Forty eight ceasefires between 1946 and 1997 — while often ignored — offer guidance on how to end the killing. Since history shows it takes a long time to end a war, Ann Wright says the process must start now.
Negotiations, ceasefires, armistices and peace agreements are as old as wars themselves.
Every war ends with some version of one of them.
Wars have been studied endlessly, but lessons learned on how to end the wars have generally been ignored by those conducting the world’s latest wars.
To stop the killing in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, people of conscience must do everything they can to make negotiations for a ceasefire become a reality.
That was the purpose of the International Summit for Peace in Ukraine held in Vienna last weekend.
Over 300 persons from 32 countries attended the conference and participated in the robust program to discuss how to create conditions for a ceasefire and ultimately an agreement to stop the killing. The websites for the International Peace Bureau and the Peace in Ukraine summit were hacked the day after the conference but should be up and running soon.
If history is our guide, negotiations for peace will take weeks, months or perhaps years, to get Ukraine and its allies to agree on a negotiating strategy — and even longer to come to an agreement with Russia after negotiations begin.
Even if all parties, Ukraine, Russia, U.S./NATO, would agree to negotiations tomorrow, and if the talks would ultimately succeed, it could possibly be months or years before the killing would end. That’s why negotiations must begin now.
History gives us an important insight into negotiations during a war and what we might expect to end today’s extremely dangerous international violence.
In the case of the Korean armistice finally signed 70 years ago on July 27, 1953, 575 meetings between North Korea, China, the U.S. and South Korea were required over two years from 1951 to 1953 to finalize the nearly 40 pages of the agreement. During those two years, millions of Koreans, 500,000 Chinese and 35,000 U.S. and tens of thousands of U.N. Command soldiers were killed.
Vietnam Peace Talks
Fifteen years later, U.S. and North Vietnamese representatives met in Paris on May 10, 1968, to begin peace negotiations, the first time negotiators from both nations met face-to-face. Formal negotiations opened three days later, but immediately came to a standstill.
Five years after the 1968 meeting, on Jan. 27, 1973, the “Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam,” otherwise known as the Paris Peace Accords, was signed by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Republic of Vietnam, the Provisional Revolutionary Government (Viet Cong) and the United States.
The Paris Peace Accords officially ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, although the majority of U.S. troops would not leave until August 1973 and the fighting between North and South Vietnam continued until April 30, 1975, when North Vietnamese Army (NVA) tanks rolled through the gate of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, South Vietnam, effectively ending the war.
Millions of Vietnamese and tens of thousands of U.S. military were killed during the years of negotiations.
We know much about the lead-up to negotiations to end the U.S. war on Vietnam. In a nationally televised speech on March 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson announced that he was “taking the first step to de-escalate the conflict” by halting the bombing of North Vietnam (except in the areas near the DMZ) and that the United States was prepared to send representatives to any forum to seek a negotiated end to the war.
Johnson followed this declaration with surprising news that he did not intend to seek reelection that year.
Three days later Hanoi announced that it was prepared to talk to the Americans. Discussions began in Paris on May 13 but led nowhere. Hanoi insisted that, before serious negotiations could begin, the United States would have to halt its bombing of the rest of Vietnam.
However, fierce fighting continued. The North Vietnamese high command followed the Tet attacks with two more waves in May and August 1968. At the same time, U.S. General William Westmoreland ordered his commanders to “keep maximum pressure” on the communist forces in the South, which he believed had been seriously weakened by their losses at Tet. The result was the fiercest fighting of the war.
In the eight weeks following Johnson’s speech, 3,700 Americans were killed in Vietnam and 18,000 wounded. Westmoreland’s headquarters, which was notorious for inflated body counts, reported 43,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong killed. The South Vietnamese military’s (ARVN) losses were not recorded, but they were usually twice that of the U.S. forces.
After winning the 1968 election, President Richard Nixon, with his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, decided to follow the Tet offensive with a “maximum pressure” campaign with increased U.S. bombing of North Vietnam and Cambodia which ended up with large death counts of North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese and Cambodians, as well as U.S. military.
“Maximum pressure” is already a part of the U.S./NATO approach to Russia with its extensive sanctions regime and its provision of a massive number of weapons to Ukraine.
48 Ceasefires Between 1946 & 1997
We can look to many more examples of how negotiations ultimately have brought killing to an end in other conflicts .
Using data from 48 conflicts between 1946 and 1997, political scientist Virginia Page Fortna has shown that strong agreements that arrange for demilitarized zones, third-party guarantees, peacekeeping, or joint commissions for dispute resolution and contain specific (versus vague) language produced more lasting cease-fires that provide conditions for dialogue for an armistice or agreement.
Figuring out how to make the cease-fire be effective will be the key task. Despite its less-than-stellar track record, the U.S. as a co-belligerent should work with the Ukrainian government to figure out effective cease-fire measures.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has already described any new negotiations as “Minsk 3,” a reference to the two cease-fire deals that were brokered with Russia in the Belarusian capital in 2014 and 2015, after its annexation of Crimea and fighting in the Donbass region.
The Minsk 1 and 2 agreements included no effective mechanisms for ensuring the parties’ compliance and failed to end the violence. Minsk 1 and 2 were later acknowledged by NATO and the European Union as a ploy for “buying time” for the West’s buildup of Ukrainian forces and equipment.
Ceasefire Do’s & Don’t, for the Record
Having been in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves for 29 years and working as a U.S. diplomat for 16 years, I can testify to the results of endless studies of the consequences of war. One example is the year-long U.S. Department of State Iraq Study Group, being ignored by U.S. politicians and policy makers, and lessons learned on how to end deadly conflicts being ignored by U.S. military and national security experts.
I suspect that few Ukrainian, Russian, U.S. and NATO policy makers know of the United Nations’ 18-page guide to the Do’s and Don’ts of Ceasefire Agreements, based on their experience in conflicts.
Therefore, for the record, I want to mention the main points of the “Do’s and Don’ts of Ceasefire Agreements,” so no one can say, “We Didn’t Know” such work has been done already and the pitfalls of ceasefire agreements well identified.
Each of the following elements has an entire section written about it in the 18-page guide.
PART A Who, When & Where
- No room for “creative” ambiguity;
- The need for precision in regard to the geography of the ceasefire;
- The need for a precise specification of the dates and times on which the obligations imposed by the ceasefire fall due;
- Designating or qualifying permitted activities;
- Application of the provisions of the agreement to all members of all armed forces.
PART B Monitoring and Enforcement
- Provision for monitoring;
- Complaints mechanism;
- Providing for the political resolution of disputes by the parties.
PART C Organization & Conduct of Armed Forces
- Military Mission and Mandate;
- Codes of Conduct;
- Confidence building measures;
- Long term treatment of combatants and casualties;
- Command & Control;
- Liaison & Information Exchange;
- Disarmament, Demobilization and Downsizing.
PART D Humanitarian Matters
- Demining & Civilian Protection Generally;
- POW’s and other Political Prisoners;
- Free movement of goods, people and aid;
- Dealing with the past.
PART E Implementation
- Information to rank-and-file and to civilians
- Verification of size of forces
- Amendment of the agreement
- Anticipating lead times
- Avoiding Media Warfare
- Collateral Agreements/Legislation
- Civil Security
- Buy-in by Regional Powers
What Else Can Be Done?
To show how militarized is the U.S. government’s thinking, while an entire new U.S. military command element, the Security Assistance Group–Ukraine, led by a three-star general with a staff of 300, has been set up by the U.S. government, currently, there is not a single official in the U.S. government whose full-time job is conflict diplomacy to end the killing in the Russia-Ukraine war.
If the U.S. becomes serious about the loss of life in Ukraine, which it currently appears not to be, President Joe Biden should appoint a special presidential envoy who can begin informal discussions with Ukraine and among its allies in the G-7 and NATO about the endgame of negotiations.
Additionally, the United States must establish a regular channel of communication regarding the war that includes Ukraine, U.S. allies and Russia to allow participants to interact continually, instead of in one-off encounters.
This would be similar to the contact group model used during the Balkan wars, when an informal grouping of representatives from key states and international institutions met regularly and privately.
Satisfaction Not Guaranteed
We must acknowledge that even if negotiations did produce a ceasefire and then an agreement of some sort, neither Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. or NATO would be fully satisfied.
In spite of its recent history in Afghanistan and Iraq, many politicians, especially in the U.S. and now in Ukraine and Russia, want absolute victories, not long wars without a clear resolution.
But if we look to the Korean armistice, which was not viewed as the best U.S. foreign policy at the time it was signed, in the nearly 70 years after, the armistice has held and there has not been another war on the peninsula.
However, converting the armistice to a peace treaty has been one step too far for the U.S. while the North Koreans continue to ask for a peace declaration from the U.S and South Korea before they abandon their nuclear and missile programs.
In the case of the U.S. war on Vietnam, 60 years later, after the 1973 peace agreement, the country has now become a trading partner of the U.S. and the West.
How the negotiations for a ceasefire would work out is anyone’s guess.
But a ceasefire followed by an armistice would give Ukraine the opportunity to end the destruction of more of its infrastructure, to begin recovering economically and most importantly to end the death of more Ukrainians and the return of millions of Ukrainians to their homes.
An armistice would give the Russian Federation an opportunity to possibly come out from some of the sanctions the West has imposed, to work within the international community on common issues and end its military mobilization and the death of more Russians.
For the entire world, a Russian-Ukrainian armistice would reduce the risks of a direct military clash with the U.S./NATO that could include use of nuclear weapons with its terrible global consequences for all of us on this planet.
At the International Summit on Peace in Ukraine, the “Campaign for a Global Ban on Weaponized Drones” was launched. This campaign reflects the opinion of many in the world that the use of this weapons system should be ended by all countries.
We know it is an uphill battle to call for an end of types of military weapons and even if there are treaties enacted by the United Nations, such as on cluster munitions, land mines and nuclear weapons, some countries, led by the United States, will not abide by the treaties. But, as people of conscience, we must continue to act on what our conscience tells us is wrong.
Likewise, people of conscience in this world must continue to work for peace and non-violent resolution of international issues despite politicians’ seeming thirst for continuation of violence in the name of peace.
Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a colonel. She is also a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul. She is co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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