Structural Components of Peace Agreements

Julian Ouellet

September 2004


Peace agreements must recognize the security concerns of groups and individuals.

To protect group and individual security concerns, peace agreements must provide a social, political, and economic structure conducive to forming a lasting peace

In the essay on Peace Agreements, we introduced a broad framework for understanding the components of peace agreements, and classified those components as structural, procedural, and enforcement mechanisms.

In this essay, we explore the substantive components of a peace agreement. In contrast to procedural components, which define procedures for resolving conflicts, substantive components attempt to resolve violent conflicts by making specific provisions designed to solve specific problems. The distinction, then, is between process and provision, or between WHAT and HOW. For example, an agreement to establish a truth commission would be a substantive provision designed to provide closure (and sometimes justice) for past atrocities, while an agreement on how to determine reparations would be a procedure. Thus, substantive components define the terms of a peace agreement, while procedural components explain how these terms will be realized.

There are three key issues in designing the substantive provisions of a successful peace agreement:

- Providing for group and individual security concerns,

- Addressing the underlying problems of material distribution that may have contributed to the conflict in the first place, and

- Designing institutions that can evolve with the developing state,

These provisions also should address the social, political, and economic structure of the system:

  • Social rights may include both the rights of individual self-determination as well as group autonomy.
  • The political structure of the system needs to focus on the design of the institutions and access to those institutions, and rights of participation and representation
  • As Woodward points out, it may be the economic structure of the state that is most crucial to a lasting peace, but is also most often ignored. Improving the underlying material conditions of a state can go a long way to resolving intractable conflicts.[1]

A key concern after any conflict is to ensure the stability of the peace. Thus, one underlying purpose of any peace agreement is to decrease the security threat perceived by the parties involved.[2] Security Guarantees, Social Structural Changes,  Self-Determination Procedures, and Power-Sharing Arrangements, which are discussed in other essays, are all intended to increase the feeling of security among the formerly warring parties.

Substantive provisions are also designed to remedy the injustice that led to the conflict in the first place. Changes in social, political, and/or economic structures that allow for more resources, more opportunities, and more power for the previously aggrieved group(s) are frequently another purpose of substantive aspects of peace agreements.

Distinctions and Categories

Since peace agreements often fail when they cannot guarantee security, then a successful peace agreement should focus on who needs security the most. One can think of security needs in terms of groups and individuals.[3]

Group-Level Provisions

Rothchild argues that, "of all the choices encountered by those engaged in negotiations to end a civil war, none is more crucial than designing the representational basis of political institutions."[4] His argument is based on the simple and powerful logic that if a group does not have a voice in the political system, then there is no reason for its members to support that system. Any political arrangement that does not give due respect to the groups involved is a flawed agreement.

Group-level provisions usually take one of two forms, according to Rothchild: elite pacts, or regional autonomy.[5]

Group Provisions: Elites

Political elites often incite latent identities in order to gain power.[6] Thus, in a peace agreement following a civil war, it is important that those elites have some power in the government. Elites within groups will also tend to have concerns about democratic structures such as majority rule. Majority rule is a highly problematic institution in situations where one of the warring parties is a clear minority in the state,[7] since any winner-takes-all system tends to put minority groups at risk. To decrease this risk, a formal or informal agreement about power-sharing and decision-making among the elites in each identity group can prove effective.[8]

Group Provisions: Territorial Autonomy

If the identity groups are geographically separated, then provisions allowing for territorial autonomy can significantly improve the chances for a lasting peace.[9] These agreements give groups the benefit of self-rule while creating political linkages between parties, and may have a design that is:

  • Federal, which gives much of the administrative authority to a highly centralized government while still acknowledging the autonomy of and distinction among regions, or
  • Nonfederal, which gives less power to the central government and establishes a more diffuse power-sharing arrangement between regions.

These political arrangements can lead to short-term amelioration of intractable conflicts, but can prove troublesome in the long run.[10]

Problems with Group-Level Provisions

Elite pacts can fail if the substantive provisions that acknowledge certain sets of elites prove to be too inflexible in the long run. Any sort of absolute guarantee of power to certain groups can prove problematic if those groups become marginalized by the evolution of politics in the state. If a set of elites is important during the peace process, there is no guarantee that they will remain important as the state develops and democratizes. Elite pacts can limit democratization in this way.

Group-level provisions can also fail where there is a battle over scarce resources, as in many civil conflicts. Hartzell, Hoddie, and Rothchild point out that most ethnic groups coexist peacefully together. The rare ethnic conflicts that we do see usually begin because of a breakdown of the state itself. As the state becomes unable to provide for the distribution of basic services, groups begin to compete for scarce resources.[11] In this context, territorial autonomy may lessen immediate fears about autonomy and security, but the weak state cannot resolve the underlying material issues that lead to insecurity.

If groups focus too much on autonomy, they will not address the fundamental distributive problems that led to violence in the first place.

Individual-Level Provisions

Individual-level provisions are generally based on the political and civil rights of the individual, rather than those of any group with which he or she is associated. Among these individual rights are the right to life and the right to participate in the political system. Providing for fundamental individual political rights often becomes a proxy for providing individual security, according to Rothchild.

Individual political rights focus on the "one person one vote" idea, in theory giving each person equal say in the government, and hence equal protection from the government. One can imagine a whole host of provisions that protect individual security built on the principle of equal rights. Examples include, the structure of police forces and the justice system, the rules governing taxation, the redistribution of wealth and the methods of disarmament and demobilization.

Problems with Individual-Level Provisions

The provisions of a peace agreement must provide the necessary level of security yet remain flexible enough to change as the strategic situation changes.[12] Group-level provisions are often not flexible enough. However, focusing solely on individual rights and security concerns tends to ignore the high value that individuals place on their cultural identity. Identity-blind political institutions, designed around the concept of "majoritarian" or plurality vote, tend to ignore the ramifications for minority groups during conflict.

The solution is to find a system that will alleviate short-term security concerns and evolve to guarantee long-term stability. Rothchild and others note that proportional representation systems recognize identity groups, while still maintaining the principle of individual representation.[13] When ethnic or religious identity is important, the parties in government may be based around those identity groups, but as interests evolve and the new government gains cohesiveness, those groups may evolve as well without changing the institutional structure of the government.

Intractable Conflicts and the Substantive Provisions of Peace Agreements

Resolving intractable conflicts is problematic by definition. Minimally effective peace agreements can temporarily halt the violent aspects of the conflict, but a poorly designed peace agreement can exacerbate the underlying conflict and even lead to the worsening of the violence. Yet peace agreements undertaken at the right moment---when the environment is "ripe" for agreement, designed in the right way and enforced effectively, can indeed lead to a lasting peace.[14]


[1] Woodward, Susan L. "Economic Priorities for Successful Peace Implementation" 

[2] Doyle "Strategy and Transitional Authority", Rothchild

[3] Hartzell, Hoddie, and Rothchild. Donald Rothchild, "Settlement Terms and Postagreement Stability"

[4] Rothchild, "Settlement Terms"

[5] Rothchild, "Settlement Terms"

[6] Greenberg, Barton, and McGuinness

[7] Lijphart cf Hartzell, Hoddie, and Rothchild

[8] Rothchild

[9] Hartzell, Hoddie, and Rothchild

[10] Rothchild

[11] Hartzell, Hoddie, and Rothchild, Walzer, Greenberg, Barton, and McGuinness. Stettenheim, Percival and Homer-Dixon

[12] Rothchild, "Settlement Terms" also Rubenstein in Conflict Resolution: Dynamics, Process and Structure , Hampson

[13] Rothchild, Hartzell, Hoddie, and Rothchild

[14] see Zartman for a discussion of the idea of ripeness. Also Hampson and Greenberg et al.

Use the following to cite this article:
Ouellet, Julian. "Structural Components of Peace Agreements." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2004 <>.

Additional Resources