The Consequences of Agreements

Louis Kriesberg


Kriesberg, Louis, "The Consequences of Agreements," chap. in International Conflict Resolution, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) pp. 151-184.

Kriesberg examines the consequences of de-escalation agreements. He first describes different theoretical approaches to understanding such consequences. Focusing on six particular sets of consequences, he then examines the history of U.S.-USSR relations and of Arab-Israeli relations to see whether any regular patterns emerge.

Theoretical Approaches

Kriesberg sketches four perspectives from which to understand consequences. The conflict mitigation approach focuses on determining whether an agreement is integrative, that is, mutually beneficial. The author notes that it can be difficult to determine the extent to which a particular agreement is mutually beneficial. This approach also distinguishes between resolving and merely settling conflicts. An emphasis on conflict resolution leads analysts to examine broader issues of justice, fairness, and power imbalances.

The pluralist approach to understanding conflicts and agreements focuses on the diversity of actors and interests involved in any conflict. This approach emphasizes the importance of organizations and agencies in conflict management. Organizations designed for one purpose will tend to expand into related areas, and so tend to promote increasing coordination. Identification with international organizations can also become a basis for shared interests among member states. When evaluating agreements, the pluralist analyst considers its costs and benefits to the various parties over time, and its effects on third parties who are not directly involved in the conflict.

The populist approach directs attention toward the role of the general populace in resolving conflicts. Populism stresses the need to publicly reframe the conflict in more tractable terms. Populist analysts focus on domestic factors such as public expectations, and on how these factors shape the course of the conflict and the consequences of conflict settlements.

The statist approach focuses on the international balance of power, and on governmental policies. From this perspective, Kriesberg notes, "the agreement itself is not perceived as having an inherent obligating significance."[p. 155] The statist approach emphasizes military enforcement of agreements. Political expediency and the competition for power are the main factors shaping conflicts and the consequences of agreements.

Consequences of Agreements

In examining the consequences of agreements, Kriesberg focuses on six areas. He considers the implementation of agreements, changes in each side's images of the other, the level of economic exchange, the levels of military spending, shifts in conflict or cooperative behavior, and examines those foreign and domestic policies of each party that are not directed at the opponent.

After reviewing the consequences of de-escalation agreements in the history of U.S.-USSR relations and Arab-Israeli relations, Kriesberg finds that "agreements are generally implemented and endure."[p. 178] Since such agreements endure despite changes in leadership and international conditions, Kriesberg concludes that the statist approach is not particularly helpful in understanding consequences.

The pluralist approach, on the other hand, highlights how de-escalation agreements provide a basis for the parties' shared interest in their survival. This approach also directs attention toward the important role third-parties have played in creating and sustaining peace agreements. A populist perspective points out the importance of conciliatory gestures and rituals (such as the formal public signing of a treaty) in generating public support. The conflict mitigation approach "suggests that settlements are enduring because they are often actual solutions to problems."[p. 179] This perspective reminds us that no single agreement is sufficient to finally resolve the underlying conflict. Agreements must be seen as stages in the ongoing transformation of the adversaries relationship.

Aside from implementation, Kriesberg finds that the other consequences of agreements have varied. However, he does note some common factors which affect the endurance and success of an agreement. Vague or open agreements tend to be less enduring than written agreements which are more precise and circumscribed. The more parties there are to an agreement, the longer that agreement is likely to endure, and the more likely it is to lead to further accords. Signing an agreement generally creates some vested interest in maintaining it. And the more nations who sign on to an agreement, the fewer are left to undermine it. The cost-benefit balance of an agreement is also an important factor. In evaluating the costs and benefits of an agreement, the analyst must consider its impact on third-parties, and the timing of those costs and benefits. Asymmetrical payoff schedules can undermine agreements. Changes in enemy images show a common pattern. Kriesberg finds that "approval of an adversary rises with de-escalation efforts and agreements, but usually falls again once a major de- escalation achievement has been made."[p. 182] However, approval does not fall to its pre- agreement levels, but remains somewhat improved. Economic exchange rates fluctuate somewhat over the course of the de-escalation period, but tend to increase on the whole. Kriesberg also finds that conflict behavior and cooperative behavior are not inversely related. The absence of conflict activity does not necessarily lead to cooperative actions. Military expenditures vary considerably among nations. While de-escalation seems to have had some effect in depressing military spending, domestic factors and other international relations seem to have been the primary influences.

On the whole, Kriesberg concludes that de-escalation agreements tend to have a positive cumulative effect. While the process may be interrupted by periods of tension or escalation, generally de-escalating relationships tend toward greater cooperation and economic exchange, and more mutual approval. Military spending is an exception, however. Kriesberg notes that "agreements contribute to an accommodating movement between adversaries, but the international context and domestic developments in each society are major constraints."[p. 184]


Summary by Tanya Glaser


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