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In introducing the publication, the authors review the key themes arising from the articles and discuss four main conclusions about how to enhance the effectiveness of external influence in support of peacemaking.

In this introduction to the publication, the authors review the key themes arising from the articles and discuss four main conclusions about how to enhance the effectiveness of external influence in support of peacemaking. (1) External actors need to prioritise support for sustainable peace as their primary goal in a conflict situation and craft their strategy to help achieve it – recognising that this may, in turn, create the enabling conditions for achieving other foreign policy goals. (2) Sanctions, incentives and conditionality are most likely to be effective when they are responsive to the parties' own motivational structures and support a pre-existing societal dynamic for conflict resolution. (3) They need to be designed and implemented in ways that help to create momentum in the resolution process, which (4) typically requires a degree of strategic coherence amongst external actors, necessitating mechanisms for coordination.


In response to the vexing issue of how best to address the challenge of armed conflict, international policymakers frequently rely upon the use of sanctions, incentives and conditionality. They hope that these policy instruments can alter the parties’ strategic calculus in a way that results in changes to their behaviour and to the dynamics of the conflict. This third thematic edition of Accord casts its net over a wide range of case studies to assess whether and how these instruments can constructively influence conflict parties’ engagement in peacemaking initiatives.

This question is located in a context of sensitive and shifting debates about the ethics and appropriateness of external interventions in response to intra-state conflicts. It touches on the wider issues of external actors’ search for effective influence over conflict parties in a complex environment of multiple and often contending interests. The range of actors includes multiple states, intergovernmental and regional organisations, and non-state actors such as civil society networks and businesses – each having potentially distinctive roles to play and relationships of influence with the primary parties. Unsurprisingly, it can be extremely challenging to exercise influence coherently within a common strategy. Furthermore, supporting conflict resolution is rarely the primary goal of all concerned.

This project analyses the use of sanctions, incentives and conditionality from the standpoint of whether they underpin or undermine peace processes (ie the formal and informal processes of dialogue and negotiation between the parties that aim to address their conflict). Used effectively, it seems that these policy tools can tip the balance towards settlement by increasing the costs of fighting and the rewards for making peace. As such they have the potential to induce parties to participate in negotiations and encourage them to reach and implement peace agreements. Yet many of the case studies reveal how these policy tools have been ineffective or even ‘done harm’ in exacerbating tensions and fuelling conflict dynamics.

Four overriding conclusions can be drawn from this study for how to enhance the effectiveness of external influence in support of peacemaking. (1) External actors need to prioritise support for sustainable peace as their primary goal in a conflict situation and craft their strategy to help achieve it – recognising that this may, in turn, create the enabling conditions for achieving other foreign policy goals. (2) Sanctions, incentives and conditionality are most likely to be effective when they are responsive to the parties’ own motivational structures and support a pre-existing societal dynamic for conflict resolution. (3) They need to be designed and implemented in ways that help to create momentum in the resolution process, which (4) typically requires a degree of strategic coherence amongst external actors, necessitating mechanisms for coordination.


Multiple agendas, contending paradigms

Incentives, sanctions and conditionality are used as policy tools to achieve various objectives. External actors, especially governments, determine their responses to any specific conflict situation within the wider context of their interests and values. Responses may rest upon strategic interests, security and counterterrorism concerns, various domestic political motivations or upholding international norms (especially humanitarian protection, human rights or international law). The desire to avoid setting precedents that threaten strategic interests frequently translates into the aspiration of seeing armed insurgencies defeated or, less often, coercive intervention made against governments. In some cases, there may also be deep divides amongst key governments in their approach to a specific conflict situation, which is then subsumed in a wider contest between external powers. All these competing goals and agendas often swamp the peace process space and send mixed signals to the conflict parties. Few multilateral sanctions and other coercive measures are crafted with the explicit goal of persuading the conflict parties that they will benefit from reaching a negotiated settlement. Instead most are aimed at containing security threats and enforcing international law. This poses dilemmas for peace processes.

Many of the case studies illustrate how competing priorities and approaches have made conflict resolution more difficult. It also reveals potential dilemmas of fostering strategic complementarities between desirable goals (such as promoting peace and justice). Counter-terrorism and proscription policies have tended to constrain opportunities to engage with some of the significant belligerent parties to conflicts, as observable in the Israel-Palestine and Sri Lanka case studies. Mareike Schomerus also describes how peace negotiations in Uganda (as in other contexts) have needed to grapple with how to enforce international humanitarian law through the International Criminal Court without jeopardising the quest for peace.

Ironically, even the focus on reducing the humanitarian impact of the fighting has seemingly detracted from a strategic focus on resolving the conflict, as Alex de Waal argues in the case study on Darfur. He suggests the overriding priority of international engagement was the dispatch of UN troops with a mandate to protect civilians, which largely subordinated the goal of making peace. This focus on peacekeepers, in the absence of a clear and consistent strategy for peace, meant that sanctions, incentives, conditionalities and guarantees were all used “unsparingly but ineffectively” and generated expectations in the Sudanese government and armed groups that made it more difficult to reach and implement agreement. He concludes that the political context in which these instruments are applied, and the objectives to which they are applied, are crucial to whether they yield the desired outcome.


Prioritising peacemaking

A key conclusion of this study is the need to develop – and give priority to – a coherent yet flexible and responsive peacemaking strategy. Such a strategy should harness the potential for external influence and resources to facilitate engagement between the parties and momentum towards sustainable conflict resolution. For example, in El Salvador externally-generated incentives supported parties’ willingness to negotiate through economic incentives and ending isolation, as well as political and security guarantees. Yet, as the UN mediator Alvaro de Soto makes clear, these were deployed in the service of an overarching strategy based on recognition that the war would not end without fundamental reforms.

As is explored in the next article, an effective peacemaking strategy also needs to take into account the many types of potential influence that can be exercised by external actors with an interest in the conflict (enemies, allies, and affected parties alike) as well as more disinterested others who could potentially make a positive contribution. The failure to harness this potential through carefully orchestrated and sequenced conditionality can lead to missed opportunities – as occurred in Cyprus, where the process for EU accession was not conditional on reunification. Greek Cypriot voters had no disincentive against voting ‘no’ in the April 2004 reunification plan referendum as they would imminently join the EU regardless of the result.

Ultimately, a process can work towards creating what could be considered ‘intrinsic incentives’: when the solution envisioned in the contents of an agreement is preferable to continued conflict so that parties are motivated to resolve their differences. This motivation can be enhanced by external incentives, such as a promise to end isolation, offers of additional aid or development assistance, and security guarantees to reduce the risks inherent in ending a military campaign.

As is developed in the ‘Influencing resolution’ article, effective influence within an overall peacemaking strategy needs to be based on an appreciation of the challenges inherent in most war-to-peace transitions. At the core is the need to help parties ‘de-commit’ from their current conflict strategy and begin to embrace the potential for an integrative solution to the disputed issues. Strategies need to change as parties get to different phases in their engagement. They should aim to help the process gain momentum, underpinning the conditions that encourage parties to come to the table, stay at the table, reach agreement and implement those agreements.

As the Bougainville, South Africa and Northern Ireland cases reveal, external coercion or incentives are unlikely – on their own – to be a catalyst to shift parties into the constructive problem-solving mode that tends to characterise the most successful peace processes. Yet they can help to tilt the balance towards constructive engagement as a component of an overall strategy. For example, UN Special Envoy to Sudan Jan Eliasson points to the usefulness of threatened sanctions like ‘drums beating in the background’ while the mediator navigates the political process.


Responding to the dynamics of conflict

Effective peacemaking strategies need to be based on sound analysis of the motivational structure and decision-making processes of the parties to conflict. Michael Ancram reveals the importance of developing a profound understanding of the key parties’ aspirations and bottom lines. Based on his experience of the conflict over Northern Ireland, Ancram illustrates the value of ‘exploratory dialogue without commitment’ in order to identify ‘the lines in the sand’ beyond which the parties will not go and to identify the areas of common ground. This analysis is necessary to craft a broad framework of possible solutions to the main conflict issues as well as a strategy to reach a durable settlement, which might rely partly on external action.

Crucially, external actors need to continually remind themselves that the conflict parties are not monolithic. There will be a range of factions even within the belligerent groupings, some of whom are more amenable to pursuing a primarily political strategy and / or recognise the need for compromise. As can be seen in the cases of Hamas (Palestine) and the LTTE (Sri Lanka), engagement provides opportunities for pro-dialogue elements within belligerent groups to argue for the value of pursuing political negotiations to achieve goals, whereas punitive measures tend to strengthen hardliners and punish moderates.

External actors need to be careful to find ways to strengthen the position of those who assess that a negotiated settlement is necessary. At the same time, they should encourage processes that either constructively engage the more hard-line elements or are sufficiently robust to withstand their ‘spoiling’ tactics. Yet not all decision-making within parties will be based on value-maximising, cost-benefit analysis. Some groups are likely to continue their behaviour in pursuit of their goals/ideological vision regardless of the costs.

Another key dimension is to ensure strategies are based on sound understanding of wider societal dynamics. This requires anticipating how policy sanctions and incentives will be interpreted by various societal constituencies, with the aim of shoring up public support in favour of constructive engagement and eventual resolution. Nathalie Tocci discusses the gravitational pull of the European Union as influencing the aspirations of societies in the wider European space and its ‘neighbourhood’. As the contributions on South Africa by Catherine Barnes and former chief National Party negotiator Roelf Meyer illustrate, the desire to end decades of international cultural isolation appears to have generated the support amongst white voters needed to underpin the decision of President De Klerk to negotiate the end of apartheid. Conversely, there is an equal potential for external action to harden conflict, as Cohen, Gegeshidze and Kvarchelia demonstrate in their studies on the conflict over Abkhazia, where sanctions helped to consolidate Abkhaz mistrust of Georgia and entrenched pro-secessionist sentiment and reliance on Russia.

Building momentum towards peace

Incentives, sanctions and conditionality seem to be most effective if they help to shift the underlying conflict dynamic and build momentum toward resolution. It is possible to use the instruments of influence to help parties disentangle from their entrapment in a military or political strategy that is not working or has been unacceptably costly, yet in which they have invested too much to back down. It is also possible to use conditionality and incentives to help create momentum in a negotiating process – as de Soto puts it, “to have an idea of how to get to the desired goal in terms of marshalling forces and building a network of incentives and disincentives” – or to make possible practical solutions to seemingly intractable problems by contributing the necessary resources.

It can often be extremely difficult for the parties to decide to engage with each other. Sometimes external influence is key to getting them to this point, as Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire demonstrate. Once they have decided to engage with each other, the next process challenge is to work towards viable agreements and, eventually, implementation of those agreements. In the best case scenario, as the examples of South Africa and Bougainville reveal, adversaries will move towards rewarding each other as they begin to understand that their adversaries’ problems are their own. External punishment and reward became less important as the parties became more motivated to resolve their differences.

Facilitating parties’ own motivations appears to be more durable than over-reliance on external coercion or incentives – especially after parties have entered into a talks process. Anthony Regan describes how the parties to the conflict over Bougainville generated mutually reinforcing incentives for engaging in a negotiation process as well as reaching and implementing their agreements. They crafted creative links between key issues and sequenced reciprocal steps for implementing the measures. The parties in Bougainville would implement an agreed step that was difficult for them (eg disposing of weapons), provided that the Papua New Guinea government also implemented an agreed step that was difficult for it but beneficial to the Bougainvillians (eg amending the constitution). External actors helped to facilitate the process, used their influence as de facto guarantors and provided resources to help implement these agreements.

Sometimes external actors have only very limited influence on their targets’ strategies. Côte d’Ivoire has attracted an unusually high level of attention, including an extensive array of sanctions, threats of prosecution, coercive UN Security Council resolutions and peace agreements. However, Mike McGovern argues it is far from clear that these efforts have succeeded in addressing its root causes, as opposed to managing the violence: ‘while Ivorian political actors succeeded in imposing their ‘sovereign’ right to pillage national wealth, international actors successfully placed limits on the types and extent of violence used in the pursuit of that wealth.’

Strategic coherence: an elusive ambition?

Incentives, sanctions and conditionality are more likely to be effective if exercised with a degree of coherence. Yet the proliferation of decision-making bodies in the international system and the multiplication of policy objectives and policy tools often combine to generate strategy gridlock – sometimes with the unintended consequence of intensified conflict.

Teresa Whitfield notes that only rarely does a peace process develop under the guidance of a lead mediator who is able to assume the role of ‘conductor’ of a coherent peacemaking strategy that is then supported by the range of external actors. She argues that barriers to effective coordination are rooted in four broad areas: the interests of external actors do not align; widely divergent institutional cultures and funding streams inhibit the potential for the flexible and responsive measures a peace process requires; external actors are unfamiliar with the requirements of effective peacemaking; and they use a mix of tools that together amount “not to a coordinated peacemaking strategy but a confusing or even contradictory basket of actions with unpredictable consequences.” The belligerents, understandably seeking to maximise their advantage, can exploit this lack of unity.

These dangers point to the need for more effective coordination mechanisms, as were developed in Central America, East Timor and South Sudan for example. As Whitfield discusses, mechanisms such as ‘group of friends’ mechanisms can bring leverage, information and practical assistance to the lead mediator. They can also help to address unhelpful levels of asymmetry between the parties, which often impedes resolution.

Nevertheless, the call for a coordinated peacemaking strategy raises questions as to who assumes the role of the strategiser and where and how the strategies are crafted. While strategic coherence can be valuable to assist the parties in a process to resolve their differences, such mechanisms rarely transcend the interests of their members and their relative levels of influence. As the Israel-Palestinian case reveals, while the Middle East Quartet (US, Russia, EU and UN) has a coherent and coordinated strategy, thus far it has not been able to underpin an inclusive process capable of engaging the range of stakeholders to reach a sustainable solution. Instead some of their interventions appear to have exacerbated tensions on the ground.

The costs of failure

Failure to apply incentives, sanctions and conditionality effectively can result in, at best, minimal influence and, at worst, exacerbation of conflict dynamics. The lesson is that, unless developed as part of a coherent and strategic approach to peacemaking between the significant external actors, these tools of leverage are blunt. Sanctions intended to push the parties toward the table may instead harden their positions and inhibit dialogue. Incentives too may be dysfunctional, allowing parties to milk a process without seriously engaging their adversaries to find a solution to their differences. Parties may also manipulate external actions to their benefit and undermine their adversaries’ confidence in international involvement. Moreover, the process may never become sustainable when external actors compel or induce parties to the table or to an agreement in advance of their own recognition of the need to negotiate with their adversaries.

There is also the risk that external action can distort the conflict dynamics in ways that make them even more intractable, as Bastian, Nadarajah, Peiris and Smith illustrate in different ways in the Sri Lanka case study. External intervention is intensely value-loaded, with interveners seeking to guide the process to a solution they deem appropriate. If they miscalculate, their actions can add to tensions, alter the prevailing balance of power between the parties and ultimately undermine the peace process. In Sri Lanka initial bilateral agreement between the parties on the principle of political parity in the process could not be sustained alongside a counter-terrorism paradigm. Meanwhile, international donor efforts to encourage progress through ‘peace conditionality’ essentially ‘economised’ peacebuilding in the mistaken assumption that economic incentives could override political imperatives.

Rex Brynen similarly argues that lack of a consistent peacemaking strategy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has undermined the potentially constructive influence of sanctions, incentives and conditionality, which have instead been directed toward objectives ranging from counter-terrorism to democratic institution-building without much success. He contends that the primary donor focus on facilitating the peace process by investing in Palestinian development or withholding aid often seemed “an easy way out for an international community reluctant to pressure Israel” so that “aid was thus a dysfunctional substitute for the necessary political engagement.”

Towards improved practice and policy?

In conclusion, incentives, sanctions and conditionality have the potential for constructive influence on parties’ engagement in conflict resolution. Yet this potential is seldom fulfilled – in large part because the requirements of conflict resolution and peace processes are poorly understood and rarely the priority of those with influence.

Yet the political, economic and human costs of ineffective intervention suggest that it is imperative to improve them. This is likely to require not just a technocratic approach to making the instruments better targeted and more effectively enforced, as important as this can be. Instead it may require a deeper paradigm shift from an approach based largely on securing leverage over the parties to one based on enabling a process capable of helping the parties generate the shared basis for a more desirable future.