Peace negotiations are customarily held exclusively between political elites and in secret. While this confidentiality may be essential to the delicate process of negotiating peace, the fact that peace negotiations take place behind closed doors prevents cooperation between political representatives, and progress in the negotiations, from being known to the public. Existing research has shown the negative impact of secrecy and explored what motivates political elites to retain adversarial public discourses during peace negotiations, but not their opposites. To fill this gap, this research project aims to uncover why is, or not, cooperation between parties in peace negotiations disclosed to the public. It explores and compares differences in the disclosure of cooperation and progress during the peace negotiations in Colombia between the Santos government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) (2012-2016), and the multi-party Good Friday Agreement negotiations in Northern Ireland (1996-1998).
The central research question of the project is: Why are, or not, cooperative negotiating behaviours between parties in peace negotiations disclosed to the public? With the ultimate aim of uncovering why they are disclosed or not, it will explore what kinds of cooperative behaviours are disclosed to the public and what are not; when in the timeline of the negotiations process they are disclosed or not; and how they are disclosed. The concept of ‘cooperative negotiating behaviour’ is defined broadly to encompass the array of possible manifestations of cooperation in a peace negotiation process. A ‘cooperative negotiating behaviour’ will range from the mere manifestation of will to talk to another party and public handshakes between political representatives, to more substantive progress in the negotiations, such as agreements on procedural aspects of the negotiations, or on more substantial issues.
In order to understand why cooperative negotiating behaviours are, or are not, disclosed to the public, and to uncover when, how, and why this takes place in a peace process, an in-depth study of a peace negotiation process is needed. Therefore, a qualitative case study research is proposed to allow for the depth needed, while the two case comparison will allow for more comprehensive and nuanced findings. The two specific cases were selected for comparison mainly because they exhibit a significant difference in the public disclosure of information on the negotiations, particularly related to progress and cooperation. The ‘Havana negotiations’ (as they became known) between the Colombian government lead by President Santos and representatives of the FARC guerrilla took place between October of 2012 and November 2016, mainly in Havana, Cuba. The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) negotiations in Northern Ireland took place in an attempt to end the decades-long conflict between a nationalist, mainly catholic, minority and the mainly protestant unionist majority. The Good Friday Agreement, or Belfast Agreement, was reached on the 10th of April 1998 after two years of negotiations. While both negotiation processes were held under the (typical) peace negotiations principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ (meaning that all issues and agreement can be re-opened and re-negotiated until the negotiation ends), progress in the Havana negotiations was substantially more publicly disclosed than in the GFA negotiations. During the Havana negotiations, agreement in each of the six points/issues of the negotiating agenda was announced to the public as the negotiations progressed. In contrast, during the GFA negotiations, no progress was officially announced until the agreement was reached in 1998. These differences between the two processes suggest that cooperation was more disclosed in Colombia than in Northern Ireland. Consequently, comparing the two cases can better inform us on the motivations behind both disclosing and not disclosing cooperation and other complexities.
The project’s focus on cooperative behaviours provides an innovative approach to the study of peace negotiations because it changes the lens through which they are typically analysed. Studies on negotiation processes tend to focus on the give and take of the bargaining process and how these trade-offs are manifested in peace agreements. This project instead focuses on understanding how the process of negotiating peace affects political relationships and how these changes become public. The findings of this research will contribute to existing academic debates on the need for secret versus more open and inclusive peace negotiations and inform peace mediators on how to balance the need for confidentiality with that for transparency and public information. Ultimately, this can prevent public opinion manipulation and help promote societal reconciliation during peace negotiations.
Contact: Dr. Joana Amaral, Centre for Conflict Studies, University of Marburg