Peace Processes

Heidi Burgess

May 2004

Additional insights into peace processes are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

What Are They?

Like the word "peace," the term "peace process" can be defined in many different ways. Former Track I and Track II diplomat Harold Saunders, defines peace processes as "a political process in which conflicts are resolved by peaceful means."[1] They are a "mixture of politics, diplomacy, changing relationships, negotiation, mediation, and dialogue in both official and unofficial arenas."[2]

Saunders says that peace processes operate simultaneously in four arenas:

  • The Official Arena: This is the arena of official "track I" diplomats who establish personal relationships with their counterparts on the other side, negotiate interim and final agreements, and work to improve relationships between governments.
  • The Quasi-Official Arena: This is the arena that Susan Allen Nan in her essay on Track I-Track II Coordination calls track one-and-a half. The people involved are outside of government, but have close ties to government and trade information back and forth. The Oslo Agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians was forged through quasi-official negotiating with a Norwegian mediator.
  • Public Peace Processes: This is the arena of sustained dialogue between non-officials, who try to address the "human" (as opposed to governmental) causes of conflict: perceptions, stereotypes, distrust, sense of hopelessness. Such dialogues have been taking place between Israelis and Palestinians for years, though much less now than before. Similar processes have occurred in many other intractable conflicts: the Cold War, Tajikistan, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, and Cyprus for example.
  • Civil Society: This is the arena in which civilians live and work. It is comprised of networks of relationships, often between disputing groups. In intractable conflicts, these relationships break down, causing tears in the framework of civil society which must be rebuilt in any peace process.

Another definition is given by scholar Tim Sisk who defines peace processes as "step-by-step reciprocal moves to build confidence, resolve gnarly issues such as disarmament, and carefully define the future through the design of new political institutions. In other terms, a peace process is an intricate dance of steps---choreographed by third-party mediators---among parties in conflict that help to gradually exchange war for peace."[3] "Exchange war for peace" suggests that Tim is limiting his definition to violent international and civil conflicts.

Yet the same definition could apply to non-violent conflicts as well. For example, the conflict between the races in the United States is seldom violent, yet we would do well to build confidence between the races and perhaps even build new political institutions or restructure the old ones so they are more inclusive. Indeed, one of the African-American members of this project, S.Y. Bowland explained to me that mediators of color frequently refer to their activities as "peacebuilding," a term I had previously associated only with violent international conflicts.

Another typology is suggested by scholar Nicole Ball. Ball divides peace processes into two stages and each of these into two phases. The first stage of a peace process is cessation of violent conflict. This she breaks up into two phases: negotiation and cessation of hostilities. The second stage is peacebuilding, which moves from a transition phase to a consolidation phase. The objectives of each of these phases is shown in the diagram below: [4]


From Nicole Ball, "The Challenge of Rebuilding War-Torn Societies [5]."

As can be seen from this diagram, the peace agreement, on a timeline, is left of middle, meaning as long as it may take to agree to a peace settlement, implementing that settlement takes even longer. In one of his more pessimistic, but perhaps often realistic observations, peacebuilder and scholar John Paul Lederach often observes that getting out of a conflict takes as long as it takes to get into it. So if a conflict has been building and breeding for a century, Lederach warns it will take that long to get over it.

Such pessimism is not always founded, however. The Cold War started just after World War II, in 1945. It lasted over 40 years --certainly seemed intractable-- yet it ended very quickly, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 followed by the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Similarly, Apartheid in South Africa seemed like a never-ending institution, but it was dismantled and a bi-racial government and society was established relatively quickly.

But even in these very successful cases, the peace agreement (which only existed in one of the two cases) did not mark the end of the conflict, but only its transformation. Much work must follow: disarming, establishing new relationships, new institutions, and repairing old ones. All of this is part of the "peace process."

Most of the essays that follow are subsets of this "peace process." Some are "intervention processes," meaning that they are carried out by someone or ones who come in from the outside and "intervene" in the conflict to try to help the parties transform or resolve it. Such processes include official and unofficial mediation, dialogue, peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding, and much more. Other processes are direct approaches---ones carried out by the parties themselves without outside intervention. These include conflict assessment (which can also be done by an outside third party) and negotiation. More detail on all of these, and other related, approaches are found in the other essays in this section of the knowledge base.

[1] Harold H. Saunders, "Prenegotiation and Circum-negotiation: Arenas of the Multilevel Peace Process". Turbulent Peace. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace 2001. p. 483.

[2] Ibid.

[3] "Timothy D. Sisk, "Democratization and Peacebuilding" in Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall, eds. Turbulent Peace. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace 2001. p. 787.

[4] Nicole Ball. "The Challenge of Rebuilding War-Torn Societies." in Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall, eds. Turbulent Peace. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace 2001 pp. 721-722

[5] Ibid.

Use the following to cite this article:
Burgess, Heidi. "Peace Processes." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: May 2004 <>.

Additional Resources