Order, Options, and Costs:
Understanding the Practical Utility of Interstate Peace Agreements
No. 1, October 2021
Abstract: Peace agreements are well-studied in academia, but all the historical examples of failed peace deals and the absence of a real-world enforcement mechanism can make it challenging for practitioners to see their true utility. Conversely, academics may miss opportunities for informing real world practices in meaningful ways. Thus, a bridge between scholars and peacemakers is necessary to foster a common understanding of peace agreements, their limitations, and the benefits that they can provide to global peace and security. This article translates key findings from academic research into practical takeaways which highlight the utility of peace agreements for scholars and practitioners alike. It describes the mechanics of how peace agreements operate, and explains how, if negotiated and designed well enough, they can provide order where there was previously chaos; can offer options for decision makers when security incidents occur or tensions rise; and can modify the costs associated with the decision to use military force or engage in escalatory behavior. The implementation of peace agreements may not stop violations from occurring or deadly incidents from happening, but it can eliminate sources of conflict, can introduce cause for restraint, and can give decision-makers a crucial moment of pause before acting or reacting. This article uses the example of the Korean Armistice to illustrate these points, particularly in an analysis of the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong-do. Ultimately, this article concludes that practitioners should always understand the shortcomings of peace agreements but should never undervalue their utility.