By Adan Suazo and Nick Tobia

Nick Tobia: So, Adan. You’ve been here a few weeks now. How is the research coming along and exactly what are you doing?

Adan Suazo: My project focuses on the relationship between environmental variables with demand structures in peace processes. In current paradigms on peace negotiations, I argue, anthropocentric variables occupy the entirety of the imaginable demands and concessions available to conflict parties. By anthropocentric, I refer to those variables that are fully within the purview of human conception, control and intervention. Such variables are expressed in familiar phraseology: how much territory to surrender, secede, or autonomize; when, how and how many armed fighters to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate, and; what kinds and how much power to share? In all of these, the common thread is the supremacy and primacy of human institutions.

NT: I see where you are going with that. How then do you perceive environmental variables? Are these beyond anthropocentrism of current negotiation paradigms?

AS: In terms of the quantitative nature of their biophysical availability, I would say that there has been a proven decrease in the amount of renewable resources that currently falls outside of human manoeuvrability.  A good example to give is freshwater, which in many cases around the globe has fallen beneath generally-acceptable levels.  My concern is that climate-driven scarcity will produce an environment of uncertainty within which peace research and practice must balance structures of supply and demand.

NT: I take this to mean that environmental variables, which potentially inform the demand structures in negotiations, are uncertain. Does this mean now that demand structures in a certain negotiation are susceptible to this uncertainty?

AS: My immediate answer is yes, based on the overall trends that are altering demand structures around the world, namely population growth, urbanization and globalization.  Peace processes operate within these spheres, and it is important to understand how societal demand structures may seep into the exercise of balancing supply and demand paradigms within a peace effort.  An additional concern to take into account is related to the temporal nature of a post-conflict redistribution process: Will redistribution schemes hold on a long-term basis given the above-mentioned reduction in renewable resources?

NT: Ah! Since peace processes are, in a sense, a process of redistribution, then attention to the temporal dimension opens current peace negotiations to future and distant redistributions in yet uncertain and unknowable conditions.

AS: I think the literature on environmental security tends to neglect the likelihood of post-conflict revisionism as a real plausibility.  As it stands, the literature’s focus lies on the immediate mechanics of peace, whereby it seeks to understand a peace effort as a fixed phenomenon that will cement the longevity of peaceful coexistence.  To assume that conflict parties will be content with such a redistribution scheme on a long-term basis is inaccurate, in view of the real possibility that less bartering manoeuvrability (less supplies) will lead to more disagreements in a post-conflict setting.  This is, I think, where our research comes together, in that your framework allows for the plausibility of creating analytical tools for the study of post-conflict behaviours, which is something that is currently not envisioned by the literature.

NT: I think you’re spot on. In my project, I question the ability of post-conflict societies to undertake new ‘redistributions’ through mechanisms established at a definite and certain temporal moment – a peace agreement. While typical peace processes contemplate future and several instances of post-conflict redistributions in the form of political resolution, all such resolutions operate also as reinforcing endorsements of a fixed political order established in fixed peace agreements.

AS: Jaha! Not only do environmental variables change over time…

NT: …but even actors, their relationships with other actors who themselves are in flux. Naturally, their demands evolve as well. In my project, the focus is on the actors and the broader negotiation structure itself. A perennial issue that our liberal peace paradigm grapples with, for example, is the problem of splinter groups, and how to prevent splintering. Yet in my approach, cycles of splintering and coalescing are a natural political phenomena that occur when we contemplate collective identities, whether in the context of armed or unarmed groups. How does the fluidity of collective identities modify negotiation structures, and the subsequent validity of ostensibly fixed peace agreements in the post-conflict setting?

AS: Therefore, foundational political orders established in peace agreement must themselves be susceptible to the flux that affects environmental variables, collective identities, and the ever changing demands of societies.

NT: Exakt! That is why your ideas on the uncertainty behind projections of environmental variables cast this cloud of unknown contingencies for which ‘fixed’ peace processes can never fully anticipate.

Thanks for sharing your research with us, Adan. Looking forward to seeing its development over the length of your PhD tenure.

Adan and Nick are both PhD researchers at the NCPACS. Coincidentally, they are also alumni of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University in Sweden.