Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy
30 January 2015
Politics and International Relations
Comparative Peace Processes
Jonathan Tonge. Cambridge: Polity, 2014. £17.99/$26.95.
The concept of ‘peace process’ increasingly provokes an ironic or sceptical reaction, after decades of such processes producing little discernible progress, as in the Israeli–Palestinian case. Jonathan Tonge’s Comparative Peace Processes has the great merit of taking the concept seriously, submitting it to very precise analysis and putting it in perspective through several case studies (Palestine, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Basque region and Sri Lanka), for whose respective successes and failures Tonge offers explanations.
In the book’s introductory chapters, the author defines a peace process as ‘the active attempt at the prevention and management of conflict between and within states’ (p. 7). He lists several variables which influence the likelihood that a peace process will be successful, including the scale of the conflict, the number of armed groups involved and the geographical confinement of the problem. And he offers some comparisons, between the approaches of the ‘realist’ and the ‘critical peace research’ schools to the study of peace processes; and between the prescriptions of partition, federalisation and consociation as leading to the reconfiguration of existing states or to the creation of new ones.
The remaining three-quarters of the book are given over to describing, with great precision and clarity, the ‘deadlock’ in the Palestinian peace process, ‘conflict and confessionalism’ in Lebanon, the ‘consociational triumph’ of Northern Ireland’s peace process, ‘confederalism and consociation’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the ‘slow defeat’ of ETA in the Basque peace process, and ‘the failure of the peace process in Sri Lanka’. Tonge ultimately concludes that prevention is always better than cure, and that the latter, when it becomes necessary, should not prevent the work of justice against the perpetrators of crimes.
The case studies are, in general, masterful, and the conclusions convincing. This reviewer must, however, register one disagreement and one regret. The disagreement concerns the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is presented as a ‘consociational’ success along with Northern Ireland, and as revealing the critics of the Dayton Accords to be mere ’naysayers’. It is of course true that violent conflict ceased after Dayton and has not resumed since. But Tonge fails to report that the way the consociational system works in the daily life of the republic is, according to objective observers, little short of disastrous. The functioning of the country’s institutions is constantly blocked by the veto of the Republika Srpska; organised crime and corruption are flourishing; citizens who do not belong to one of the country’s three main ethnic groups have trouble running for office; and an enormous proportion of young people want to emigrate. If a federal republic was impossible, separation might have been a lesser evil, and presumably no more likely to lead to a renewed war than the separation between Serbia and Croatia or Kosovo.
The regret is that the author, while mentioning the greater difficulty of peace processes in the cases of ‘ethno-national’ conflict and civil war, does not mention two aggravating features of several contemporary conflicts, the first being the increasing role of religious hostility in conflicts, including the Israeli–Palestinian one, and the appearance and growth of fanatical and murderous groups such as ISIS, which engage in a total war and with which no reconciliation is conceivable. Secondly, the worsening of relations between Russia and the Western powers is making, as shown in the tragic case of Syria, international mediation or intervention, including by the UN Security Council, increasingly difficult.