What are Peace Agreements?

What are Peace Agreements?

What are Peace Agreements?

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 apeace 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: 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 negotiationsare 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.

  • 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

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By Nita Yawanarajah


[1] “Peace Agreements” in UN Peacemaker Databank, Policy Planning Unit, Department of Political Affairs, United Nations. Forthcoming online April, 2006.

[2] Peter Wallensteen and Margareta Sollenberg, “Armed Conflict, Conflict Termination, and Peace Agreement,” Journal of Peace Research 34, no. 3 (Fall 1997), 339.Wallensteen, Peter and Margareta Sollenberg, “Armed Conflict, Conflict Termination, and Peace Agreement,” Journal of Peace Research 34, no. 3 (Fall 1997), 339. and Caroline Hartzell, “Explaining the Stability of Negotiated Settlements to Intrastate Wars,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 43, No. 1. (Feb., 1999), pp. 3-22.

[3] Wallensteen and Sollenberg, “Armed Conflict.”


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Nita Yawanarajah
Nita Yawanarajah is a UN Political Affairs Officer and the Project Manager for the UN Department of Political Affairs Peacemaking Databank Project: UN Peacemaker (http://www.un.org/peacemaker). UN Peacemaker is a publicly available website on the United Nations' experience in peacemaking and mediation.

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