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The Problem of Costly Concessions in Peace Negotiations

Tuesday 9 March 2021
Diplomacy and Global Affairs Research Seminar Series 2021
Online via MS Teams; Code: mfn7eno


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About the lecture

Why do some parties fail to settle conflict, even after long periods of fighting? This seminar introduces key explanations for the existence of protracted civil conflicts from the bargaining theory of war, including the problem of imperfect information, commitment problems, war entrepreneurs and indivisible stakes.

The speaker then presents her own research, which integrates key insights from social psychology into existing bargaining theory. A long history of violence and prevailing conflict narratives lead to a situation where conflict party members not only care about their in-group's welfare, but also want to avoid rewarding their opponent through concessions. A mutually acceptable agreement always contains concessions, yet when concessions are unpopular with key constituents, they are costly for leaders to make. Pro-settlement leaders need to carefully balance the need to make concessions with the need to maintain popular support for a final agreement. This poses a major challenge to pro-settlement leaders and may, under some conditions, result in a situation where leaders prefer to settle but decide to continue the war. This problem of costly concessions provides an understudied explanation for why civil conflicts become protracted. It offers a new take on the role of fighting in intrastate bargaining processes and explains why public support for negotiations tend to decrease in the aftermath of major ceasefire violations.

The 2012–2016 Havana peace negotiations between the Government of Colombia and the FARC serve as a case illustration throughout the discussions.

Recommended reading

Sticher, Valerie. 2021. 'Negotiating Peace with Your Enemy: The Problem of Costly Concessions.Journal of Global Security Studies.

Valerie Sticher

About the speaker

Valerie Sticher is a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich and a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs at Leiden University. She combines academic research and more than ten years of practitioner experience to support opposing parties in the transition from war to negotiated peace. Valerie’s PhD research focuses on the role of ceasefires as strategic bargaining instruments. In her current research, she investigates how the integration of artificial intelligence applications in ceasefire monitoring affects intrastate bargaining processes.

Valerie previously worked as a senior program officer in the Mediation Support Project, where she focused on mediation training and process support in multiple contexts, with a specific focus on Zimbabwe. She also served as a Political Affairs Officer for the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste.

About the seminars

The Diplomacy and Global Affairs (DGA) Research Seminar is a series launched by the Research Group on Diplomacy and Global Affairs at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs. The seminars of internationally acknowledged guest researchers and faculty members deal with current research topics in diplomacy, international relations, global affairs, and political economy broadly conceived and target a broad audience through their interdisciplinary focus.


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