What are Peace Agreements?

This essay was written in collaboration with the UN Peacemaker Databank, Policy Planning Unit, Department of Political Affairs, United Nations. This databank will be available online beginning in April 2006.

Peace agreements are contracts intended to end a violent conflict, or to significantly transform a conflict, so that it can be more constructively addressed. There are various types of agreements that can be reached during a peace process. Each type of agreement has a distinct purpose and serves a value in itself towards building positive momentum for a final settlement. These agreements, however, are not easily distinguished, as the content may sometimes overlap. Not all types of agreements are needed for each conflict. Some processes may have step-by-step agreements that lead towards a comprehensive settlement. Other peace processes may seek to negotiate one agreement comprehensively.

While categorizing each document that is negotiated during a peace process is often difficult, the following are common classifications used by the United Nations to differentiate the various types of peace agreements:[1]

  • Cessation of Hostilities or Ceasefire Agreements

    A ceasefire agreement refers to a temporary stoppage of war or any armed conflict for an agreed-upon timeframe or within a limited area. Each party to the agreement agrees with the other to suspend aggressive actions, without necessarily making concessions of any kind. These agreements are military in nature and are basically designed to stop warring parties from continuing military actions while political negotiations are conducted to find a more durable solution.

    By themselves, ceasefire agreements are typically short-lived and fragile. They must be quickly followed up with further agreements if the ceasefire is to be maintained.


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

  • Pre-Negotiation Agreements

    Pre-negotiation agreements are those that define how the peace will be negotiated. These agreements determine procedural issues such as schedules, agendas, participants and location, as well as the peacemaker's role and the procedure for drafting later framework or comprehensive agreements. The management of a peace process often determines if an agreement will be reached. Pre-negotiation agreements serve to structure negotiations and keep them on track. They facilitate the management of a peace process in order to reach its goal of ending the conflict. Pre-negotiation agreements usually signal the first achievement of success in a peace process, and thereby serve to build confidence and promote trust between the parties.

  • Interim or Preliminary Agreements

    Interim or Preliminary agreements are undertaken as an initial step toward conducting future negotiations. They are usually seen as "agreements to agree" or commitments to reach a negotiated settlement and build confidence between the parties. Such agreements do not normally deal with either procedural or structural issues, but may have some characteristics of a pre-pre-negotiation agreement, delineating when and how negotiations might be held. Interim agreements serve to signal that the ceasefire will be respected. Interim agreements are also used to restart a stalled peace process. Like ceasefire agreements, interim or preliminary agreements are not stable, and need to be followed with negotiations on procedural and substantive issues quickly to keep the new positive momentum of a peace process.

  • Comprehensive and Framework Agreements:

    The terms "Comprehensive Agreements" and "Framework Agreements" are often used interchangeably. However, there is a slight difference between the two types of agreements:

    • Framework Agreements are agreements that broadly agree upon the principles and agenda upon which the substantive issues will be negotiated. Framework agreements are usually accompanied by protracted negotiations that result in Annexes that contain the negotiated details on substantive issues, or are a series of subsequent agreements that are sometimes collectively known as the Comprehensive Agreement;
    • Comprehensive Agreements address the substance of the underlying issues of a dispute. Their conclusion is often marked by a handshake, signifying an "historical moment" that ends a long-standing conflict. Comprehensive agreements seek to find the common ground between the interests and needs of the parties to the conflict, and resolve the substantive issues in dispute.
  • Implementation Agreements

    Implementation Agreements elaborate on the details of a Comprehensive or Framework Agreement. An implementation agreement almost always requires a new round of negotiations with the relevant parties. In these negotiations, framework or comprehensive agreements are fine-tuned and given specificity. The goal of implementation agreements is to work out the details and mechanics to facilitate implementation of the comprehensive agreement. Implementation agreements are not always formally written documents. Sometimes they are verbal commitments, exchanges of letters, and joint public statements that help move implementation forward. Due to this fact, it is usually very difficult to keep track of implementation agreements. Often, the informal nature of these agreements makes it more difficult to hold the parties to their commitments. While formally written implementation agreements often take a longer time to achieve, there is usually a perception that the parties are committed, serious and obligated to implement these agreements.

Structure and Substance of Agreements

Peace agreements are not always structured in the same way. Sometimes they are just one document consisting of various chapters or discrete components. In other instances, each substantive component can be part of one comprehensive agreement or be a stand-alone agreement that is negotiated separately and during different periods of a peace process. The substance of an agreement also differs from conflict to conflict. The type of war, the issues in dispute and how the war is brought to an end are factors that will alter the structure and substance of a peace agreement. Intra-state or civil wars are usually caused by a failure of governance. Peace agreements that bring these conflicts to an end often focus, therefore, on rebuilding governance mechanisms. The disputed issues in inter-state wars are normally about security or territory. Peace agreements that bring inter-state conflicts to an end primarily focus on arrangements to enhance security and provide clarity on territorial issues.[2] Thus, the substance of peace agreements in each of these cases will naturally be different. The manner and method by which a war is brought to an end also affects the substance of an agreement. Violent conflicts, whether inter- or intra-state, typically end in one of three ways: an agreement on the terms of surrender, a partial agreement, or with a full peace agreement.[3]

  • Terms of Surrender occur when one party has clearly defeated the other party and the losing party has surrendered. The terms of such agreements are usually favorable to the victors. Such agreements are generally stable.
  • Partial Agreements only involve some of the parties and/or some of the issues. Partial Agreements are reached because it is sometimes not possible for all parties to converge on resolving the conflict at the same time or the parties cannot address all the issues at the same time. Partial Agreements are sometimes useful as an interim step to reaching a full agreement. These agreements can sometimes be stable but they may not necessarily lead to sustainable peace. Partial agreements require subsequent political processes that include the disenfranchised parties and address the remaining issues, in order to become a final settlement leading to a stable peace.
  • Full Agreements involve all relevant parties negotiating a lasting peace. This is the end result of a comprehensive agreement combined with the necessary implementation agreements. Generally speaking, peacemaking efforts tend to be focused on reaching comprehensive agreements. Full agreements seek to have all parties to a conflict agreeing on resolving all major issues.

Components of Peace Agreements

Most peace agreements address three main concerns: procedure, substance and organization.

  • Procedural Components

    Procedural components set out the processes that establish and maintain peace. They delineate the HOW of a peace process by establishing the processes and measures that help build the peace. These include the establishment of schedules and institutions that facilitate the implementation of substantive issues such as elections, justice, human rights and disarmament.

  • Substantive Components

    Substantive components are part of the agreement that define WHAT is going to change after the peace agreement is reached. Substantive components include political, economic, and social structural changes that are needed to remedy past grievances and provide for a more fair and equitable future. Substantive components, therefore, include the changes that are required in issues such as the distribution of power, the management of natural resources and the type of mechanisms to address past injustices.

  • Organizational/Institutional Components

    Organizational/institutional components are arrangements/mechanisms intended to promote the peace consolidation efforts after the agreement. They address the WHO element of the agreement. These mechanisms are either directly responsible or provide oversight and guidance to other actors to carry out the activities intended to consolidate the fragile peace and lay the foundation for sustainable peace and development. There are two types of organizational components. The first, often referred to by the United Nations as "implementation mechanisms," immediately follow a peace agreement and are intended to promote agreement implementation.

    Implementation Mechanisms are designed to provide:

    • A neutral monitoring capacity to ensure peace agreement commitments are honored,
    • A steering capacity which sets priorities and keeps the peace implementation on track,
    • A political forum which allows parties to resolve implementation disagreements through political negotiations.

    Implementation mechanisms could include a United Nations or regional peacekeeping operation. They can also entail monitoring committees, chaired by the United Nations or a neutral third party, which includes parties to the conflict and other relevant actors required to help build the peace.

    The second type of organizational/institutional component is designed to resolve subsequent/future conflicts over substantive issues, such as the abuse of state power in relation to human rights and the promotion of transparency and accountability in governance. These mechanisms, often referred to in the United Nations as "peacebuilding mechanisms" help promote the culture of peaceful conflict resolution in a society and public confidence in the state's capacity to resolve future grievances systematically and impartially.

    Peacebuilding mechanisms are designed to provide:

    • A neutral structure and capacity within the state to resolve future conflicts and complaints.
    • A means for the peaceful resolution of public grievances before they become a source of conflict in a society.
    • A means for preventing future conflicts.

    Peacebuilding mechanisms could include the setting up of a new office of ombudsperson, a commission on human tights and the strengthening of the judiciary with international advisory and/or monitoring capacity.

    Plan for the Following Sections

    This building block has laid out the basic ideas for understanding the nature of peace agreements. Much remains to be said. Other building blocks in this group add further information. The section immediately following this one covers the substantive provisions of peace agreements, specifically dealing with types of agreements that can ameliorate intractable conflicts.

    In any protracted violent conflict, transgressions against justice are inevitable. Peace agreements must be structured to acknowledge these transgressions and in most cases to bring justice to the injured parties. The section on Addressing Injustice, by Michelle Maiese, lays out a framework for categorizing injustice and, subsequently, strategies for addressing injustice in the structure of peace agreements.

    Sometimes, peace agreements cannot be negotiated until the involved parties can agree on some form of security guarantees. Jill Freeman addresses the value of security guarantees as an effective strategy for peacebuilding.

    In many cases, when political or economic resources are scarce, political entrepreneurs will activate latent cultural or religious identities to build power bases capable of acquiring and controlling those resources. Unfortunately, those cultural roots are often used to perpetrate horrific crimes during the course of a war; crimes that only help entrench and perpetuate these identities. Whether or not these identities are real or perceived, there is a high value placed on them during intense and protracted conflicts. Thus, one of the most difficult tasks in structuring peace agreements is allowing for reconciliation in order to build trust and restore "normal" relationships between the warring factions.

    Rebuilding the social fabric between states or within a state can be tremendously difficult. In some cases state building or nation-buildingcan seem downright impossible. (The experience of the U.S. in Iraq in 2004-5 is certainly an example illustrating that it is, if not impossible, much more difficult than the U.S. Government expected!) The section on social-structural aspects of peace agreements deals with how to acknowledge and resolve some of these issues.

    It is important to focus on strategies for power sharingelection monitoring, and nation building for a complete understanding of structuring peace agreements after civil war. While each issue by itself may seem small, the success or failure of any given intrastate peace agreement usually turns on the success of these provisions.

Michelle Maiese is a graduate student of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder and is a part of the research staff at the Conflict Research Consortium. Michelle Maiese is a contributor to Beyond Intractability which is an online “encyclopedia” compiling easy-to-understand essays on almost 400 topics which explain the dynamics of conflict along with available options for promoting more constructive approaches.