Untangling Conflict: Local Peace Agreements in Contemporary Armed Violence
Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution
This article seeks to understand the proliferation of local and sub-national peace agreements negotiated and signed in recent years. While such agreements are not a new phenomenon, local negotiations in violent conflict seem to be becoming increasingly better documented and formalized. This development may be caused by the comparably easy availability of electronic means of documentation and communication, even in remote areas. Local peace processes and resultant agreements have also gained more attention from national, regional, and international actors, in part due to their increased visibility. Interest in local agreements is also driven by the changing dynamics of conflict and peace. Structural shifts at the international have often resulted in a decreasing likelihood of comprehensive peace processes at the national level. The model of the traditional ‘peace process’ at the national level assumes the existence of a state actor who is internationally recognized, and one (or more) armed opposition groups. Often, however, conflicts are more complex. Some conflicts may be understood as contests about the control of the central state and others evolve from a complex interrelation between the national level and a variety of localized conflict settings that are largely based on context-dependent fault lines. In other cases, local agreements seem to play an important role across diverse conflict, in ‘untangling’ forms of conflict, that often operate as complex local-national-transnational-international conflict systems. This report presents the finding of two workshops focused on local peace agreements, their negotiation, the actors involved, and their impact and modes of implementation. Compared to national-level agreements, local peace agreements are considerably shorter and issue-centered. They deal with a wide variety of contextualized topics around the predominant aim of managing local patterns of armed conflict and violence. In their variety, local peace agreements represent the diversity but also the splintered nature and patchiness of what is contemporary armed conflict. Key conclusions are that local peace agreements cannot succeed where negotiations at the national level fail. They can even weaken motivations and incentives for power-sharing deals and provide pathways for contested regimes to sustain their rule. Armed non-state actors engage in such processes based on their strategic political interests. As in peace negotiations at the national level, parties continue aiming to reach their goals through peace talks. The negotiation of local peace agreements will usually reconfigure power relationships and may also undermine and, in some instances, even disrupt ongoing armed conflicts in ways that build confidence for wider peacemaking efforts. Such agreements provide a glimpse into what might be local agendas for peace and the management of conflicts, local forms of deliberation over power-relations, and how civilian and military actors come to an agreement.
Peace Process, Peace Agreement, Local peace agreement