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date: 22 September 2017

Bargaining Models of War and the Stability of Peace in Post-Conflict Societies

Summary and Keywords

A major challenge for countries that emerge from civil war is the stabilization of the post-conflict order in a way that fighting does not break out again. Recent empirical and theoretical work on the resolution of civil wars and on the duration of peace strongly rely on the bargaining framework of war emphasizing information asymmetries and commitment problems as main reasons for why in some states civil wars recur repeatedly, whereas in other societies a conflict ends and a transition to a peaceful society is successful. The length of peace spells depends partly on information about the distribution of power that became available during the conflict, captured by the duration and intensity of the fighting as well as the type of conflict ending. Information problems are more relevant at earlier stages and with regard to the initiation of negotiations. In finding bargaining deals and securing their implementation, the conflict parties have to overcome commitment problems. The literature has investigated in more detail third-party security guarantees and power-sharing arrangements as mechanisms to get conflict parties to credibly commit to and adhere to a negotiated agreement. Recently, empirical research moved beyond the conclusion of peace agreements to the study of their implementation. Particular challenges for a peaceful order are the demobilization of ex-combatants, which is aggravated by time-inconsistency problems, the timing of elections, and the redistribution of economic resources. Finally, solutions become more difficult in multiparty conflicts and if the armed groups are fragmented.

Keywords: bargaining models of war, civil war recurrence, civil war outcome, civil war duration, post-conflict peace, power-sharing arrangements, security guarantees, empirical international relations theory


Establishing peaceful relations between the warring parties and stabilizing post-conflict societies in a way that fighting does not recur at the next possible occasion is a major requisite for a country to emerge from destruction and misery. Successful political and economic development will only be sustainable if the former belligerents refrain from re-engaging in violent behavior. A large body of literature over the past 15 years has searched for explanations for why some civil wars end and transitions to peaceful societies are successful, whereas in other cases armed conflict breaks out repeatedly.

Recent empirical studies on the resolution of conflict and durable peace increasingly rely on the bargaining model of war that has become influential in explaining why armed actors in civil wars fail to find a negotiated solution instead of carrying the costs associated with fighting. While first developed for international war (Fearon, 1995; Powell, 2002), the bargaining framework has been prominently applied to the escalation and resolution of civil wars (Walter, 2002). Scholars mostly emphasize two reasons why a bargaining solution might not be found: (1) private information about and the incentives of the belligerents to misrepresent their capabilities and resolve and (2) commitment problems, i.e., the inability to credibly commit to adhere to a negotiated agreement (Fearon, 1995). Commitment problems and information asymmetries can help explain an armed dispute at all stages of a conflict (Filson & Werner, 2002; Powell, 2004; Walter, 2009), stages that are not independent (Findley, 2013). While information asymmetries might dominate during the earlier phases, the problem of credibly committing to a bargaining solution is at the core of explanations for the resolution of conflicts.

Information Asymmetries and the Failure of Peace

Information asymmetries are particularly manifest in civil wars, especially at the outbreak when often little is known about the rebels’ capabilities, their access to financing, and popular support, whereas information about the size and resources of government troops is more widely available. Uncertainty remains rather about the government’s resolve to maintain the status quo or its willingness to make concessions. A government might have an incentive to take up a tough stance against challengers early on as concessions to one group bear the risk of revealing to other groups that its resolve is weak (Walter, 2009). More reliable information about the power distribution and the costs of war eventually becomes available when actual fighting takes place (Filson & Werner, 2002).

A number of studies on civil war recurrence emphasize that stability and a durable peace depend to a large extent on the characteristics of the previous conflict, in particular the intensity and duration of the fighting, but also the way the conflict ended. Information about relative capabilities that become available during the war will affect not only whether peace negotiations begin but also whether they will lead to an agreement and whether the agreement will be implemented (Walter, 2002). The duration and intensity of a civil war reveal important information about the distribution of power. If one side is manifestly stronger, information asymmetries are less prevalent and a faster victory is likely. Only relatively strong rebel groups will be able to maintain a long fight and survive initial attacks. For weak groups it is thus essential to try to survive long enough in order to get more and better concessions (Fearon, 2004; Walter, 2009).

Conflict Duration and Intensity

Although conflict parties typically have incentives to keep information about their capabilities and resolve private, such information inevitably becomes available the longer a conflict lasts and when the relative strength is measured directly on the battlefield (Filson & Werner, 2002; Walter, 2002). Obtaining continuously new information, the protagonists adjust their estimates of the likely duration as well as of the accumulated costs that come along with ongoing fighting. Thus, for long-lasting conflicts a negotiated settlement can become more preferable than a decisive victory in the distant future (Mason & Fett, 1996; Mason, Weingarten, & Fett, 1999). Information about the conflict duration and distribution of power is relevant to the conflict actors beyond the time of conflict ending and will influence decisions on whether to stick with the negotiated terms or whether to restart fighting, leading to the expectation that peace will be more stable after long conflicts. In addition, especially long and fiercely fought wars are exhaustive and add to war wariness among the combatants and in the population (Blainey, 1973).

On the other hand, civil wars are not only costly in terms of human fatalities and the destruction of infrastructure and resources, they also destroy trust and can create sentiments of retribution, which can influence the conflict parties’ resolve in a way that makes a renewed outbreak of conflict more likely. The empirical record on the link between war duration and the stability of peace is mixed. A number of studies support the expectation that peace is more durable after a long war (Fortna, 2004; Mason, Gurses, Brandt, & Quinn, 2011; Mattes & Savun, 2010; Quinn, Mason, & Gurses, 2007; Walter, 2004) but some come to opposite findings (Hartzell, 2009), and several studies find no significant effect (Hartzell & Hoddie, 2003; Jarstad & Nilsson, 2008; Mattes & Savun, 2009; Ottmann & Vüllers, 2015). As Mattes and Savun (2009) point out, the insignificant results are not very surprising in light of conflicting theoretical expectations. Most studies simply treat conflict duration as a control variable but do not explicitly investigate the causal mechanisms. More research on the micro level with regard to trust among ex-combatants (e.g., Humphreys & Weinstein, 2007) or systematic investigations of war weariness could provide crucial insights and might help to refine the theoretical arguments.

Duration is informative about the distribution of power to some extent only as also weak rebel groups can survive for very long. Information on how fiercely the conflict is fought, in particular fatalities, provides more reliable estimates about the relative strength of the conflict parties. High losses are obviously an indication that a conflict party has been militarily under pressure. Targets of military attacks will develop resentments. Renewed fighting after civil wars with high numbers of casualties can start as acts of retaliation and revenge. On the other hand, high fatalities make continuous recruitment more difficult (Quinn et al., 2007). Consensus in empirical findings seems to be that costly wars in terms of high fatality levels are faster to recur (Fortna, 2004; Hartzell, 2009; Hultman, Kathman, & Shannon, 2016; Jarstad & Nilsson, 2008; Mattes & Savun, 2009, 2010; Ottmann & Vüllers, 2015). The length and the costs of the conflict are also indicative of how a war might end.

Types of Conflict Ending

Whether conflicts end in a decisive victory or in military stalemate provides further indication of the relative strength of the belligerents. In wars that end with a clear winner, the power distribution is evident and leaves no room for uncertainty about which side is stronger. However, even if one side acknowledges defeat, and unless the victorious side can eliminate or expel the opponent, bargaining will continue after the war ended. A crucial distinction in this context, according to Wagner (1993), is whether the organizational structures of the belligerents remain intact, so that they are capable of continuing their fight at a later point in time. In case of a negotiated settlement, no conflict party is able to disarm the other, thus the organizations remain in place, whereas a decisive victory on the battlefield severely damages the enemy’s organizational structures making a continuation of military competition unfeasible. However, in a large number of cases of military victory, the rival faction was able to remain operational (Hartzell, 2009). In case the rebels are not fully annihilated, victories do sometimes include arrangements of compulsory disarmament of the losing side, which, besides removing weapons, also contributes to the destruction of organizational identity (Wagner, 1993). Most empirical studies confirm that episodes of peace last longer after a decisive victory (e.g., Fortna, 2004; Hartzell, 2009; Mason et al., 2011; Quinn et al., 2007; Toft, 2010). Notwithstanding, Hartzell’s (2009) measure for the destruction of factions’ organizational structure—which includes information as to whether the leadership remains in place and exercises control of its members, whether the faction is still able to recruit followers, and whether means of communication still exist within the group—is not significantly related to the length of peace spells. More research on the causal mechanisms linking victory to a more durable peace is thus warranted.

Government victory does not necessarily mean that grievances are resolved; instead, defeated rebels might simply evaporate and reorganize later to renew the challenge. Peace might be more stable after rebel victory as government officials can hardly hide among the civilian population but rather will go into exile. Besides, the victory of rebel groups must have been assisted by a large group of supporters that need to be rewarded, such as with a more democratic and thus presumably more stable post-conflict order (Toft, 2010). Whether peace is more stable after government victory (Kreutz, 2010) or after rebel victory (Quinn et al., 2007; Toft, 2010) is still open to debate and can even change over time (Mason et al., 2011).

Most intrastate conflicts do not end in decisive military victory—if so, then it is rather the shorter conflicts that terminate in this way, whereas longer wars often end in a military stalemate (Fearon, 2004) and more likely in a negotiated settlement (Kreutz, 2010). In case both parties still have sufficient fighting capacity, a negotiated solution has to be found and the conflict parties need to demobilize. As Quinn et al. (2007) argue, dual sovereignty (i.e., when the opposition has the capacity to challenge the government’s sovereignty) has to be dissolved. Even if information asymmetries persist, conflict parties might enter negotiations if they have reached a mutually hurting stalemate (Zartman, 2001). A stalemate discloses that no single party is able to win the conflict in the short run, although the actual power distribution remains unclear. Negotiations might then be used to reveal more information. If this is not the case and uncertainty remains high, reaching an agreement might be more difficult and later makes implementation unlikely (Findley, 2013). The design of peace agreements can be a crucial element in this context. For some, carefully crafted and encompassing peace agreements can even be more important for durable peace than military victory (Badran, 2014). As Mattes and Savun (2010) show, peace agreements that are designed to include provisions of international monitoring inducing the conflict parties to submit information on their military capabilities to third parties and allowing for verification can help to reduce uncertainty and thus contribute to a more durable peace. Overall, empirical studies do observe longer peace episodes after negotiated settlement (not only after military victories) compared to the reference category, a truce in Hartzell (2009), or the “many conflicts [that] are on-and-off affairs where periods of peace are interrupted by episodes of fighting” (Kreutz, 2010, p. 244). These types of conflicts that end neither in a decisive victory nor in a negotiated settlement require more theoretical and empirical attention in the future.

Commitment Problems and the Failure of Peace

While information problems are more prevalent during the earlier phases, with regard to settling a conflict and establishing a post-conflict order, warring parties find it extremely difficult to overcome commitment problems (Walter, 2002). The elimination of distrust among the belligerent, especially in long and intensively fought conflicts, is particularly challenging. Intrastate wars are characterized by large power asymmetries, making it more likely that the stronger party will renege, preventing the conflict parties from reaching an agreement in the first place. Time inconsistency problems (i.e., the expectation that the relative power of groups within a society is likely to change over time) can aggravate the difficulties. Bargaining solutions themselves that include, for example, a transfer of resources away from rebels to the government can pose a dilemma. The fear that the stronger side, after having gained additional power, might not uphold the negotiated deal can keep the weaker conflict party from agreeing to a bargain. Costly signals and mechanisms to ensure compliance are then needed to overcome the commitment problem (Walter, 2009).

While many empirical studies relied on the negotiated provisions in the peace agreements (e.g., Mattes & Savun, 2009; Walter, 2002), studies increasingly differentiate between the arrangements that were found in the negotiation process and written down in treaties and their actual implementation. Whether conflict parties do take the step from “words to deeds” (Jarstad & Nilsson, 2008, p. 206) is crucial for the peace process to become sustainable. Walter (2002) distinguishes the phases of the initiation of peace talks, the bargaining phase, and finally the implementation phase of a peace process. She argues that information costs are more important with regard to the initiation of negotiations, whereas overcoming the commitment problems is the principle challenge when finding solutions and in securing their implementation. The implementation of peace agreements is particularly crucial as it requires the conflict parties to disarm and demobilize, leaving them potentially vulnerable in case the opponent reneges on the deal. Combatants will thus seek guarantees to overcome the commitment problems.

Increasingly, data on the implementation and compliance of peace agreement provisions becomes available (Jarstad & Nilsson, 2008; Joshi, Quinn, & Regan, 2015; Ottmann & Vüllers, 2015), allowing a much more in-depth analysis of the actual changes and developments in post-war societies. Implementation takes several years, and many peace agreements are never fully implemented. For example, the implementation of power-sharing is associated with higher costs than a mere agreement and can send a costly signal to the former opponent of one’s intension to follow the peace agreement (Jarstad & Nilsson, 2008). With continuing implementation that is costly and reciprocal, trust will build up (Joshi & Quinn, 2015), which can be positive for democratization. Focusing on comprehensive peace agreements (which combine numerous partial agreements on many different issues), Joshi and Quinn (2015) stress that there will be increased dialogue during the implementation process, contributing to a normalization of political relations.

The commitment problem is more distinct in countries with weak enforcement mechanisms and political institutions. Following Walter (2002), the literature typically refers to and empirically tested two mechanisms to overcome commitment problems: third-party security guarantees and power-sharing arrangements. Including respective provisions in peace agreements can help to reduce fear that the opponent will renege in the future as well as increase the costs to resume military activities (Mattes & Savun, 2009).

Third-Party Security Guarantees and Peacekeeping

The involvement of third parties, such as the presence of a mediator who sets the agenda, organizes, and facilitates the distribution of private information, can be helpful. Whether mediation can contribute to reduced tensions in the long run might depend on the style of mediation (Beardsley et al., 2006). Mediation is particularly well suited to assist in reaching a bargaining deal but less so to the implemention of an agreement. Accounting for selection effects as mediators typically get involved in the more difficult-to-solve conflicts (Clayton & Gleditsch, 2014; Greig & Regan, 2008), studies reveal that mediation can have opposing effects. The facilitated flow of information through mediation can help in finding a bargaining solution, but mediators typically withdraw their involvement after the conflict parties have reached an agreement. In light of time-inconsistency problems and the failure of reaching self-enforcing agreements, it is crucial that a resourceful third-party state or International Governmental Organization (IGO) can credibly promise to monitor and enforce the agreements (Beardsley, 2008; Gartner & Bercovitch, 2006; see also Walter, 2002).

Third parties that convincingly offer to monitor an agreement and enforce compliance, and in case of unequal distribution of power, protect the weaker side can help to overcome commitment problems and persuade the conflict actors to demobilize (Walter, 2002). Empirical studies supported the idea that security guarantees are important for reaching a bargaining deal and again later in the implementation phase. The involvement of committed and capable third-party states or international organizations with promises to control and enforce agreements, which show that they are committed to follow through, has a strong effect on the signature of agreements and the implementation (Walter, 2002). The strength of a security guarantee can differ depending on the type of mandate (verification or peacekeeping) as well as the size of the intervening force. The UN is one among many third parties that can provide security guarantees, but not all UN peacekeeping operations, such as troops that are sent to impose ceasefires or that are deployed in humanitarian missions, fall under the concept of security guarantees (Walter, 2002).

The UN is more likely to intervene in conflicts that end in a stalemate but not necessarily in conflicts where the parties already sent a strong signal and reached a formal peace treaty (Fortna, 2004). Once present, UN peacekeeping troops help to overcome insecurity and can prevent accidents from escalating (Doyle & Sambanis, 2000; Fortna, 2004). In particular, negotiated settlements that are accompanied by peacekeeping operations are less likely to experience the renewed outbreak of fighting (Quinn et al., 2007). Accounting for endogeneity Tiernay (2015), however, demonstrates that the UN’s promise to send peacekeeping troops does not increase the probability that conflict actors will sign a peace agreement. Instead, they occur simultaneously. He concludes that combatants rather sign agreements because of factors that are related to the conflict and not because of pressure by the UN. Still, the deployment of peacekeeping troops increases the cost of fighting by physically being present and standing in the conflict parties’ way and also by increasing international audience costs (Mattes & Savun, 2009). Whether UN peacekeepers indeed can contribute to a stable peace depends to a great extent on their strength and composition. The deployment of armed troops in larger numbers can help overcome commitment problems and thus increase the duration of peace, whereas observer missions sent with the aim to monitor the implementation of agreements and improve information sharing did not turn out to be relevant in the empirical analysis (Hultman et al., 2016).

Post-Conflict Distribution of Political Power

Power-sharing provisions can aid in overcoming commitment problems by ensuring that no group is permanently excluded from power (Walter, 2002). While earlier research started with comprehensive measures finding that the more extensive the power-sharing arrangement, the longer peace episodes last (Hartzell, 2009; Hartzell & Hoddie, 2003), most studies now disaggregate in political, military, territorial, and economic power-sharing to get a more nuanced picture of which mechanisms contribute more effectively to peace without conclusive results.

Some studies give priority to political power-sharing and the argument that the distribution of cabinet portfolios and a representative electoral system can help reduce fear among the conflict parties that one side will renege (Mattes & Savun, 2009). Political power-sharing can take different forms, ranging from the conflict parties sharing positions in the new central government and civil service based on proportional representation to what Hartzell and Hoddie (2003) subsume under territorial power-sharing, based on principles of federalism, where rebels get autonomy in local or regional policies (see also Walter, 2002).

Most studies apply the question of political power-sharing to wars that were settled in a negotiation, although there are many cases when power is shared even after military victories. Reaching a compromise and including all parties in the post-conflict order can be advantageous for a more sustainable peace, regardless of how the conflict ended. Embedded in a bargaining framework, Mukherjee (2006) offers a model that even considers political power-sharing as more beneficial after a war that ended in a decisive victory. After wars that terminated with one clear winner, and where information about relative capabilities was complete, the winner can still have incentives to offer political power-sharing. A victorious government can demonstrate its willingness to leave grievances behind and thus weaken the opponent by alienating the rebel group from its potential civilian supporters. An insurgent group with an eroding support base will be more inclined to accept the concessions that are offered. In case of wars that end in a military stalemate, both sides might be overoptimistic about their chances to win and misrepresent private information, eventually leading to a bargaining failure. Empirical analysis indicated that it is the interaction between political power-sharing and victory rather than the individual terms that increased the peace spells. The relative power distribution is also the central aspect in Park’s (2015) argument. She demonstrates that the relatively more powerful conflict party, regardless of whether it is the government or a rebel group, has an interest in making larger-than-expected concessions in sharing political power and overcompensate the relatively weak group to counter the feeling of insecurity and to keep them at the negotiation table. The weaker group will be concerned about the shift in power after the agreement is reached and thus will demand more concessions than its share of power.

The terms of power-sharing and the way the conflict ends eventually will structure the political landscape, namely the size of the governing coalition. Conflicts that end with a negotiated settlement, and in which the former enemies agree to share power and to cooperate, will prevent monopolies. No one dominant party will rule, but a coalition of groups. In case of victory with no need to share power, there might still be an incentive to share the pie with the defeated side if there is the fear that the losing side might resurrect again in the future. In this case, incorporating various groups into coalition can counteract such tendencies. Broader coalitions will provide the warring parties with a possibility to express their interests through institutional means. In smaller coalitions, more groups will be excluded from power und participation, increasing the chances that they will resort to arms again (Joshi & Mason, 2011). Comprehensive peace agreements aim at changing the distribution of political power. Implementation of comprehensive agreements will lead to larger coalitions and new alignments, which will be less at risk of civil war recurrence and potentially more inclusive (Joshi & Quinn, 2015).

Power-sharing arrangements are considered a first step toward democratization in post-war societies. They introduce rules of decision-making and are typically understood as a transition to a democratically elected government (Hartzell & Hoddie, 2003, 2015; see also Walter, 2004). Many peace agreements contain provisions for post-conflict elections despite a potentially disempowering element and destabilizing effect of early elections (Flores & Nooruddin, 2012), an effect that might be aggravated if initial post-war elections take place in oil-rich countries. The presence of petroleum can make the election victory more salient (Keels, 2017). As a matter of fact, Brancati and Snyder (2013) stress that elections should be postponed and not be held in the first year, especially if the country has no prior experience with democracy. Convincing the adversary that it will not later take advantage of a position of strength as well as concerns about whether all parties will accept the outcome of elections are particularly severe at this stage. It can be necessary to develop a certain level of trust by first implementing accommodation measures, such as a transitional power-sharing government, amnesty, and the release of prisoners of war (Joshi, Melander, & Quinn, 2017).

Post-Conflict Military Integration and Demobilization

While organizing access to political power is important to achieving a stable society, some emphasize military power-sharing as being more crucial for stable peace (DeRouen, Lea, & Wallensteen, 2009; Hoddie & Hartzell, 2003; Jarstad & Nilsson, 2008). It is particularly the implementation of military power-sharing that is associated with high costs and less so political power-sharing (Jarstad & Nilsson, 2008; Ottmann & Vüllers, 2015). The implementation of military power-sharing involves the integration of combatants into a joint military and an appointment of rebel leaders to military posts inducing the conflict parties to share and reveal information about their strategies and tactics (Glassmyer & Sambanis, 2008; Hoddie & Hartzell, 2003; Jarstad & Nilsson, 2008).

Starting with the implementation of military power-sharing is difficult because of the vulnerability related to demobilization. The wartime “dual security apparatuses” cannot continue to exist side by side; instead, the government’s monopoly on the use of force has to be re-established (Quinn et al., 2007). This process involves disarmament and demobilization and is not without risk for the conflict parties. When demobilizing their forces, the conflict parties go through several stages of vulnerability. In order to surrender their arms, combatants must rely on their opponent not to exploit this situation, which makes cooperation challenging if a unilateral return to armed violence might promise military success. Plans that involve step-wise reciprocal demobilization might be one way to go combined with a transparent monitoring and verification system to increase the likelihood that cheating would be detected. Such plans, however, are difficult to successfully implement without the assistance of third-party security guarantees (Walter, 2002).

Distinguishing between costs involved for the government versus costs for the rebels, DeRouen et al. (2009) argue that the government needs to make many fewer concessions for military integration. Eventually, the rebel’s military capabilities decay over time, and their bargaining power decreases the longer peace lasts (Collier & Hoeffler, 2006). If the fear that the government will renege is high, the rebels have an interest in keeping separate forces and retain some combat capacity (Mattes & Savun, 2009). Without security guarantees, rebels might be reluctant to lay down their weapons. The provision and implementation of military power-sharing can send out a costly signal of the government’s commitment to the peace process.

Hoddie and Hartzell (2003) suggest that the agreement to a settlement is a first indication, but particularly the complete implementation of military power-sharing is a signal of the conflict parties’ genuine commitment to the peace process with significant costs attached. When entering negotiations and signing a settlement, the parties send out the signal that they agree to not dominate the post-war order alone but to share power. With this signal, and then with the implementation, the leaders risk losing credibility among militant group leaders, possibly resulting in the loss of personal power. The implementation of military power-sharing and demobilization means that a number of combatants will integrate into the national army and a number into civilian life, reducing altogether the pool of people with military training, making it hard for new or enduring rebel groups to recruit new members (Hoddie & Hartzell, 2003).

Post-Conflict Economic Redistribution

Peace is more likely to prevail in economically more developed countries with better living conditions (Fortna, 2004; Walter, 2004). Economically more developed countries also have more financial resources to facilitate the implementation of peace agreements (DeRouen at al., 2009; Hoddie & Hartzell, 2003). Demobilization and successful reintegration of ex-combatants depend partly on the economic situation in post-conflict states. Not only security-related but also economic obstacles have to be overcome (Glassmyer & Sambanis, 2008). Rebel leaders as well as rank-and-file soldiers need to find an alternative source of income in order to be no longer interested in joining rebel groups or criminal bands. Ex-combatants that are reintegrated in the labor market and become productive members of society will not be available for renewed recruitment. As Walter (2004) argues, rebel leaders need to recruit a large number of combatants every time they want to wage a rebellion. Whether ordinary citizens enlist in a rebel organization depends on their personal hardship and their perceived possibilities of changing their current situation with nonviolent means. The individual’s incentives to enlist can change if the benefits from fighting are smaller than the benefits from reintegration in society. Theoretical arguments on how and which post-conflict economic conditions relate to a stable peace are rare, and the few existing studies focus on the living conditions, captured e.g., with infant mortality rates, in a post-conflict societies (Walter, 2004).

Research on the distribution of economic resources in post-conflict societies has been picking up only recently. Provisions on economic power-sharing (i.e., the inclusion of redistributive policies in peace agreements) have been largely neglected in the power-sharing literature (Jarstad & Nilsson, 2008; Walter, 2002) and, when included, revealed no significant results (Mattes & Savun, 2009). However, potential for new tensions can arise if there is a dispute as to how state resources are to be divided among the conflict parties, especially if this was an issue in the initial conflict. Rustad and Binnigsbo (2012) show that the peace process is more difficult after conflicts in which disagreements over the distribution of natural resources or the revenue thereof were a central issue at stake. These types of conflicts are more likely to recur. For example, the first elections after the war bear a higher risk for the failure of peace if the country is rich in oil compared to countries that are less dependent on oil exports (Keels, 2017). Access to state resources can include access to a sizable amount of development aid. War-torn societies rely to a large extent on external support to obtain the resources for reconstruction. The inflow of humanitarian aid aimed at bringing relief might have detrimental effects and can even undermine peace. As Narang (2014) argues, especially in wars that ended with a decisive victory, aid flows that are distributed based on need often go to the defeated side. Thus, they can contribute to a change in the power distribution, leaving the weaker party that is gaining in strength dissatisfied with the negotiated settlement. The redistribution of economic resources deserves further attention within the bargaining framework.

Multiparty Conflicts

The bargaining framework and empirical studies have long been confined to a dyadic scheme, i.e., a conflict between government forces and the rebel side, treating an armed group as a unitary actor. However, information problems are even more prevalent in conflicts with multiple actors. The presence of multiple actors with a number of different preferences has been shown to lengthen a conflict, with the bargaining range on which all parties agree becoming smaller (Cunningham, 2006). Several armed groups might agree to start negotiations, but in light of the persistence of private information and smaller bargaining ranges, agreements and their implementation will be less likely (Findley, 2013). The fragmentation of armed groups further complicates the situation. Splinter groups will bring in new interests and introduce further uncertainty (Rudloff & Findley, 2016).

Whether a negotiated settlement is more difficult to achieve in a complex multiparty conflict is open to debate. Rebel groups, provided they are strong enough, can block an agreement, and the government might want to signal its determination toward other actors, making an agreement less likely (Walter, 2002). Stronger rebel groups might generally be better positioned to get concessions and thus reach a deal (Cunningham, Gleditsch, & Salehyan, 2009), whereas for weaker rebel groups a multiparty conflict context might open a window of opportunity if the government has an interest in a partial agreement to reduce the number of groups it has to fight and to concentrate its limited resources (Nilsson, 2010).

The fragmentation of rebel groups poses a particular challenge for post-conflict peace. While the splintering of a rebel group might weaken it and could even be a strategy of the government side to break up unity among its opponent, thus getting closer to achieving victory or a negotiated settlement, Rudloff and Findley (2016) suggest that fragmentation might not only shorten the war but also the following peace. A negotiated settlement might be reached faster but leave spoilers behind. Fragmentation is an expression of diverging preferences in a rebel group. The emerging splinter group introduces new interests and uncertainties, increasing the commitment problem for the post-conflict settlement and making the peace more fragile.

Conflict recurrence is not limited to the original belligerents. Depending on the causal mechanism, empirical studies need to investigate the recurrence of the previous conflict (with the same conflict parties and the same object of contention) or the outbreak of a new conflict with a different set of actors (Walter, 2004). One particular concern is conflict actors that remained outside the peace process, either of their own will or because they were not invited to the negotiation table. If interested in a continuation of the war, these actors might get involved in spoiling behavior (Stedman, 1997). However, Nilsson (2008) showed that at least partial peace is possible, namely that even in case of spoilers, the signatories of the agreement remain committed. Joshi and Quinn (2015) suggest that eventually even factions that were outside the negotiation process might choose to participate constructively in the post-conflict order. During the implementation phase, spoiling behavior would at some point become too costly with the risk of being isolated, and instead, the groups might want to participate in the new order and have some influence.


The bargaining framework has become the dominant approach in the quantitative-empirical literature when investigating questions of conflict resolution as well as the stability of the post-conflict order. Information increasingly available during the conflict, in particular the costs in terms of fatalities and the conflict parties’ strength, can be complemented by information on the power distribution revealed through the type of conflict ending. Peace is more stable after decisive victories but also after negotiated settlements, which can reveal important information and help to convince the conflict parties to start a peace process. Whether the negotiations will lead to solutions, and more important, whether agreements are implemented, is, however, rather a matter of overcoming commitment problems. In this regard third-party security guarantees and power-sharing arrangements can be of crucial assistance by providing mechanisms that can ensure compliance as well as sending costly signals of the conflict parties’ intentions (Hartzell & Hoddie, 2003; Walter, 2002). Theoretical and empirical work has made some interesting refinements to the established approach in recent years. The work on the implementation of agreements deserves special attention, especially insights into the risk of early elections as well as the role of demobilization, and could be further extended with dynamics of compliance. Overall, political and military power-sharing have received the most attention in empirical research so far, at the cost of economic power-sharing. More recent advances in the economic post-conflict situation are quite promising, and research in this direction needs to be intensified to get a better grasp of matters of redistribution. While recent advances include multiple actors and allow for actor fragmentation, further developments might provide the civilian population with a more active role.


This article was written within the context of a project funded by a grant from the German Research Foundation (BU 2289/3-1/2). I thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive suggestions.


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