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Rubrik: Campus Life

Is peace feasible?

Published: 01.02.2007 06:00
Modified: 01.02.2007 07:54

Andreas Wenger

The wars in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and many other places in the world are the focus of political and media attention world-wide. Conversely, much less attention is paid to examples of successful transition from war to peace that are taking place away from the media spotlight, and in most cases only slowly and not without setbacks. What is needed for peace to be made? What can we learn from truce and peace negotiations? At least two preconditions must be fulfilled to allow the successful conversion of violent conflicts into peace processes. First the political context – the political power game in the country, in the region and in the international milieu – must be ripe for a negotiation process. In the absence of external pressure, warring factions only rarely succeed in finding their way to the negotiating table. As a rule, mutual distrust and the price already paid for war are too great to allow it. The importance of this context to peace processes can be illustrated by the example of the EU’s enlargement process. Without its structural pressure, the Ohrid Framework Agreement (2001) to improve the situation of the Albanian minority in Macedonia would scarcely have been achievable.

Second, internal willingness for dialogue within the parties to the conflict and a negotiating process conducted successfully are just as important as the general political climate. This means that truce discussions can grind to a halt if the warring factions make mistakes in the conduct of the negotiations. The same is true if they receive only inadequate support from third parties. Even when signed, a peace treaty often fails to lead to a permanent ceasefire. This happens when insufficient civil or military resources are made available to implement it.

The reciprocal interdependence between the political context and the negotiation process is well illustrated by the example of the ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains (2002) and the comprehensive peace agreement (2005) between the Sudan government in Khartoum and the armed opposition group known as the “Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army” (SPLM/A). This peace process ended the civil war between the North and the South of the country, which had caused 4 million displaced persons, 600,000 refugees and more than two million deaths since 1983, either directly as a result of hostilities or indirectly through the consequences of war such as famine and disease.(1)

Why did the warring factions start to negotiate? The willingness of the Sudanese government to take part in ceasefire negotiations for the Nuba Mountains region must be seen in relation to the presence of Bin Laden in the Sudan (1992-1996) and the air raids by the US on a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum. The military operation was reprisal for the bomb attacks by Al-Qa'ida on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Although the US in retrospect at least implicitly acknowledged these air raids to be a mistake – it was never possible to prove a direct link between the factory and Bin Laden – the Sudanese government was afraid of further military attacks. Washington actually did increase pressure on the Islamist government in Khartoum following the attacks of 11 September 2001. Khartoum made concessions, which enabled the permanent ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains in 2002 under the leadership of a Swiss-American mediation team.

Under external pressure, the subsequent political negotiation process for a comprehensive peace agreement was also successful. With support from the US,, Great Britain and Norway, representatives of the neighbouring countries forced the Sudanese government to recognise the right of Southern Sudan to self-determination in the context of a federal structure. They all shared concerns about the spread of political Islam and an interest in maintaining the unity of the Sudan. With regard to the permanent ceasefire, the decisive factor in the negotiation process was that the warring factions had known the Swiss ambassador since 1994 and trusted him.

Andreas Wenger, ETH-Professor für schweizerische und internationale Sicherheitspolitik und Leiter des Center for Security Studies an der ETH.

The negotiations were in turn favoured by broad international support, a qualified mediation team (in which a Swiss mediator also took part) and the direct involvement of senior representatives of the parties to the conflict. The peace treaty, which was signed in January 2005, is being monitored by 10,000 troops from the UN Mission. However, it has been overshadowed recently by the conflicts in Darfur, which remained excluded from the peace process.

If the political context and the negotiation process are in harmony, peace can succeed. What does that mean for Switzerland’s foreign policy? Although Switzerland is a small state and can scarcely exert a large influence on the political context of violent conflicts, it can contribute to the success of negotiation processes, as described above, and can promote the implementation of permanent ceasefire agreements and peace treaties by providing civil and military resources. In the case of the Sudan, Switzerland made a substantial contribution to the success of the negotiation process – but it was unable to participate in the enforcement of the ceasefire because of Swiss armed forces legislation. The latter allows only deployments mandated by the UNO or OSCE. If our country wishes to expand its commitment in the context of lasting peace processes, it will need a clearer long-term overall strategy enabling coordinated teamwork between mediators, development aid workers and soldiers in conflict regions. (2)

Andreas Wenger

His research field preoccupies the world – today more than ever. Andreas Wenger is concerned with security and the political institutions and processes that are intended to lead to it, as well as with conflicts, which show that security is always an endangered commodity. An ETH Professor of International and Swiss Security Policy, Andreas Wenger is also Director of the Center for Security Studies (CSS). With a staff of more than 60, it is one of the major centres of ETH Zurich and is networked far beyond the university and ETH. For example, under contract to the Swiss Federal Republic and in collaboration with national and international partners, it operates the International Relations and Security Network (ISN), an electronic network initiative that promotes security policy research dialogue.

During lengthy research visits to Yale, Princeton and recently to Washington again, Wenger has tackled current international security policy questions in depth. His research has focused on transatlantic relationships and on American and Russian foreign and security policy. Other interests include European security architecture and Switzerland’s foreign and security policies. Writing in the Swiss media as an expert, he regularly puts events into context in the security policy landscape for the benefit of the public at large – a task that he not only gladly undertakes but which he also regards as a natural part of his job: “Our knowledge and know-how should not be limited to the academic world. Enabling it to enter into political processes and communicating it to the general population are both a stimulus and a challenge.”

(1 ) Cf. Simon Mason, “Lessons from the Swiss Mediation and Facilitation Services in the Sudan,” in Bulletin 2006 on Swiss security policy, ETH Zurich: 2006, 43-97: (
(2 Cf. Stefano Bruno, Christiane Callsen, Daniel Trachsler, Victor Mauer and Andreas Wenger, Civil peace promotion as a field of activity of foreign policy: A comparative study based on five countries, ETH Zurich: November 2006: (

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