Peacekeeping doctrine and conflict resolution techniques

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Author: David M. Last
Date: Winter 1995
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 8,859 words

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It is time to take a long term view of conflict management, recognize the serious limitations of military intervention, and begin work to improve and develop other more viable options.(1)

This article describes the evolving contributions of peacekeepers to conflict resolution. Drawing on Canada's long involvement with the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for illustrations, its purpose is two-fold. The first purpose is to review the contributions of peacekeeping as it has been practiced in the past. The second is to indicate what new techniques may be used to help peacekeepers work more actively with civilians to eliminate violent conflict. To argue by analogy, I believe the situation of peacekeepers today is much like the situation of commanders on the Western Front in 1916, who were bogged down in defensive operations. To push the analogy somewhat, new tools of war were becoming available to commanders in 1916 that would permit them to take the offensive if they could only adjust their thinking about how to use their forces.(2) In the same way, new techniques of peacekeeping, taken from conflict resolution theory and civilian experience, now permit peacekeepers to take the offensive to restore peace. Doing so, however, requires some adjustment in how we think about peacekeeping operations.

To make this argument, I begin by examining some of the complexities entailed in organizing peacekeeping operations in Cyprus. I next describe the major defensive techniques of peacekeeping that have been employed by Canadian forces in Cyprus as part of UNFICYP. Then I consider what new techniques might have been deployed that would enable peacekeepers, working closely with civilians, to take the offensive in achieving conflict resolution. Finally, I consider more generally what conditions must be met if these new techniques of conflict management are expected to work.

Organizing Successful Peacekeeping Operations

Peacekeeping may be defined as "the prevention, containment, moderation and termination of hostilities between or within states, through the medium of a peaceful third party intervention organized and directed internationally, using multinational forces of soldiers, police and civilians to restore and maintain peace."(3) The aim, ultimately, is to establish a just and stable peace. From the viewpoint of military commanders, success in creating conditions for such a peace requires as much organizational planning as success in waging war. A principal aim of peacekeeping planning, as in war planning, is to integrate military operations across the tactical, operational, and strategic levels, so that actions on each level are mutually reinforcing.

Speaking generally, strategy addresses the distribution and application of all means of fulfilling policy objectives.(4) United Nations peacekeeping strategy to support international peace and security is developed by the Security Council, the Secretary General, and staff advisors.(5) Resources and activities at the tactical and operational level must be integrated to support the strategic aim of de-escalating violence and reconciling communities. That strategy is translated through a force mandate to support peacekeeping operations. At the operational level, the peacekeeping force commander converts strategic guidance into concrete military direction. This direction takes the form of guidelines for employing the force. The commander also coordinates the efforts of the military forces he (or she) commands with the efforts of UN civilian agencies. At the tactical level, contingents of the peacekeeping force carry out day-to-day military operations to fulfill the mandate and the force employment guidelines. They use multiple methods for doing this - the military aspects of which have been documented elsewhere(6) - ranging from manning observation posts to patrolling, from negotiating to showing force.

Michael Harbottle offers good examples of these varying organizational levels from his experience with and analysis of UN operations in Cyprus. At the strategic level, in 1964 Galo Plaza was appointed UN mediator to the conflict by the Secretary General. His mandate was to mediate the conflict and to report back to the Security Council. At the operational level, in his capacity as Chief of Staff of UNFICYP in 1968, Brigadier Harbottle arranged intercommunal meetings at which UN officers presided over exchanges of assurances of freedom of movement and good will between the communities. At the tactical level, interventions by junior soldiers have been important: "Often in United Nations operations serious escalation in violence has been avoided through the mediatory effort of a young non-commissioned officer or a junior commissioned officer. They have been called upon countless times to dissipate potential violence by a tactful and well-judged approach which has required great patience and forbearance."(7) Harbottle claims that, taken together, interventions on these three levels have "constituted an interrelated effort aimed at improving and creating bridges whereby communication might be established."(8)

That may be true. Yet, using hindsight, it is apparent that these inter-related efforts have not been sufficiently integrated to bring an end to the conflict. There are successes. At the tactical level, senior NCOs and young officers continue to dissipate potential violence, and, at the operational level, there have been occasional successes such as the opposing forces' 1989 withdrawal from parts of Nicosia. But these successes have not been linked with a comprehensive strategy that will push opposing parties towards peace. Stark evidence of the failure adequately to link efforts across organizational levels is found, for example, in the collapse of meetings between Cypriot Turks and Greeks that, from 1968 to 1974, had been presided over by UNFICYP officers. These meetings were an occasion to provide reassurances to both sides. After the partition of 1974, however, the meetings became difficult to hold on the tactical and operational levels, and the impasse was not broken at the strategic one. In other cases, minor setbacks at the tactical level became excuses for delaying or avoiding progress at the operational or strategic levels.

In sum, UNFICYP has been successful in de-escalating the conflict from violence to segregation. But, despite a promising start in the 1960s, it has not been successful at promoting a dialogue that would lead to the reintegration of the contending forces. An obvious explanation for this failure is lack of political will for a settlement at the strategic level. But there are two other possibilities that bear examination: is military peacekeeping inherently flawed? Or is it hampered by failure to coordinate its efforts in pursuit of achievable strategic goals?

There is an inherent contradiction in the role of peacekeepers in Cyprus. If their mandate is to maintain a status quo in which forces are segregated, then they are not well placed to assist in building trust and confidence as part of the progress towards a settlement. Fetherston describes this paradox as one in which the military functions of peacekeeping - segregating the belligerents - conflict with the role of a third party in conflict resolution: bringing the parties together.(9) While Fetherston accurately describes the current situation, peacekeeping need not inevitably impede conflict resolution. It has always been understood that peacekeeping relies on diplomacy to resolve conflict, but it is also true that at the tactical and operational levels, military forces can be vehicles of peaceful change. The military analogy to this situation is the distinction between offense and defense. A peacekeeping force wins the "main defensive battle" when opposing forces stop shooting and moving against each other. "Offensive" operations to transform the conflict include building trust and confidence between the opposing forces, meeting the security needs of each side, and setting up mechanisms that inhibit the use of force at the tactical and operational levels. The seeds for these offensive peacekeeping tactics can be found in current practice and in conflict resolution theory. Whether offensive action is best conducted by military forces or by predominantly civilian task forces will depend, among many other things, on the stage to which a particular conflict has de-escalated.

If peacekeeping is not inherently flawed, its limitations can be explained by failures of operational art, doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures. Like Haig at the Somme, peacekeepers today are close to mobilizing new tools and new ideas that will allow peacekeepers - military and civilian - to break through and defeat conflicts decisively. Integrating strategic, operational, and tactical levels of peacekeeping is a crucial step; examples of the interdependence of levels abound in UNFICYP.

When decisions leading to violence originate at the strategic level, they cannot be influenced directly by third party intervention at the operational or tactical levels. Either government or political authority in Cyprus can initiate troop movements, new defensive works, or acts of war that violate the cease-fire. Any such decision has to be addressed at the strategic level. Similarly, any progress at the operational and tactical levels requires the acquiescence of decision makers at the strategic level. The following two examples illustrate the point.

First, tactically, incidents such as the cocking and pointing of weapons at soldiers of one UN battalion became so numerous that they were undermining the morale and effectiveness of the contingent and threatening to erupt in violence. Representations at sector level by the battalion commander brought no result and UNFICYP staff were also unable to affect the situation. The issue was not considered serious enough to cause intervention at the political level, partly because it was thought that the belligerents might be close to agreement following an initiative by the Secretary General's Special Representative. An alternative was found when the national government of the contingent whose soldiers were threatened made a protest to the ambassador of the state whose forces were at fault. Within 48 hours, the incidents in that national sector had virtually ceased.(10) But this route to de-escalation can be used only infrequently; on another occasion a similar protest met with a counter-protest from the government in question.

The second example illustrates the minefield of conflicting requirements at strategic and operational levels. One of the most tense and dangerous sections of the buffer zone in Cyprus runs through the walled city of Nicosia, where opposing forces face each other across mere meters of ground over which they had fought fiercely in 1964 and again in 1974. UNFICYP had tried repeatedly to increase the physical separation of forces in order to reduce tensions and the danger of renewed fighting. A series of bilateral talks between the force commander (in consultation with UN New York) and the opposing forces came close to an agreement for demilitarizing the old city. Between mid-December 1988 and March 1989, elements of the Greek Cypriot press fanned popular suspicion of the deal, eventually causing a breakdown in the process at the political level.(11) In May 1989 a new force commander reopened the process but involved only military commanders. By keeping the discussion at a strictly technical and military level he was able to close the deal in a matter of weeks. However this local success was not extended to areas outside Nicosia as had been originally envisioned, possibly because of lack of political support at the strategic level.(12)

An effective peacekeeping mission requires close coordination of all three levels at which forces operate. Both military and civilian elements of a mission act as third parties to the conflict: they segregate opposing forces to reduce violence and work to restore trust, confidence, and normal relations. That peacekeepers should be responsible for both separation and rapprochement of belligerents is not such a strange idea: it is analogous to the dialectic of offensive and defensive action that underpins military operations in war. The peacekeeper works with the opposing forces against the conflict. The first phase of the operation is a defensive maneuver designed to segregate the belligerents. But the campaign cannot be won by defensive action alone - there must be a counterattack against the conflict that is swift and uses all available skills and resources. The principal tactics in the counteroffensive are "contact skills": e.g., constabulary intervention, mediation, negotiation, arbitration, conciliation, professional consultation, and problem-solving.

Peacekeeping Tactics in Cyprus

Canadians have participated in UNFICYP since its beginning in 1964. Files from the Canadian sector and the experiences of Canadian soldiers in Cyprus provide a rich bank of data on peacekeeping operations and tactics,(13) especially when augmented by interviews. Constabulary intervention, arbitration, "go-between" mediation, and conciliation are some of the tactics used in Cyprus.

The Data

The number of incidents reported in monthly summaries is a rough indicator of the activity of the Canadian sector, although not necessarily an indicator of tension: Some months showed large numbers of minor incidents, while in others a smaller number of more significant ones led to greater tension. The statistics on meetings and incidents are incomplete, but they do give an idea of the prevalence of third party intervention by peacekeepers at the battalion and company levels. Even in a peaceful and well-established mission, as Cyprus has been since 1986, significant incidents occurred frequently (see Table 1).

These incidents are normally managed through meetings at the platoon, company, and battalion levels. Meetings involving a UN platoon commander and a company commander of the opposing forces are usually sociable affairs dealing with trivial incidents; occasionally they are overtures to consideration of more serious affairs. It is at the company level that written records of meetings begin to be kept and to address matters of operational concern. Records of company-level meetings are not consistent; some units have kept excellent records, while others have few or no minutes of their meetings with opposing forces. Table 2 reflects the number of meetings for which minutes appear in Canadian war diaries between 1986 and 1992. The majority of these meetings occurred at battalion level (that is, between the Canadian commanding officer and his counterparts, or between his staff officers and their counterparts).

There is no direct correlation between the number of incidents in a given month and the number of meetings recorded. Three factors explain this: the number and severity of incidents vary; the "style" of units and individual officers varies in dealing with incidents; and the data are incomplete.

Table 1
Summary of Average Monthly Incident Totals

Year       Total Incidents     Months Recorded        Average/Month

1986             189                  8                     24
1987             105                  7                     15
1988             195                 10                     20
1989             192                 11                     17
1990             572                 12                     48
1991             461                 12                     38
1992             926                 10                     93
Totals          2640                 70            Average: 38

NOTE: This indicates the scale of activity year to year, based on
monthly records in the War Diary. The marked increase in 1990
coincides with a change in key personalities in the south, which
or may not be pertinent. A more accurate count of incidents could
made by tallying daily situation reports.

Constabulary Intervention

Constabulary intervention occurs when soldiers of the peacekeeping force act as police to halt or deter the actions of opposing forces. This action may consist simply of soldiers standing in full view and dissuading hostile acts by word or gesture.

In the early stages of conflict de-escalation, when cease-fire violations are very common, it is usually at platoon and company levels that officers approach their counterparts and demand compliance. When a cease-fire is well-established and shooting has become rare, shouting, rock-throwing, and obscene gestures risk upsetting the fragile peace, all infractions that can be dealt with by the "constable" on the beat - the private soldier or his section sergeant. The calm physical presence of a UN soldier between opposing forces, admonitions to each side, and the threat of calling upon the offenders' superiors to discipline them has often been effective in calming situations that might erupt in new violence. Such intervention is most effective after the cessation of hostilities.

When shooting has stopped and segregation is effective, the presence of the blue-helmeted "police force" can change the norms of behavior in the opposing forces. If an isolated shot does occur, the recourse is to lodge a complaint with the UN, as one would with a civil police force, rather than to return fire. This approach can be carried farther once segregation is effective and in place for some time. For example, if shooting can be treated as a criminal matter for resolution by civilian police, it reinforces the concept that shots by either opposing force will not be tolerated under the cease-fire. There are two interesting examples.

Table 2
Meetings Held in the Canadian Sector, 1986-1992

Year       Total Meetings      Months Recorded        Average/Month

1986             21                   9                      2
1987             24                   7                      3
1988             62                  12                      5
1989              7                   5                      1
1990             72                  12                      6
1991             31                  12                      3
1992             54                  10                      5
Totals          271                  67             Average: 4

NOTE: Records of meetings do not necessarily reflect all meetings
held; however, the general level of activity is indicated.

In the first, two shots were reported. A soldier claimed to have returned fire when shot at by a UN patrol, and, in response to his protest, the UN sent civilian police (UNCIVPOL) to investigate the incident, treating both the UN and the opposing force as potential suspects. The forensic evidence exonerated the UN, and was presented to the opposing force for action against the soldier guilty of careless discharge of a weapon.

In the second case, it was alleged by an opposing force commander that several shots were fired from a heavy machine gun at a specific time and place. UN observers should have heard the shots and seen the tracers, but had not, and there was some suspicion that the accusation was false and aimed at embarrassing the UN or the other side. The incident was escalated to UNFICYP headquarters, where staff officers demanded a full investigation by the civil authorities of the complaining party. The accusations were withdrawn.

In both these cases, the soldiers on the scene maintained a stable and orderly background against which combatants could rely, not on force of arms, but on the adjudication of a neutral third party.(14) This is probably the main impact of effective police practices, which rely on the presence and assertion of a positive influence more than on coercion.(15) Constabulary intervention is the classic tool of peacekeeping forces at the tactical level for maintaining a stable segregation of forces once an effective cease-fire is in place. Its application changes as the conflict de-escalates, but, to be effective at any stage, persistent violations must be dealt with convincingly at the operational (and sometimes the strategic) level.


Arbitration is used to control situations that are or might turn violent. In arbitration, "an authoritative third party provides a binding judgment by considering the opposing positions and imposing a settlement."(16) Binding judgment means that the freedom of action of opposing forces is reduced; this implies a greater degree of control by the peacekeepers. Tactical forces cannot arbitrate unless there is willingness at the operational and strategic levels to support the judgment rendered. The 1948 cease-fire in the former Palestine, with the clear threat of enforcement under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, was arbitration at the strategic level.(17)

An example of "tactical arbitration" when the violence level is high illustrates the difficulty and danger of attempting to impose a binding judgment on soldiers, even when their governments may have agreed to a cease-fire. A heavy machine gun had been firing at an opposing force position, until a UN armored personnel carrier parked in its line of fire and the UN section commander dismounted to insist that the machine gun refrain from firing.(18) The choice of firing at the neutral UN or abiding by the cease-fire that he knows to be in effect is a hard one for the opposing force soldier. If UN forces retaliate, they lose their privileged position, and the soldier's choice is easier; he can return fire. In fact, even rumors that UN soldiers have fired on his side may be enough, given the generalizing tendencies of ethnic conflict.(19) Despite the obvious danger (the opposing forces normally are better armed then the UN), if the blue helmets can impose a binding judgment on individual soldiers and their commanders whenever a mandate is threatened, they have won the main defensive battle - stabilizing the conflict.

As the conflict becomes more stable, binding judgments at lower levels become easier. For example, encroachments into the buffer zone are a constant theme in partitioned Cyprus. When soldiers of the opposing force appear in the buffer zone (or prevent UN movement through part of it) platoon, company, and battalion officers in succession will render authoritative judgments about the location of the cease-fire line. Once escalated to the operational level, headquarters staff must attempt to determine why such violations are occurring. The need to understand the causes of such incidents raises the requirement for consultation.

Peacekeeping forces may also attempt "mediation with muscle" or "power mediation."(20) While not as coercive as arbitration, this involves providing incentives and disincentives for the opposing forces to persuade them to abide by the terms of a cease-fire. The sticks and carrots available at the tactical and operational levels are very limited. Military forces will almost always be outnumbered and outgunned.

At tactical and operational levels, the power of peacekeepers is derived from two sources: the degree to which they can be useful and the degree to which they can hamper opposing force goals. In the Canadian sector in Croatia, civil projects such as rebuilding roads, restoring electrical power, and providing emergency medical treatment and medical evacuation have all been used as incentives to gain the cooperation of local civil and military authorities. In Cyprus, local control over electricity or water supplies has sometimes been used as a lever. Such levers must be used sparingly, because parties to a conflict will take extraordinary measures to evade pressure they consider unreasonable. But these examples emphasize the importance of an all-arms team, including engineers and signallers, as well as the interrelationship of peacekeeping and socioeconomic reconstruction.

Arbitration is a technique that relies on a strong third party, and thus on support and firm direction from the highest levels. It is also essential at the tactical level, although difficult and dangerous, to win the first crucial battle to enforce a cease fire. The problems inherent in arbitration illustrate a general principle: the greater the control the third party attempts to exercise, the more important the integration of strategic, operational, and tactical levels of peacekeeping.

"Go-between" Mediation

A third party mediator in a civil conflict normally acts in the presence of both sides at the same time, holding three-party meetings. This rarely happens at the tactical and operational levels in peacekeeping missions because the focus is on separation of opposing forces. Segregation allows mistrust and lack of communication to turn small acts on either side into threatening gestures. Acting as go-betweens, UN officers can minimize misinterpretation of opposing force intentions and reduce tension and hostility.

For example, demolitions close to the buffer zone by one side were interpreted by the other as preparation for new avenues of attack and were cited as justification for new defensive works. But staff officers were able to provide information that the explosions represented only the need to destroy some derelict buildings to ensure the safety of people using roads in and near the buffer zone. They were also able to provide reassurances to both sides that these demolitions did not open up corridors for use by armored vehicles.(21)

Troop movements and exercises near the buffer zone are frequent occurrences. By insisting that UNFICYP be notified of these movements, officers at sector level and UNFICYP staff officers are able to provide reassurances that increased activity levels observed by the other side are "normal," and that there is no threat to the status quo. Sensitivity to the security concerns of each side is essential in fulfilling this function; UN forces must not be seen as spies for the opposing force. At the operational level, a decision may be made to try to negotiate voluntary exchanges of information as a confidence-building measure rather than to simply provide reassurances from the UN force.

A physical manifestation of this go-between function at the tactical level is increasing visibility in the buffer zone by installing extensive lighting. Nervous soldiers tend to shoot at things they cannot see, and spotlights had also been used aggressively by both sides to blind the sentries of the opposing force. After a series of shooting incidents, both sides agreed with UNFICYP that neutral floodlighting should be installed in tense areas in and around Nicosia. But there was disagreement about who should install it. Finally, between November 1985 and May 1989 a series of improvements were made to lighting in the buffer zone by UNFICYP field engineers, after extensive discussion and acceptance of each phase by the opposing forces.

These examples generally illustrate the go-between role in preserving stability and enhancing confidence in the segregation of forces. Before 1974, UNFICYP periodically succeeded in bringing opposing forces together, but as Chief of Staff, Brigadier Harbottle presided over true mediation in 1968 when UNFICYP officers supervised bicommunal meetings. The bicommunal meetings that occur today do so with the protection of UNFICYP, but without the active involvement of UNFICYP officers as mediators at the table or the participation of opposing forces. Only civilians are involved.

It is unrealistic to expect contact at the tactical or operational levels until routine contact is established at the strategic level. Indeed political direction from the highest levels is a prerequisite for opposing force contact. Insistence on contact between the military forces at least at the operational level would allow effective mediation of disputes and the development of substantive confidence building measures.

Mediation is an activity that may start out with a go-between function - a series of meetings with first one side, then the other. It may thus begin at the strategic level with a UN appointed mediator,(22) and then be taken up at the operational and tactical levels for dealing with specific problems. In addition, once a situation has been stabilized, impetus is needed from the strategic level that insists on direct contact at lower levels. Such contact allows the peacekeeping force to assist opposing forces to develop their own solutions to security problems, working together under UN supervision to solve specific disputes and reinforcing norms of cooperation and common interest that existed prior to the conflict.


Conciliation by peacekeeping forces consists of actions and discussions that reduce the hostility each opposing force feels towards the other. In the process, conciliation erodes the negative stereotypes that characterize conflict. It occurs at every level and can be particularly effective at the tactical level, where platoon commanders of the UN force may meet with comparatively inexperienced opposing force company commanders who are prepared to believe the worst about their opponents.

The most common incidents at platoon and company level involve lack of discipline and minor infractions of the status quo. When one side complains that the other is overmanning (putting more soldiers in a position than permitted by local arrangement), the UN officer may point to similar infractions on the plaintiff's side. By pointing out that these acts are unintentional rather than part of a sinister plan, officers are encouraged to view their opponents as the mirror image of themselves. The peacekeeper, interacting with both sides, is in a good position to reinforce empathy and undermine the negative stereotypes each side holds about the other.

Although conciliation is an important tool, it is strictly limited by a posture of armed confrontation between the opposing forces. When there is a cease-fire but no peace accord, initiatives at the tactical and operational levels more ambitious than those mentioned above are usually confined to civilians; higher commanders, on the other hand, actively sponsor suspicion of the other side. Anything other than low key conciliation by peacekeeping forces may be regarded as subversive, and may be effective only after a settlement.

New Techniques for Peacekeepers

Constabulary intervention and arbitration in Cyprus have been practiced primarily as defensive tactics; they have assisted in the prevention of violence, but have contributed little to the resolution of the conflict. Nevertheless, the seeds of offensive actions to end violent behavior are illustrated in the above cases. Effective constabulary intervention makes military acts subject to the rule of law; effective arbitration and conciliation change attitudes about the opposing force. The next step is to combine these insights with techniques drawn from conflict resolution theory and civilian practice to plan campaigns of conflict de-escalation.

In her work on the theory of UN peacekeeping, Fetherston has provided an effective model for developing new techniques for military and civilian peacekeepers that is based on the contingency model of third party intervention.(23) The model suggests that there are different third-party activities appropriate to different stages of a conflict. The defensive techniques described above predominate in the early stages when the levels of violence are high, but more interactive techniques such as negotiations, consultation, and problem-solving workshops are appropriate as violence de-escalates.

Principled Negotiation

The term "principled negotiation" comes from the Harvard Negotiation Project, which was a multidisciplinary effort to develop effective strategies for conflict resolution. Fisher and Ury offer three criteria for judging the effectiveness of negotiations: they should produce agreements that serve the legitimate interests of both parties; they should be efficient; and they should improve, or at least not damage, the relationship between the parties. There are four basic tenets of principled negotiation: separate people from the problem (don't make it a conflict of personalities); focus on interests, not positions; invent options for mutual gain; and insist on using objective criteria for evaluation.(24)

The technique is applicable to every level at which negotiations occur. The difficulty for the peacekeeper is to determine the objectives of the negotiation, and the best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA). He or she cannot do this in isolation, and must have clear guidance from the operational level about the aims of the negotiations. An example illustrates the interdependence of levels of operations, and the need for consistent aims (as in any other military operation).

As an illustration, one of the opposing forces had constructed a barbed wire entanglement along a line clearly within the buffer zone. Because formation-level (brigade or regiment) resources were used to emplace the obstacle, the incident was clearly beyond the influence of the UN company commander. In consultation with UNFICYP headquarters, the battalion commanding officer therefore planned a sequence of escalating protests. He met with the opposing formation commander; when no result was obtained within 24 hours, UNFICYP's Chief of Staff met with his own counterpart. The force commander had been advised, and the political advisor to the force commander had warned the foreign ministry in question that diplomatic protests at the highest level would follow any failure to resolve the issue by UNFICYP staff. Concurrently with the threatened escalation at the political level, an UNFICYP company mounted a show of force in which two platoons supported by armored vehicles of the force reserve rehearsed dismantling wire obstacles with grappling irons in full view of opposing force soldiers. The threat of escalation to the strategic level put pressure on the formation commander who had probably initiated the violation. At the same time, the guarantee of support at the operational and strategic levels for a coordinated plan gave the commanding officer and the chief of staff a best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA): in the absence of agreement they would be able to declare judgment by pulling the fence with minimum risk.

The actual process of negotiation in this case followed all of the essential rules laid down by Fisher and Ury, but its success depended on the linkage of tactical, operational, and strategic levels to avert the need to resort to enforcement (the BATNA). Although this kind of negotiation happens at every level and at each stage of a conflict, it is in the later stages of a conflict, when de-escalation has begun and there are concerted efforts to reconcile conflicting interests, that negotiation is critical at the operational and strategic levels to avoid reversion to violence.

Among the cases drawn from Canadian case files, there are many where principled negotiation might have been used to good effect. For example, several pretexts have been used over the years for encroachment into the buffer zone. In rural areas, unauthorized farming is sometimes encouraged by one of the opposing forces to demonstrate lack of UN control over the area. Opposing force guard posts will then appear inside the buffer zone, adjacent to the area being farmed. There are three possible UN reactions to this situation. The "soft" approach allows negotiation to be sidetracked into the issue of economic uses of the buffer zone. A compromise might be reached in which the farmer is allowed to farm without a UN permit (ceding some UN control of the buffer zone) and the military presence is withdrawn. The "hard" approach makes UN control of the buffer zone the central issue.

The real question in this case is one of interests. What are the interests of the UN at the tactical level? The fact that such incidents are resolved in different ways by different units, and are treated inconsistently at the operational level over time, suggests that there is some confusion about the aims to be pursued through negotiation. What is the UN aim? To avoid conflict between itself and the opposing force? To maintain the status quo rigidly? Or to foster trust and confidence between communities?

Principled negotiation is a powerful technique for handling such incidents throughout the conflict resolution process, but it is a two-edged sword. Like any technique relying on local initiative, the strategic and operational goals must be clearly spelled out so that negotiators are consistently pushing in the same direction.

Confidence-building and Conciliation

The longer a conflict remains stable, the greater the opportunity for progressive confidence-building and intercommunal conciliation. A UN peacekeeping force has an important role because the common military language and culture and concern for security provide a common starting point that can be used to open channels for changing attitudes and solving practical problems.

The military leaders who routinely communicate with UN officers may influence the attitudes of those they command, particularly reserves and militiamen. Peter Loizos has described the pathology of hatred that can lead to intercommunal killing. Key factors are the selective history taught by nationalists; the example of nation-state behavior; ideas of will, power, domination, and revenge; and the logic of ethnic conflict as collectivist and non-specific - "us" against "them" - which absolves the perpetrator of responsibility for his actions and makes any of "them" a legitimate target in atonement for the sins of their countrymen.(25) Although these factors develop in youth, they mature in the serving militia.

Socialization of young men in military service solidifies intercommunal conflict. In post-war Germany, the allies established the zentrum innere fuhrung or "center for inner leadership" to provide political education for the officers of the post-war German army that would combat the effects of wartime socialization and militarism. With the consent of the communities involved, supervision of officer education and militia training could provide an analogous basis for conciliation. Professional armies are in a position to provide the incentive of high quality training assistance, on the condition that opposing forces participate jointly. This kind of initiative would be most appropriate after a settlement, even though it requires sophisticated techniques of education and socialization that may be perceived as invasive.

Confidence building measures (CBMs) are also means of reducing hostility. The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) negotiated CBMs multilaterally, but a peacekeeping force could develop information measures or arrange to supervise challenge inspections or verification.

The need to target education as part of a comprehensive strategy of reconciliation is acknowledged in the Secretary General's "Set of Ideas on an Overall Framework Agreement on Cyprus,"(26) just one of many points at which civilian agencies and peacekeeping forces need to coordinate their activities. The militarily controlled buffer zone can serve as a bridge rather than a barrier between the two communities: the annual UNFICYP spring fair (held until reductions precluded it in 1993) saw thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriot civilians mingle in the United Nations Protected Area. This precedent suggests that it would make sense to run joint school tours of the buffer zone rather than those now conducted by each side that reinforce negative images of the community on the other side.

Conciliation has applications at the operational and tactical levels while forces are being segregated, but one should not expect too much of it. Later in the conflict resolution process, initiatives at the strategic level might allow its introduction through confidence building measures or training and education programs. Under these circumstances, military participation would make it a much more valuable tool.

Consultation and Problem-solving

All the techniques above are employed between the UN and one party. There are practical reasons that unit officers, and even headquarters staff, have limited ability to engage in three-party encounters, even if these were to become easy to arrange as the result of a strategic breakthrough.

When officers of the UN force begin to deal with both sides in the same meeting, the need for well-developed contact skills increases dramatically. In a simple two-party meeting at company or battalion level, the use of a translator keeps the pace slow and reduces the scope of complex discussions. With amateur translators (usually privates or corporals from the opposing forces), problems sometimes arise from translation of past and future tenses and limited vocabularies. Turning a meeting into a three-way, three-language affair would require intense preparation and rehearsal just to overcome these simple frictions. And there is also a potential for explosive verbal or physical confrontations when opposing forces are brought together.

Careful preparation, the adroit use of social occasions, and selection of participants based on detailed knowledge can all be used to mitigate these difficulties. However, it is almost certainly beyond the capacity of combat arms officers at unit level to overcome all these problems in the space of a six-month tour. Three-party encounters are therefore probably the preserve of specialist teams of staff officers and civilian advisors at the operational level. When this stage in conflict de-escalation has been reached, problem-solving workshops and consultation might be considered.

Problem-solving workshops could follow the guidelines outlined by Fetherston,(27) with midranking staff officers as participants. The focus of workshops might be concrete security measures of advantage to both sides. For example, the buffer-zone lighting problem mentioned above could be the subject of a workshop involving both sides under UN supervision. Similarly problems of movement control across the buffer zone, supervision of civilian activity in the buffer zone, and notification of exercise activities might be subjects for discussion. Initially, it is unlikely that such workshops could have more than an exploratory role, but could develop into an advisory role, and eventually be entrusted with limited decision-making authority on routine matters. The key to their success would be in arriving at creative and mutually beneficial solutions to common security problems. Even if they never achieved this level of utility, problem-solving discussions conducted in the right atmosphere between professional soldiers at the operational level, with the assistance of UN military or civilian facilitators, could be a useful precursor to negotiations conducted at the strategic level.(28)

Problem-solving workshops are more than an academic concept; they have been used in Cyprus by Ron Fisher, Louise Diamond, and Ambassador John McDonald among others. Although there is some skepticism about the extent of their potential, civilian workshops have made progress in identifying mutual and opposing interests.(29) It is arguable that professional officers entering such discussions do so with greater commonality between their respective cultures and interests than do civilians attempting the same process.

It is clear from the characteristics of these offensive conflict resolution techniques that they require a judicious combination of military and civilian talent.

Defeating Violent Conflict

Military doctrine for conflict is well established. Doctrine for conflict resolution is not so mature, but it is apparent that peacekeeping forces can do more than keep belligerents apart. Peacekeeping can be seen as a joint military and civilian operation in which defensive tactics are used to control and prevent violence and offensive tactics attack the sources of the conflict, de-escalate tensions, and restore trust and confidence between communities. Indeed this is peacekeeping according to the International Peace Academy's Peacekeeper's Handbook. (See note 3).

As a conflict de-escalates, terms other than peacekeeping might be used to describe specific phases during which various techniques may be more or less useful to an intervening third party. A simple view of the spectrum of conflict resolution might include the following stages: stop the fighting; drag the participants to the negotiation table; build enough trust to facilitate agreement; reach an agreement; and prevent recurrence of conflict.(30) Traditional peacekeeping during the Cold War tended to stop at the first stage; wider peacekeeping involves other stages of conflict de-escalation, including conflict prevention, supervision of elections, and humanitarian relief, all with the aim of restoring just and stable peace.(31)

"Peace-pushing" is a term used by Ron Fisher in his work on third party intervention.(32) When third parties have sufficiently high stakes in a conflict, they may offer incentives or impose sanctions on parties to bring them to the negotiating table. International actions such as sanctions, blockades, and embargos are indirect means of influencing leaders at best, but have an even more uncertain impact on the propensity for violence from the bottom up. Bilateral incentives, guarantees, or the freezing of assets sometimes have a greater impact, but again an uncertain impact on the man in the attic who has a gun and hates his neighbor. Peace-pushing at the strategic level relies heavily on the peacekeeper to hold the line at the operational and tactical levels, against both organized forces and the man in the attic. At the same time, sanctions imposed by the United Nations may generate hostility towards the peacekeeping force, making it more difficult and more dangerous for them to hold the line.

Fisher argues that peace-building is a necessary step between peacekeeping and peace-making - building the trust and confidence necessary to negotiate in good faith and arrive at lasting solutions.(33) CSCE documents also refer to peace-building measures such as notification and observation of exercises, declarations of military holdings, doctrine seminars, and other confidence-building measures. This is a stage in the process that requires both civilian and military contact; civilians must build ties between the estranged communities, while military forces must be involved to provide stable and nonthreatening security guarantees for each community.

Peace-making is a diplomatic activity: "...action to bring hostile parties to agreement, essentially through such peaceful means as those foreseen in Chapter VI of the Charter of the United Nations."(34) Since the most vital interests are those of physical security, military forces will inevitably be involved in the peace-making process.

Finally, the international community and the parties to the conflict themselves must engage in postconflict peace-building to prevent the recurrence of conflict.(35) Military education and training can contribute to useful postconflict behavior by belligerent forces.

These stages in the defeat of a violent conflict are illustrated in Figure 1. The relative importance of military forces may diminish as one moves from left to right, but there are vital military roles at every stage of conflict de-escalation. Military roles must be effectively integrated with the increasingly important civilian functions and agencies involved in conflict resolution.

Peacekeepers need a roadmap for intervention to control and prevent violence; it should cover the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of peacekeeping operations, from stopping the fighting to ensuring that fighting does not recur after a settlement. For war operations, this road map is provided by doctrine that describes the way the army should think about and wage war. But there is less clarity in doctrine for peacekeeping operations.

Doctrine provides a common starting point. Nowhere is this more important than in multinational organizations. Military and civilian peacekeeping manuals published since the 1970s address UN structures and processes, the principles of peacekeeping, humanitarian and economic operations, public affairs, legal aspects, logistics, and the role of civil police.(36) New departures in election monitoring, national reconstruction, and humanitarian relief operations are reflected in academic documents, and will eventually make their way into circulated doctrine.(37) But peacekeeping doctrine needs more than lists of planning factors and procedures.

There are two key groups of questions that are unanswered in these publications. The first concerns how negotiations are conducted. What techniques can be applied under different circumstances? What basic skills are required at each rank level, within units, and in the headquarters staff? How do negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, "shuttle diplomacy," good offices, and so on fit into the peacekeeping mandate at various stages?

Also unanswered in current manuals are questions about the "who, what, and when" of negotiation. When can a lower commander negotiate? Who can normally make agreements, understandings, and arrangements? What are appropriate subjects for arrangements at a local level? How are legitimate parties to the conflict to be identified? Such decisions and their role in the resolution of conflict are basic to all peacekeeping missions, although the answers will depend on the mission and the stage to which the conflict has de-escalated. A common understanding of the military role in negotiations and conflict resolution at the tactical and operational level is essential to permit multinational forces to function effectively together, and integrate their activities with civilian efforts.


The tools for eliminating protracted conflict are available now. The soldierly skills of patroling, establishing observation posts, and mounting shows of force are well developed, but are not enough. The procedures for holding meetings, negotiating agreements, escalating problems, arbitrating disputes, shuttling between opposing forces, and conciliating when possible are evolving in today's missions. Research offers a choice of new contact skills that need to be developed by military leaders and practiced with civilian colleagues. Military expertise is needed to help integrate operations and tactics across the spectrum of peace operations, but as conflicts de-escalate it is appropriate to expect military forces to diminish and civilian involvement to increase. However there are military roles at every stage.

The maxim that the conduct of war must be linked to the strategic aim at every level is unquestioned; so must it be for peace operations. Neither the aims and methods nor the interrelationship of different levels of peace operation are well explained in current doctrine, yet de-escalation and conflict resolution by peacekeepers can be and has been effective. Understanding how it works and translating it into international doctrine is a vital step toward managing protracted social conflicts.

Many questions remain unanswered. Where is the dividing line between military and civilian responsibilities for rebuilding relations between communities? Can a strategy of de-escalation succeed against the determined resistance of one or more parties to the conflict? Are the nation building and counter-insurgency doctrines of the 1960s still relevant, or anachronistic?

There is a risk that the new emphasis on expanding peace operations will put large expeditionary forces into situations where their doctrine does not adequately equip them to combine interpersonal skills and military skills effectively. The consequence could be the inappropriate use of force at low levels to the detriment of conflict resolution at the strategic level.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: This paper was originally presented at the Inter-University Seminar Conference in Baltimore, Maryland 22-24 October 1993. I would like to thank my colleagues who assisted in the research, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions. Views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Canadian Armed Forces.

1. A. B. Fetherston, Toward a Theory of United Nations Peacekeeping, University of Bradford, Department of Peace Studies, Peace Research Report 31, February 1993, p. 85.

2. Larry H. Addington, The Patterns of War Since the Eighteenth Century (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 144-45.

3. International Peace Academy, Peacekeeper's Handbook (New York: IPA and Pergamon Press, 1984), 22.

4. Roger Parkinson, Encyclopedia of Modern War (St. Albans: Granada, 1977), 305.

5. Peacekeeper's Handbook, op. cit., Chapter II, and article I of the Charter of the United Nations.

6. United Nations, Training Guidelines for National or Regional Training Programmes, (United Nations, 91-02208); Australian Army Manual of Land Warfare, Part One: The Conduct of Operations, Vol. 3: Low Intensity Operations, Pamphlet No. 3: Peacekeeping. (Department of Defence, Army Office, 2 May 1980); United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, The Army Field Manual, Vol. V, All Arms Tactics, Special Operations and Techniques, Part 1: Peacekeeping Operations, (Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1988); Canadian Forces Publication 301(3) Peacekeeping Operations First Draft (Department of National Defence, 1991); and Johan Hederstedt, Jorn Hee, Nils W. Orum, Simo Saari, and Olli Viljaranta, Nordic UN Tactical Manual, Vol. 1 (Jyvaskyla, Finland, 1992).

7. Michael Harbottle, (1980) "The Strategy of Third Party Interventions in Conflict Resolution," International Journal 35, 1, (1980): 119.

8. Harbottle, "Third Party Interventions," 129.

9. Fetherston, Theory of Peacekeeping, 77-78.

10. Privileged communication from participant. The information is necessarily vague due to UNFICYP rules of confidentiality.

11. Front page stories from Cyprus papers between February and April 1989 include the progressively more negative reports: on 6 February Simerini warned of a Turkish trap; on 2 March Agon claimed that the agreements were failing due to Turkish fault; on 5 March, President Clerides chastised the press for its unproductive fuss; on 31 March, Elephtherotypia accused the President of secret moves; on 1 April Kirikas claimed that new American proposals were a dangerous fraud; and on 5 April, the Cyprus Mail reported that the disengagement plan favored the Turkish side.

12. Personal communication with participants.

13. There were three sources of documentary information: Canadian sector case files (these are working files related to specific subjects or geographical areas); the War Diaries and operations logs of Canadian units; and UNFICYP files. UNFICYP files were used for background information only, and have not been cited in this study. The sector case files are the best means of identifying significant incidents and are often the source for records of meetings and correspondence with opposing forces, but the war diaries provide a continuous record that allows events and participants to be situated in place and time. Permission to use the files for this research was granted on the condition that details of person, place, and time were not specific enough to identify participants. The incidents are therefore described in general terms. The record is most complete for the period after 1986.

14. Michael N. Harbottle, The Impartial Soldier, (London: Oxford University Press, 1970).

15. Morton Bard and Joseph Zacker, The Police and Interpersonal Conflict: Third party Intervention Approaches (Washington, DC: Police Foundation, 1976).

16. Roger Fisher and Bruce Patton, Negotiation Workshop (Cambridge Mass.: School of Law Harvard University, 1992), 13.

17. United Nations, The Blue Helmets: A Review of United Nations Peacekeeping (New York: United Nations Department of Public Information 1985)

18. This is an apocryphal story; it may have happened in 1974 but I have found no documentary evidence. It is provided as an illustration only.

19. Peter Loizos, "Intercommunal Killing in Cyprus" Man 23 (1988): 639-653.

20. Fisher and Patton, Negotiation Workshop, 14.

21. This is a simplification of two separate cases in CANCON case files.

22. The Blue Helmets, p. 13 (Arab-Israeli conflict), and p. 262 (Cyprus).

23. The three most important sources on the contingency model of third party intervention are Hugo Prein, "A Contingency Approach for Conflict Intervention," Group and Organization Studies, 9:1 (1984): 81-102; Ron Fisher, "The Potential for Peacebuilding: Forging a Bridge from Peacekeeping to Peacemaking," Peace and Change, 18 (1993): 247-266; and Fetherston, Theory of Peacekeeping, xx.

24. Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, (1991) Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, 2nd ed., (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991). There are also practical guides to negotiation that omit mention of principle and focus on the marketplace techniques of haggling - cooperative and confrontational. See Leonard Koren and Peter Goodman, The Haggler's Handbook: One Hour to Negotiating Power (New York: Norton, 1990). The Harvard Negotiation Project offers concrete guidelines for appropriate negotiating behavior for achieving the goals of a peacekeeping force.

25. Loizos, "Intercommunal Killing in Cyprus." Since these factors are culturally determined they could be expected to vary from one conflict to another, underlining the importance of cultural sensitivity.

26. UN S/2472 21 Aug 1992, p. 23: "A bi-communal committee will be established to review the text books used in schools on each side and make recommendations for the removal of material that is contrary to the promotion of goodwill and close relations between the two communities. The committee may also recommend positive measures to promote that objective."

27. A. Betts Fetherston, (1991) "The Problem-Solving Workshop in Conflict Resolution." In Peacemaking in a Troubled World, ed. Tom Woodhouse (New York: Berg, 1991), 247-265.

28. Ronald J. Fisher, "Prenegotiation Problem-Solving Discussions: Enhancing the Potential for Successful Negotiation," International Journal XLIV (Spring 1989): 442-474.

29. Costas Apostolides, "Peace-building in Cyprus," The Cyprus Mail, Sunday, 5 September 1993.

30. These stages are derived from the schematic presented by Fisher, "Potential for Peacebuilding."

31. UK Army Field Manual, Wider Peacekeeping, Second Draft (1993), 1-10 to 1-11. Other descriptions of the new peacekeeping can be found in John Mackinlay and Jarat Chopra, A Draft Concept of Second Generation Multinational Operations 1993. (Providence, RI: Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies, 1993), and Thomas G. Weiss and Jarat Chopra, United Nations Peacekeeping: An ACUNS Teaching Text, (Academic Council on the United Nations System, 1992).

32. Fisher, "Potential for Peacebuilding," and Ronald J. Fisher and Loraleigh Keashly, "The Potential Complementarity of Mediation and Consultation within a Contingency Model of Third Party Intervention," Journal of Peace Research, 28, 1 (February 1991): 29-42.

33. Fisher and Patton, Negotiation Workshop.

34. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Agenda for Peace (New York: United Nations, 1992), 11.

35. Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace, 11.

36. See note 6 above

37. See Mackinley and Chopra, Second Generation Multinational Operations 1993, and Weiss and Chopra, United Nations Peacekeeping.

DAVID M. LAST is an artillery officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. He recently served as a battery commander in Cyprus, has helped develop negotiating training for units and observers, attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, and is now serving as Military Assistant to Deputy Force Commander, UNPROFOR. His research centers on military contributions to the control and de-escalation of violence. Address for correspondence: 703 St. George Street, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada BOS 1A0.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A18188498