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Negotiating peace and building peace: lessons learned, with a view to Colombia

Rafael Grasa
President of the International Catalan Institute for Peace
Rafael Grasa

Rafael Grasa

As stated in the editorial, negotiating peace and building peace are inextricably linked processes, both conceptually and in the practical side, of intervention. And that is precisely the objective of this article: to clarify what a peace process is and what can be expected of it, establishing the connections with the building of peace on the basis of the knowledge and the lessons learned up to now. In this way, they can be taken into account from the beginning of this new attempt at negotiations and, if these are successful, in the course of dealing with the situation subsequent to the violent conflict.

Let us begin by recalling that there are few terms as misleading as that of "peace process", particularly when seen from the point of view of the resolution and transformation of conflicts. In practice, the term refers to a diverse range of processes of political negotiations aimed at putting an end to a protracted armed conflict; negotiations with different actors, formats, objectives and of course, results. Let's see why.

Firstly, conceptually, a peace process is simply an ongoing peace initiative which involves different actors of an armed conflict. In other words, political negotiations, with crucial and different contexts, whose aim is to achieve "peace" in a narrow sense: an end to armed hostilities and some agreements to deal with the subsequent process of rehabilitation and post-war reconstruction. In the best of cases, in a comparative perspective, they are negotiations from which there may emerge a partially agreed "roadmap" concerning the process for the actual construction of peace, for conflict transformation, focusing on the "three R's": reconstruction, resolution and reconciliation.

Secondly, we are talking therefore about political negotiations to put an end to a protracted armed conflict that may have gone through different phases and stages, even including some with little or no violence. Where, as is the case from the point of view of ICIP, the ultimate goal is the transformation of conflicts (that is to say, to change unjust social relations and substantially alter the situation that created or exacerbated the motives for the dispute and for the use of violence), reconciliation takes on a key role, to the extent to which the conflict (understood as a dispute or antagonism between parties) will continue to exist following the peace agreement. What we aim to achieve, that which can be changed, is to reduce or eliminate the likelihood that violent methods and behaviour will be resorted to when dealing with this conflict. We should not forget that all peace processes are fragile and that, sooner or later, most of them fail.

Thirdly, the analysis of real peace processes over recent decades, including those which involve multilevel diplomacy and not just deals from the top, show that we must take into account several different issues and phases: a) the preparations for peace; b) the negotiations in the strict sense; c) the management of violence, something which it is always difficult to handle, given that examples abound of violent episodes during the negotiation process even when — unlike the Colombian case we are discussing now— there is a ceasefire; d) the specific peace agreements; and e) the construction and consolidation of peace, in terms of the "three R's" mentioned above.

Fourthly, with regard to the conflict and negotiations, both theory and practice show that in order to achieve success, a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition, is the search for win-win outcomes and mutual commitments between the parties. However, the initial positions of the parties usually reveal "win-lose" strategies, which often lead to "lose-lose" results which are negative for all parties. Therefore, the task of conflict resolution is to help the parties to turn zero-sum games ("win-lose") into positive-sum games, with results that bring positive change for all. In short, success requires negotiations based on interests and needs, and not on the basis of postures and positions. Key to this is the intervention of third parties in the negotiations, to help search for ways out of what appear to be dead ends, and to establish new models of communication.

Fifthly, the role of third parties. Specifically, the post Cold War period has brought new fields and possibilities, both broader and more effective, for the intervention of third party facilitators. The lessons learned show us that, with the real broadening in the meaning of multilateral diplomacy, which comes to be multilevel, enabling bottom-up interventions; a new role for internal peacemakers; and in general an increasing role for unofficial mediators and facilitators (in the jargon, "track 2", such as churches, NGOs, specialised centres) as well as citizens' and grassroots organisations ("track 3"). The well-known Lederach pyramid or triangle shows this graphically. In the case that we are dealing with, we should remember that far away, over the coming months, many players could be at the table in Havana.

This brings me to a sixth and final reflection, concerning the lessons learned from the debate between William Zartman and John Paul Lederach. Lederach has argued, against the former's thesis that negotiations can only be considered to be fruitful when a situation has been reached of "ripeness" or blockage in the battlefield which is mutually harmful to the contestants (a "hurting stalemate"), that the important thing are on-going processes over the long term. In his words, if you want to make peace, first you must strive to visualize the long-term outcome: constructing or making peace, transforming the conflict. Nothing is ever ripe unless you first cultivate the soil, which means clearing the land, making it fertile, allowing it to rest and regenerating it. The resolution and transformation of conflict requires cultivation and preparation. It is not possible to make peace unless — before, during and after the direct negotiations — we make an effort to construct that peace and to think and to analyse the feasibility of and the means to reach the post armed conflict scenarios we desire.

In short, the core element in the task of peacebuilding is precisely to nurture and sustain authentic, committed relationships across the various lines and fractures in the conflict, and thus between the different direct and indirect actors in that conflict. For that reason, peace in Colombia now does not depend only on what happens in Havana, or in the different capitals of the countries which are acting as facilitators and guarantors of the process. It also depends heavily on what is being done and what will be done in cities and communities across Colombia, and in many other parts of the world. As noted by Oliver Richmond, we must understand peace as both a process and a goal; as a process which, along with development and democracy, is in constant construction.