ towards that end?

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Uganda’s 2016 Elections: Another Setback for Democracy in Africa

Ugandan people cast their votes, Feb 2016, courtesy The Commonwealth/flickr

This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 24 February 2016.

Last week saw the most competitive elections in the history of Uganda. Several prominent ministers and key members of the ruling party were voted out—approximately 19 ministers lost elections, including Crispus Kiyonga, who is playing a key role in the Burundi Peace process.

The Electoral Commission declared incumbent Yoweri Museveni as the winner of the presidential election, with 60.7% (5,617,593 votes). Kizza Besigye came second with 35.37% (3,270,290 votes) and Amama Mbabazi third with 1.43% (132,573 votes) in a race that had eight candidates. President Museveni, who assumed office in 1986, is now one of Africa’s longest serving presidents, along with Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos (since 1979), Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang (since 1979), Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (since 1980) and Cameroon’s Paul Biya (since 1982). The 71-year-old has run the country for the last thirty years.

The shutdown of social media was widely reported in the international press and put a dark cloud over the elections, during which Kampala was heavily patrolled by military and police. “Calm,” “silence,” and uncertainty hung over Kampala and the country amid the announcement of President Museveni’s victory. There have been no victory jubilations for the last two days. The Kenyan and Russian presidents were the first to congratulate Uganda, and now Kizza Besigye remains under house arrest.

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Small States Have Options Too: Competitive Strategies Against Aggressors

Globe, courtesy Yogendra Joshi/flickr

This article was originally published by the War on the Rocks on 27 January 2016.

Looking back at history, one might reasonably conclude that small states are destined to be on the losing end of geopolitics. Events of the last decade in particular do not give us much reason for optimism about the destiny of small states facing coercion at the hands of their larger and more powerful neighbors. Russia used force against Georgia in 2008, has been using force against Ukraine since 2014, and could prospectively use force against a number of its other neighbors. China, for its part, has used a variety of coercive techniques in its territorial disputes with its neighbors. One common feature of these situations is an explicit effort by the coercing state to stay below the thresholds of a military response and, in particular, outside military intervention. As a result, small states have largely been left to their own devices to defend themselves against their more powerful neighbors.

Small, frontline states do not, however, lack options in the face of coercion. To the contrary, they could pursue a number of competitive strategies in an effort to make coercion less attractive. These include strategies of denial, which seek to harden a state against coercion; cost-imposing strategies, which seek to force an adversary to bear burdens sufficient to cause a reconsideration of coercion; efforts to attack and render ineffective the adversary’s coercive strategy; and strategies that seek to exploit divisions within the enemy’s political leadership to end the coercive campaign. The United States can, and in many cases should, assist small, frontline states in developing and implementing competitive strategies against their larger neighbors seeking to coerce them.

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Did Sisi Save Egypt?

A man waves an Egyptian flag in front of riot police

This article was originally published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on 25 January 2016.

Five years ago, the leaders of Egypt’s protest movement shocked themselves by successfully bringing down President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power since before many of them were born. In those days, it was not unusual to hear talk of a new dawn for Egyptian politics and the Arab world. It is difficult to find many leaders of that movement who are so cheerful today. And their disappointment is broadly shared in academic, policy, and media circles around the world. Young and disaffected Egyptians, the story goes, revolted against a stultified regime and demanded a democratic government, a freer society, and more economic rights. They won the battle but lost the war, as the military, initially along with the Muslim Brotherhood and later without it, gained the upper hand and defeated the revolutionaries.

But there is a very different way to tell the story of 2011. This tale is not one of high but disappointed hope, but one of threatened chaos and rescue. From the perspective of Egypt’s security institutions—its military, police, and intelligence forces—the uprising threatened to bring down not only Egypt’s president but its entire social and political order. Averting such an outcome was an arduous task, one that the Egyptian armed forces still see themselves as undertaking.

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Finally! A Peace Policy for Kenya

“Keep Peace”, carved in a tree in Kibera, Kenya during the post election violence in 2008. Image: The Advocacy Project/Flickr

This article was originally published by Saferworld on 4 November, 2015.

The need for a national framework to guide efforts to prevent conflict and build peace in Kenya cannot be overstated. For a long time Northern Kenya was seen as the most problematic region of the country, with frequent incidents of cattle rustling fuelled by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The rest of Kenya remained ‘peaceful’, except for the cycles of political violence that have erupted during every election since the introduction of a multi-party democracy in 1992. The worst political violence was experienced in 2007–08, raising concern about the country’s capacity to deal with such high levels of violence and the effectiveness of its early warning and response, mediation, and security deployment. » More

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