Sam Seitz

As the semester wraps up, I am beginning to reflect on the topics and ideas I have covered over the past few months. One of the more interesting classes I’ve taken concerns smaller states and their use of peacemaking as a core element of their foreign policies. Earlier in the year, I wrote a brief post reflecting on smaller states in the international system. In this post, therefore, I will attempt to highlight a few interesting conclusions I’ve drawn regarding peacemaking.

  1. States that prioritize peacemaking all seem to have a common basket of foreign policy goals and priorities. In particular, they tend to belong to many international and regional institutions, support international law, and promote issues like climate change or human rights that require multilateral cooperation. Given this trend, it’s hard to view peacemaking as a purely self-interested undertaking. Instead, it seems to be driven more by ideational factors and is thus best viewed as merely one component of a broader foreign policy agenda that prioritizes norm entrepreneurship and humanitarianism.
  2. There doesn’t seem to be any clear pattern to the locations in which peacemakers choose to mediate. It’s intuitive to imagine that states would prioritize peace efforts in their own region, as they have a vested interest in their backyard remaining stable and calm. However, it’s also true that mediating in one’s own region might create conflicts of interest that undermine any attempt at negotiating a peace settlement. After all, just how disinterested can a country be while helping mediate for its neighbor? The empirical record does not do much to help resolve these competing claims, and it seems that countries mediate in their region about as often as they mediate outside of it. Norway helped lead the Oslo Process and worked on resolving the Sri Lankan Civil War, but Qatar got involved in Lebanon, and New Zealand worked in Bougainville and East Timor. Perhaps I’m ignoring some key variable, but it doesn’t appear to me that there is any coherent systemic explanation for why countries intervene where they do.
  3. It seems that much of the impetus for peacemaking is strategic, but not necessarily transactional. In other words, peacemakers expect to benefit from peacemaking, but they rarely seem to go into a mediation with a clear payoff in mind. When Norway got involved in Sri Lanka, for example, it was able to exploit its privileged access with the LTTE and Sinhalese government to boost its status in Washington, Brussels, and Delhi. But this was never the impetus for Norwegian engagement. One sees a similar dynamic in Finland’s mediation in Aceh. The Finns helped broker a peace agreement between Aceh and the central government of Indonesia, and their involvement in the mediations helped build up trust between Finland and Aceh. As a result, the Aceh government has clearly favored the Finns in business deals and trade. Finland didn’t condition its involvement on preferential trade deals with Aceh’s government, but it probably new that improving bilateral relations through its peacemaking efforts would have some kind of salutary efforts down the road.
  4. In most of the cases I’ve looked at, public support for peacemaking seems to be high. However, I’m far from convinced this is a meaningful indicator. First, it’s not obvious to me which direction causality runs. Does the government undertake peacemaking because its citizens support it, or do its citizens support it because it does it? Also, to what extent do citizens even understand their government’s role in peacemaking? If non-Americans voters are anything like as ignorant as American voters, I have to believe it’s not very much. One thing I will say, however, is that there is probably some degree of mutual reinforcement between public sentiment and government policy. In countries with very high public support for peacemaking (Norway, for example), peacemaking seems to be prioritized by every government irrespective of which parties are in power. In countries where public support is not as high, there is much more fluctuation over time as different parties come in and out of government.
  5. Smaller states probably have a significant advantage when it comes to peacemaking because they have more flexible bureaucracies and lack the kinds of global interests that would complicate their ability to act as an honest broker. Of course, these factors can sometimes be a disadvantage, as they suggest limited resources, leverage, and power. But I think these problems are overstated because a) many smaller peacemakers are developed countries with large economies (and some, like Norway and Qatar, are oil-rich) and b) most enjoy good relations with several great powers whom they can leverage to overcome any limitations they might face (consider, for example, the Troika in South Sudan).

That’s all I have for now, but this is a fascinating topic that I will continue to ponder. Perhaps I’ll post more thoughts later.