Powers of persuasion: Incentives, sanctions and conditionality in peace processes

from Conciliation Resources
Published on 31 Dec 2008 View Original


Incentives and sanctions are used by external actors to try to stop armed conflicts in the short term. But are they effective in promoting peace? This research by Conciliation Resources argues that these instruments are often not used as part of a broader strategy aimed at resolving conflict. They are often a confused mix of coercion and assistance, which neither force nor encourage the conflict parties towards a negotiated settlement.

‘Incentives’ and ‘sanctions’ are the labels used for sets of tools available to foreign governments, donor agencies, international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and multinational corporations to influence belligerent parties’ strategic choices. However, external interveners are frequently unaware of the extent to which their actions feed into conflict dynamics. Conversely, they may overestimate their influence, as often occurs with aid conditionality. Sanctions may be intended to push the parties towards the table, but too often harden positions and discourage dialogue. On the other hand, incentives may allow parties to milk a process without seriously engaging with their adversaries.

When external actors compel or induce conflict parties to agreement in advance of their recognition of the need to negotiate, they risk creating an unsustainable peace and an over-reliance on external action. Mediators need to structure peace processes in ways that create mutually reinforcing incentives, in which each side gives the other an incentive to compromise until the process gains momentum and becomes irreversible.

The root causes of the problems associated with the use of sanctions and incentives are:

  • poor conflict analysis by external actors;
  • motives on the part of warring parties and external actors that are unconnected with peace-making;
  • a multiplicity of external actors pursuing strategies with conflicting effects;
  • insufficient understanding by external actors of how the instruments they use may support or undermine broader public dialogue and may not benefit the groups most able to advocate engagement;
  • a lack of proper impact assessment, which means that parties get locked into policies that are not working; and
  • insufficient consideration for responsive informal tactics that can be adapted to changing circumstances in a peace process.

There are many challenges in designing and deploying incentives and sanctions strategically. Attention should be paid to legal and normative considerations, especially regarding how state actors deal with non-state armed groups.

  • The need to enforce international standards must be weighed against the requirements of specific conflicts and the problem of facing up to the contradictory motives often underlying international responses.
  • The question of who should wield incentives and sanctions is central. Allocating appropriate and strategically complementary roles in use of incentives and sanctions is as important as the choice of instrument.
  • The support of regional neighbours is important to the prospects for peace. Their own incentives for encouraging a peaceful resolution need to be factored in to the peace process and they should be encouraged to play a prominent role in conflict resolution efforts.
  • There must be enough international involvement to create sufficient incentives, but not at the expense of coherent and responsive action.
  • External actors need to apply judgment in their use of incentives and sanctions, giving priority to the interests of those most affected by the conflict.