Evaluating the Relevance of Ceasefires in Light of the UN Global Ceasefire Quandary


Theoretically, ceasefires can be classified into two broad categories, preliminary ceasefires — declared before a political agreement is reached, as a part of the peace process — and definitive ceasefires — declared with an intention to resolve the conflict (Sagård, 2019).  This article shall deal with preliminary ceasefires as the call for a global ceasefire by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, adheres to a nature, similar to preliminary ceasefires.

The recent standoff at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) challenges the very idea expressed by Mr Guterres –– raising voices for peace, to silence the guns. Thus, the article makes an attempt to discuss different ceasefires that haven’t succeeded, and the politics behind the failure of such ceasefires. Additionally, the article also puts forth certain recommendations that can be adapted for enhanced effectivity of ceasefires in conflict scenarios.

Ceasefire Failures in the Contemporary Times

Failures to respect and follow a ceasefire has time and again been observed in different regions of conflict, be it due to State actors or non-State actors. The implementation of a ceasefire does not last for more than a week, let alone a 90-day ceasefire proposition that was put forward by a French-Tunisian resolution at the Security Council.  

In the past decade, talking about failed ceasefire attempts,  Syria is a case in point. For example, a ceasefire brokered by the Russian Federation and the United States in September 2016 did not last for a week, after it ended with a US airstrike that killed several Syrian government soldiers. Similar scenarios in Syria were seen, during the ceasefires brokered by Russia and Turkey as well, which ended with rebel offensives across Syria. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, several regions have shown support to the UN’s call for a global ceasefire, like in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where several civil society organisations have requested a cessation of hostilities by warring groups in DRC, to prevent a massive spread of the virus in the country. Yet on the other hand, across different parts of the world, even this pandemic does not seem to be a bargaining chip for warring parties to obey and maintain agreed ceasefires. One such example is that of ceasefire violations in the Kashmir region, which in April alone — amidst COVID-19 lockdown — saw about 53 ceasefire violations

Similar instances were seen even in Africa at the start of 2020, in Libya. A ceasefire brokered in Berlin, under the watchdog of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), collapsed within a span of eight days, after foreign shipments of arms supply resumed to combatants in Libya. The violation of the ceasefire also led to missiles being fired on the Mitiga International Airport at Tripoli. 

Another scenario similar to that of Libya, during the pandemic has been observed in the Yemen conflict, wherein a ceasefire in place due to the coronavirus situation was violated by the Houthi rebels, 241 times in 48 hours — an accusation made by the Saudi led coalition. 

These are just a few instances from different regions in the world which highlight the repeated violations of ceasefires, either by rebel factions or by nation States. Keeping such instances in mind, how do we really go about believing that ceasefires can expedite the peace process in a conflict situation? 

Petty Politics: Reason Behind Ineffectiveness of Ceasefires

The recent US-China deadlock at the Security Council highlights the petty politics among State actors that drives the infectivity of ceasefires across the globe.The usage of “World Health Organisation” in the Council’s tabled resolution was the rationale in this situation.

Negotiation is understood to be a process wherein, divergent values are combined into an agreed decision (Zartman and Berman, 1982). An agreed conclusion was also reached upon between the United States and China when the explicit mention of the World Health Organisation was changed to an indirect reference as, “UN specialised health agencies”. But the very next morning, the US representative blocked their vote on the draft resolution citing an objection to the changed phrase. Thus, if States do not combine their different outlooks into an agreed conclusion how will they negotiate in good faith which shall lead to a lasting ceasefire?

Such politics between States, being a reason for the failure of ceasefires in a region of conflict is nothing new. Taking an example of the above mentioned failed ceasefire in Syria, BBC had reported during September 2016 that the US-led rebel factions increased their attacks, while the ceasefire was still in place so that the US could keep its influence on the ground intact, catering to their national interest. Such acts by the rebel factions, along with US led airstrikes on Syrian army positions in Deir al-Zour (also known as Deir ez-Zor) was clearly a political move by the United States to get a stronghold in Syria, using the ceasefire to its advantage. 

Such illustrations of delaying ceasefires for political motives or taking advantage of existing ceasefires in conflict situations to appease one’s political interest will never create room for a ceasefire to last long enough, leading it to metamorphose into a peace agreement or truce. 


Through above observations, the article has made an attempt to highlight that it is time the relevance of ceasefires in conflict situations is reassessed.A huge percentage of ceasefires convert into failed ceasefires, out of which 84 per cent of them lead to offensives. This puts into perspective that ceasefires cater to giving ground for more violence than establishing peace. 

Simultaneously, it is also important to keep in mind that ceasefires do not have an accountability factor involved. In general, there is a lack of accountability from non-State actors for their actions taken in bad faith, in the sphere of international relations. But in the case of ceasefires, the accountability factor is missing even for State actors, when they act in bad faith. Thus, the violations of a ceasefire by any party involved in the conflict, does not lead to any form of retribution. 

Having assessed different factors that showcase the ineffectiveness of ceasefires in contemporary times, it definitely raises questions regarding the success of this peace process. But at the same time there is a scope for ceasefires to be improved if the stakeholders are able to work out solutions to certain problematic questions.It is important to answer how can warring parties be held accountable in case they deal in bad faith or how can the bridge of mistrust among parties be minimised for a ceasefire to be successful? Until and unless answers to such questions are integrated into the negotiation of ceasefires and States compromise on their petty politics, the future of ceasefires being successful is bleak.

Arkoprabho Hazra
Arkoprabho Hazra
Arkoprabho Hazra is a Young India Fellow at Ashoka University and also works as a senior editor at Law & Order. He writes extensively on matters pertaining to the Middle East, United Nations, Rohingya refugees and Indian foreign policy. His works have been published by the South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), The Geopolitics and, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He tweets @ArkoprabhoH.


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