Negotiating skills for peacekeepers

By David M Last | 1993-09-01 12:00:00

In 1964; when fighting broke out between the Greek and Turkish inhabitants of Cyprus, the United Nations sent peacekeeping forces from 11 nations. In 1974, an attempted coup by Greek Cypriot nationalists precipitated an intervention in which the Turkish army seized the northern part of the island. Since that time, the island has been divided by a U.N. controlled buffer zone running 170 km from Famagusta in the East to Paphos in the West, a few metres wide in Nicosia and up to 10 km wide in rural areas. In 1974 almost 8000 soldiers from Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, the UK, Canada, Ireland, and Australia manned or supported the buffer zone. By 1990 just 2250 from Denmark, the U.K., Austria, and Canada remained and since then both Canada and Denmark have withdrawn their forces. Until recently, David Last worked with the Canadian Contingent, developing conflict resolution techniques for peacekeepers.

AFTER 29 years, the last Canadian unit has left the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). The mission had become peaceful in comparison to many new missions where Canadians are serving, such as Yugoslavia, but the negotiations by peacekeepers remain similar.

Three lessons are to be drawn with respect to the training of peacekeepers. First, negotiation training is needed in the preparation of peacekeepers. Second, military knowledge is a prerequisite for their effective negotiating. (The more senior the officer's position, the more he or she will need both military expertise and negotiating skill.) Third, negotiating by peacekeepers in Cyprus foreshadows the peacebuilding endeavors suggested by the Secretary-General but they require political support at the highest levels. In discussing these three points, I will draw upon my service with UNFICYP and on discussions with officers who have recently served in Cyprus, Croatia, and Bosnia.

Training Peacekeepers To Negotiate

Little assistance is available to units preparing for deployment. They are taught such military skills as patrolling, crowd control, first aid and hygiene, defence against mines, and physical fitness. Officers also study the history and geography of the area, the background to the conflict, the mandate of the force, and procedures for resolving disputes, but not how to conduct meetings with opposing force commanders. The limited negotiation training officers receive is drawn from the experience of other units and from the International Peace Academy's Peacekeeper's Handbook.

To supplement this, the First Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery prepared a training package based on crisis intervention by police forces and negotiation in industrial relations. Along with three other Battery Commanders I worked on that project. We produced lectures and scripted skits to illustrate crisis intervention, arbitration, conciliation, consultation, and "principled negotiation." Since we had little personal experience, our training package reflected imagination and theory more than the realities of Cyprus. Several experienced officers compensated by meeting with groups, but their advice tended to be general rather than concrete pointers on handling incidents.

After three months in Cyprus, our trainees evaluated our package, which, despite its weaknesses, they deemed useful. Some submitted new skits reflecting their negotiating experiences while on peacekeeping duty.

Few soldiers below the rank of Warrant Officer had any experience of negotiating in Cyprus; they acted as policemen-simply observing, reporting, and occasionally insisting on compliance. The officers, however, submitted scripts illustrating a range of negotiating activities. At each higher rank level, negotiating skills become more important-and so does the need for military knowledge.

Military Negotiating Experiences In Cyprus

Within hours after arriving in Cyprus, soldiers find themselves on the line, dealing with conflicts between Turkish and Greek Cypriot troops. The most common incident is "overmanning." According to local agreements, for example, only one soldier may be present at a position, except for a five minute period when his replacement comes on duty. A peacekeeping patrol who witnesses over-manning will yell and gesticulate, and the offending soldiers leave. If not, a sergeant is summoned for impromptu arbitration.

Bored or undisciplined soldiers sometimes shout insults or throw rocks at each other across the ceasefire line and this has occasionally escalated to shooting. Again, the peacekeeping private or corporal has a constabulary role, calming the situation and calling for superiors when necessary. Other common incidents are shootings, forward moves, the construction of new defensive structures, restrictions to U.N. movement (often accompanied by pointing and cocking weapons), overflights of the buffer zone, and unauthorized civilian access.

Violations may represent the fulfillment of orders. A corporal on patrol finds soldiers constructing a new bunker. He tells them to stop, but they are under orders. The issue must escalate to the level at which the order originated or one level higher. While platoon commanders, company commanders, and eventually battalion commanders get involved, the bunker is completed and the peacekeepers are faced with a fait accompli. They must then negotiate to remove it. The higher the origin of the violation, the more fruitless are negotiations at lower levels to remove it.

Many violations are momentary, childish acts. As an initiation rite, young soldiers enter the buffer zone to scrawl graffiti or defecate in abandoned buildings, risking shots from the opposing force. When such escapades are reported, they are either denied or given the universal apology: "The offending soldiers have been disciplined and it will not happen again." Incursions and over-manning recur endlessly and can harm peacekeepers' working relationship with the opposing forces.

There is more continuity within the opposing forces than within the U.N. force. This permits opposing forces to make incremental gains over time. Thus when a departing U.N. contingent hands over its area to its replacements, the opposing forces have an opportunity to restrict U.N. access, seize small pieces of territory, or establish new interpretations of disputed points. Junior leaders make names for themselves in this way, but they reinforce the negative stereotype each side holds of the other.

A corporal on patrol is powerless to deal with these problems. He can communicate with his counterparts only with simple words and gestures. He has no authority to suggest solutions. Disciplined and energetic peacekeepers build confidence and cause opposing forces to back down in confrontations, but the solution to these problems rests with officers.

Officers must dissuade their counterparts in the opposing forces from violating agreements. When a violation is the result of orders, the incident immediately escalates. A peacekeeper can usually use three arguments: (a) the violation is not militarily useful; (b) it could cause retaliation; and (c) if superiors become involved, things will get unpleasant. To use the first and second arguments, the officer must be credible as a soldier. To use the third, he must have a respectful relationship, and of course his counterpart must be within an established chain of command that supports the peace. (The absence of these conditions bedevils low-level negotiations in Yugoslavia.)

The U.N. company commander will normally deal with battalion commanders of the opposing forces. He will often wait until a series of minor incidents has established a pattern or until there is a single significant violation. Restrictions to the movement of U.N. patrols, for example, may be a signal that one of the parties to the conflict will dispute the location of the cease-fire line. For example, if U.N. troops do not routinely patrol down a certain back alley, they may find their way blocked one day and their platoon commander will be told that the alley is not in the buffer zone. The company commander then enters the negotiations and is offered the option of entering the alley, but only in person and with permission. To agree to this is tantamount to admitting that the opposing force owns the territory-a concession that is hard to reverse. Still, such concessions are sometimes made because other issues are more important at the time, or to avoid compromising carefullynurtured relationships for the sake of a meter of ground here or there.

On one occasion the U.N. forces found that a six-foot map of Cyprus had been painted on a road at the cease-fire line. At first, they simply drove around the map, but then it began to "grow" until it became nearly twelve feet long. One part of this "magic map" threatened to cut off the road used by U.N. patrols. If this were to happen, the buildings on the other side of the road could be reoccupied. This annoying prank was obviously intended to restrict U.N. movement. The company commander paired this violation with a similar dispute on the opposite side of the buffer zone. He was able to confront both sides about their respective encroachments; this helped to reassure them that neither side would be allowed to advance into the buffer zone. The U.N. forces increased their patrols, creatively painted out the expanded borders of the "magic map," and placed barrels around its perimeter to keep it from expanding again.

To deal with petty issues of territorial control, it is essential to build the confidence of both sides, for it is their confidence that reduces their urge to fight for ground. Attentive soldiers and perceptive, determined officers can keep the peace despite the irresponsible acts of undisciplined soldiers or the gradual encroachments ordered by commanders of the opposing sides. This depends on good relations with the opposing forces; it is "peace-building."

Military Negotiations And Peacebuilding

Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali defines peace-building as "action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict." He cites cooperative projects, cultural and social exchanges, youth and educational programs, and action to foster democracy. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Development Program both foster inter-communal activity in Cyprus; many of these meetings are held in the buffer zone, with UNFICYP assuring security. Until last year, UNFICYP hosted an annual spring fair in the U.N. Protected Area surrounding Nicosia's abandoned airport, attended by thousands of Cypriot civilians from both sides.

Between military forces, frequent social exchanges also help maintain the good relations on which routine negotiations depend. Both sides host UNFICYP officers, and each national contingent and the headquarters hold reciprocal functions. Sports days, shooting competitions, and military skills contests allow occasional contact between soldiers. Canadian and opposing forces soldiers work together on maintenance of the buffer zone: cutting grass and shoring up collapsing buildings.

In all these activities, each opposing force will work with the U.N. but never with the other force. Civilians from either side of the buffer zone can, with difficulty, meet and talk. Soldiers cannot. This impedes peacebuilding and frustrates UNFICYP officers. Greek and Turkish officers cannot attend the same Canadian mess dinner in Nicosia; instead they are hosted on separate nights.

One of UNFICYP's negotiating successes was the unmanning agreement of 1989 engineered by Canadian General Clive Milner. Both sides withdrew from the most volatile areas of old Nicosia where they had been facing each other across mere meters. There was a spectacular decline of incidents following this withdrawal, which, despite its success, was never repeated in other tense areas.

The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe have developed confidence buildingmeasures that are applicable in Cyprus. Notification of exercises and manoeuvres close to the buffer zone, declarations about weapons holdings, and information exchanges on training have all occurred in some form since 1974 through the auspices of UNFICYP. More might be accomplished if skilled military intermediaries could work with their counterparts in the opposing forces (as General Milner had been able to do) but with the blessings of their respective political authorities. Such meetings would be a new departure for UNFICYP. Meetings with one party to argue over the status quo would give way to more complex three-party meetings, with the U.N. officers acting as true mediators.

Civilians cannot fill this role for military discussions. For example, proposals by one side to demolish derelict buildings in Nicosia raised fears that a path for armoured vehicles was being developed. At a different time and place, a tree-planting programme prompted accusations that the buffer zone was being modified with anti-tank obstaces. Military expertise was required in both instances to reassure the parties to the conflict that these fears were groundless. Helping officers to develop concepts of non-threatening defence and options for mutual security is also a military function, which might be assisted with international training and education programs. Training for this sort of mediation role is available for civilians and is being developed for peacekeepers. Much more support for this will be required from the United Nations and the opposing forces in a conflict.


Canadian peacekeepers should all be trained in negotiation skills. This training must be developed for each new mission but cannot compensate for inadequate military experience. Soldiers can potentially contribute to peacebuilding through confidence building measures and three-party problem-solving discussions, but this requires the support of the U.N. itself and of the political leaders behind the opposing forces.

David Last recently commanded Headquarters and Service Battery, First Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. The views expressed here are his own.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1993

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1993, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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