Don’t Call for a Cease-Fire! They Only Lead to More Death and Destruction.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Feb. 17 2014 5:30 AM

Why Cease-Fires Make It Worse

They only give each side time to plan the next wave of attacks.

464136393-south-sudan-president-salva-kiir-mayardit-speaks-during
President Salva Kiir speaks during a press conference on Jan. 20, 2014, in Juba,South Sudan.

Photo by Charles Atiki Lomodong/AFP/Getty Images

Political leaders in South Sudan, the world’s newest state, have been murdering their civilians en masse. According to the United Nations, belligerents have killed at least 1,000 civilians and displaced 870,000 people since the fighting began in mid-December. The Obama administration quickly called for a cease-fire, because as spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, a temporary truce would allow for “an immediate cessation of hostilities to stabilize the situation and permit full humanitarian access to civilian populations.”

In late January, the two sides participated in peace talks mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African regional bloc, and signed a cease-fire. But since then the fighting has intensified. Forces allied with the South Sudanese government have been on the rampage while rebel forces have responded with attacks on military targets. New talks are scheduled to begin on Friday in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

I have bad news and worse news. The bad news first: These talks will likely fail, and the belligerents will continue to kill and displace civilians in large numbers.

Advertisement

And the worst news: The cease-fire is making it worse. Indeed, this uncomfortable truth isn’t even unique to South Sudan. Cease-fires almost always make a conflict worse, delaying political deals, prolonging the killing, and ensuring that the fighting continues long after it has begun.

The international community is laudable in its concern for civilian lives in South Sudan. However, in new countries, the medicine of cease-fires and peace processes are worse for civilian safety than the armed conflict as long as foreign powers and international organizations are directly involved in picking winners and losers.

My research on all 174 of the internationally recognized new states that have emerged since 1900 and scores of mass killings reveals that international involvement to temporarily address the symptoms of the violence—the mass death of civilians—increases the likelihood of greater violence and destruction. That is because cease-fires do nothing to eliminate the root causes of violence against civilians. Instead, both sides use the pause in killing to solicit diplomatic and military aid while planning and preparing their next wave of attacks.

According to the 2012 Human Security Report, between 1950 and 2004, 62 percent of cease-fires succeeded with no resumption of conflict in the next five years. The success of two-thirds of cease-fires would seem to support their use. Yet, in the civil wars that begin in new or young states, cease-fires typically succeed only after many that do not. In the interim, the belligerents busy themselves rooting out or killing their civilian rivals.

The war in Bosnia is a good example. In December 1995, the war ended with the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords. Four prior cease-fire attempts and peace plans failed despite widespread international involvement from the European Community, U.N. special envoys, U.N. mediators, and the so-called quintet of the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and Germany. Amid the haggling and hand-wringing, at least 100,000 civilian lives were lost, 20,000 women raped, and 2.2 million people displaced by the time the final negotiations began in November 1995. South Sudan is the latest example of the international community’s self-defeating efforts.

Here is how it usually plays out. In the process of appearing to make peace, belligerents in new states gain de facto international approval for their war gains. They also buy themselves valuable time to muster diplomatic support for their political faction as the sole legitimate authority within the new country, while attempting to eliminate their rivals in key parts of the country.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Launching a Serious Run at Apple and Samsung

Television

Slim Pickings at the Network TV Bazaar

Three talented actresses in three terrible shows.

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Jurisprudence
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?