Dr. Ali Al-Din Hilal

The term “ceasefire agreements” or “truces” refers to agreements that are concluded to halt ongoing military operations between two or more parties, for humanitarian reasons. These reasons include providing care for the wounded, protecting civilians or reducing tensions and seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The following are examples of such ceasefire agreements: 

A ceasefire agreement known as the Armistice of 11 November 1918 was signed between the Allies, on the one hand, and Germany and its ally the Ottoman Empire, on the other, to end World War I including in the Middle Eastern theatre. A similar agreement between the Allies and Germany regarding the Western Front in Europe led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.

After World War II, Israel signed agreements with Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan in 1949. Other examples include the agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953, the agreements signed between Egypt and Israel following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the agreements that ended the U.S. intervention in Vietnam in 1973 are also noteworthy. Furthermore, the ceasefire agreement signed between Georgia and Abkhazia in 1994 and the agreement between Israel and Lebanon in 2006 are further examples of ceasefires. 

It should be noted that all the above-mentioned examples of ceasefires have to do with conflicts and wars between countries. However, it is crucial to broaden our understanding of ceasefire agreements to encompass other scenarios. This includes analyzing agreements reached following the dissolution of existing states or during civil conflicts occurring within a state, where government forces engage with opposition armed organizations and militias commonly known as “non-state actors.”

Prominent examples of such agreements include the Washington Agreement, which brought about a ceasefire between Croatia, Serbia, and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 1994 following the dissolution of the Yugoslav federation. Another notable instance is the Dayton Agreement, which ended the war between Serbia and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in November 1995. These agreements serve as significant illustrations of ceasefire efforts in complex political contexts involving non-state actors.

Another notable example is the Good Friday Agreement, which was signed by the British and Irish governments and several parties in Northern Ireland in 1998. The agreement established power-sharing arrangements between unionist and nationalist parties. 

In South America, numerous ceasefire agreements were put in place following conflicts between government forces and rebel armed organizations. Most recently, a ceasefire agreement was signed between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army, or ELN, in June 2023.

In the Arab region, Sudan’s government has signed several ceasefire agreements to end internal wars. These include an agreement with rebel groups in 2006, as well as agreements with rebels in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile in 2016. Another one is an agreement with rebel groups in South Sudan that was signed in 2018.

The question now is why some ceasefire agreements between conflicting parties have succeeded in halting military operations and initiating peace talks, while other efforts to resolve the ongoing conflicts in Sudan, Libya, and Yemen, have failed?

Five Determinants

Because of varying political circumstances and causes of armed conflicts, as well as the balance of power between government forces and armed organizations, one can’t generalize and use a single reason or explanation to apply in all cases. However, the following five factors can be pointed out:

1. Lack of mutual trust between warring parties:

In this case, each party to the conflict believes that the other party has ill intentions, is unwilling to adhere to commitments resulting from an agreed ceasefire, and/or will seize the first opportunity to violate them. As a result, a back-and-forth exchange of accusations between the parties regarding violation of the ceasefire. This is currently happening between the army commanders and the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan. Moreover, this feeling is amplified by a history of reneging on commitments between the parties, the affiliation of conflicting parties to conflicting tribes and ethnicities, as well as continued provocative statements and actions from one or both parties, which exacerbates doubt in the intentions of other parties.

2. Resorting to military means:

Parties to the conflict believe in their ability to resolve the conflict through military means and defeat opponents on the battlefield. In such a case, leaders of this party do not have the desire to cease fire because they believe it would deprive them of the opportunity to achieve a decisive military victory and impose their conditions on the defeated party. In that case as well, a party might publicly declare acceptance of mediation efforts but it is often viewed as a political maneuver to buy time, replenish weapons and ammunition supplies, and regroup.

3. Multiplicity of warring parties, their diversified objectives, and the absence of unified leadership:

In some cases, a large number of parties are involved. These include militias, tribal and sectarian-driven organizations, local groups, and armed factions that seek to defend specific interests or regional agendas. This was the case in Libya, Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, and at various stages of internal conflicts in Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. In these cases, the outbreak of fighting and civil war reveals the extent of social divisions and exposes the existence of a “fragile” or “failed state” that has failed to fulfill the primary task of any state, which is to maintain the security and cohesion of its territory.

4. The role of external powers that have no interest in reaching a ceasefire or ending the war:

That is because they have their own interests and they get involved and intervene in the conflict accordingly. In some cases, they directly intervene through individuals, experts, and trainers. Most often, they provide their local allies with financial support, weapons, and ammunition, and encourage them not to engage in ceasefire negotiations or mediation or respect such efforts. This amounts to “proxy wars”, where civil wars become the battleground and an arena for competition between regional and international powers. Here, it becomes difficult to uphold ceasefire agreements without the consent of the “sponsoring state(s)” behind the warring parties. This is evident, for example, in Libya and Yemen. In light of this, the decision of the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Libya in 2016, which is renewed annually but often disregarded by many countries, can be understood.

5. Significance of the material and moral weight of mediating countries:

The more sufficient leverage and influence by these countries on the behavior of warring parties (utilizing a combination of “carrots and sticks”), the greater the chance of their mediation being successful. However, this viewpoint should not be accepted without reservation. For example, the ongoing mediation in Sudan is led by the United States and Saudi Arabia, both of which hold significant influence over the conflicting parties. Nevertheless, their mediation has not succeeded so far in achieving a ceasefire. This point is tied to the ability of sponsoring countries to establish systems of monitoring and surveillance to determine which party is violating the ceasefire and to impose appropriate consequences.

Failure of State-building

Multiple reasons contribute to failure of ceasefire agreements with armed organizations. Their role and significance vary from one situation to another. However, they are all connected to a central core, which is the fragility of the state and the magnitude of social and ethnic divisions, as well as a sense of exclusion, marginalization, and injustice felt by certain groups. As a result of these conditions, the state structure begins to crumble, and its political and security institutions disintegrate. Here, the priority shifts from the “state” to the “group,” “organization,” or “sect,” and the main determining factors in the political choices of the conflicting parties become factional, regional, and sectarian interests. Thus, the outbreak of fighting between the conflicting parties is evidence of the failure of the state-building process. Failure of mediation attempts to achieve a ceasefire further confirms the state failure.

In Libya, for example, armed groups and militias have taken control of state territories, and politicians resort to them to seek protection. Despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement on October 23, 2020, there continued to be multiple governments each claiming to be legitimate. The prime minister appointed by the parliament failed to enter the capital to assume his duties. Moreover, the presidential and parliamentary elections were delayed, and there was ongoing disagreement between the House of Representatives and the High Council of State about the constitutional foundations for holding elections. Furthermore, military clashes have periodically resurged in various areas.

In this context, the dominance of armed groups over state institutions and the fragmentation of political power highlight the failure of state-building efforts in Libya. The inability to establish a unified and stable government, conduct elections, and maintain a lasting ceasefire has hindered the country’s progress towards peace and stability.

In Yemen, the Houthi militia expanded their influence and managed to seize control of the capital Sana’a. Their expansion was supported by the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh. As a result, the legitimate government relocated to the southern region of the country, and more specifically to Aden. The agreement brokered by the United Nations between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels in April 2022 helped reduce the intensity of the armed conflict. However, the Houthi militia violated the ceasefire, refusing to extend it in October last year. They continued their military escalation in several fronts in Yemen and laid a siege on the province of Taiz in the southwest of the country.

In Sudan, the fighting broke out on April 15, 2023, between the army forces led by General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, Chairman of the Transitional Sovereignty Council and the Rapid Support Forces led by the Deputy Chairman of the Council Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti. This means that the fight erupted between forces all affiliated with the official military institution. The numerous mediations and initiatives by Arab, African, and international parties to achieve a ceasefire, failed to achieve any success. This includes the Saudi-American mediation that took place based on indirect talks with representatives of the conflicting parties in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. However, up to date, this mediation has not resulted in reaching a stable ceasefire.

In summary, failures to achieve ceasefires indicate varying degrees of state institutional breakdown and division, dominance of ethnic, sectarian, and regional interests and agendas, presence of non-state armed actors, and increased interventions by regional and international powers. Nevertheless, ceasefire agreements remain the primary pathway to build trust between warring parties, reduce escalation, ease tensions, and create a conducive environment for conflict resolution.


FUTURE For Advanced Research & Studies

Related Articles