History shows peace deal progress a grinding process

In past negotiations, months stretched into years as nations worked to end conflicts


After nearly a week of meetings in Geneva, there is little sign of progress in talks to end Syria’s devastating civil war that already has claimed about 130,000 lives. In matters of diplomacy, that’s par for the course.

Negotiating an end to armed conflicts is usually a time-consuming matter, especially when the warring sides have not given up entirely on their dream of ending the war on their terms. Often it takes overwhelming international pressure or changes on the battlefield to push the two sides into an agreement to stop the killing. And it can take months or even years for the full terms of peace agreements deemed generally successful to take effect.

Here’s a look at how some modern negotiations have fared.

Lebanon peace pact

Lebanon’s civil war erupted in 1975 and raged for 15 years, devastating that tiny country and claiming an estimated 150,000 lives — a shocking number in a nation of fewer than 5 million people.

The conflict bore similarities to Syria’s current war — fought by rival religious and cultural communities each backed by different regional powers but with no side able to gain a decisive upper hand. At different times outside powers — including the United States, Syria, Israel and Iran — were actively involved with boots on the ground.

Despite numerous diplomatic initiatives, peace did not come until 1990 after all parties were exhausted and ready for a settlement. With Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. mediator in the current Syria talks, playing a major role, Lebanese negotiators met in October 1989 in the Saudi Arabian city of Taif, and hammered out an agreement guided by Saudi Arabia and with the U.S. and Syria helping behind the scenes.

The agreement reorganized Lebanon’s political system, transferring some power from the Christians who had enjoyed a privileged status since French colonial rule. It also provided for Israel to leave south Lebanon and for Syria to withdraw from most of the area it controlled. Still, the Israelis, who were not a party to the agreement, held onto a zone in south Lebanon until a unilateral pullout in 2000. The last Syrian troops didn’t leave Lebanon until 2005.

Despite some shortcomings, the Taif agreement allowed the Lebanese to reunite their battered capital, Beirut, and rebuild their country.

Bosnian peace agreement

The Bosnian war of April 1992 until December 1995 erupted in the Balkans during the breakup of Yugoslavia, and was the worst armed conflict in Europe since World War II.

Basic elements of the final agreement were proposed by international diplomats as early as 1992 but the different sides — Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats — were not ready for peace except on their terms — nor were the U.S. and its allies ready to intervene. Events on the ground in 1995 — Western airstrikes and Bosnian government offensives against Bosnian Serbs and intense diplomatic pressure after the massacre of Muslim civilians at Srebrenica — forced a breakthrough.

All parties wanted a deal; they needed only political cover. With U.S. mediator Richard Holbrooke and representatives of Russia and the European Union, the warring parties and their regional backers met Nov. 1, 1995, at a U.S. Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio, and produced a draft agreement three weeks later.

The agreement, signed the following month in Paris, established the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a federation with an autonomous Serb area, a central government and rotating state presidency.

An 80,000-member international military force was sent to Bosnia to enforce the peace, which has generally held.

Vietnam peace agreement

It took nearly five years of tortuous negotiations by two U.S. administrations to hammer out the 1973 Paris Peace Accords aimed at ending the Vietnam War. The deal allowed the U.S. to extricate itself from the conflict. But it had little effect for the Vietnamese, who faced two more years of war until North Vietnamese forces stormed the South Vietnamese capital, Saigon, and ended the fighting on their terms — a united Vietnam under communist rule. U.S. President Lyndon Johnson felt he had no choice but to offer peace talks, with opposition to the war rising at home and no sign of victory on the battlefield. Johnson halted U.S. bombing over parts of North Vietnam, and the two sides met in Paris on May 10, 1968. Serious negotiations did not begin for five more months until Johnson suspended airstrikes in the North. After more haggling over the shape of the table, a breakthrough didn’t come until October 1972 after a failed North Vietnam offensive and Hanoi’s fears about U.S. President Richard Nixon’s diplomacy with China. Still, talks broke down on Dec. 13, 1972. Nixon launched a massive bombing campaign until the North Vietnamese agreed to resume talks on Dec. 29. The deal was signed on Jan. 27, 1973, and the last U.S. combat troops left South Vietnam two months later. Despite assurances, the North continued the war against the South until Saigon fell on April 30, 1975.