The Art of Peace Making: Lessons learned from Peace Treaties


On Thursday 19 September 2013, a conference on the Peace of Utrecht (1713) and its enduring effects took place at the Senate Hall of Utrecht University. It was a multi-disciplinary conference, with contributions from lawyers, historians and scholars of international relations. It was organized to celebrate the tercentenary of the Peace of Utrecht. The conference was held in conjunction with a conference the next day at the Peace Palace in The Hague, which commemorated the centenary of the inauguration of the Peace Palace in 1913. The latter conference focused on three more recent peace agreements, and their effects.

Blog by Otto Spijkers, Assistant Professor of Public International Law at Utrecht University and former staff member of the Peace Palace Library

The first session of the conference in Utrecht discussed the influence of the European balance of power on the drafting of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Interestingly, the Peace Treaty of Utrecht contains an express reference to the balance of power. In his keynote address, Prof. Jaap de Wilde, of Groningen University, looked inter alia at whether the Peace of Utrecht of 1713 solidified an existing balance of power, or established a new one. This was followed by a commentary from Isaac Nakhimovsky (University of Cambridge), who looked at the balance of power from the perspective of a historian. This was followed by a legal interpretation by Prof. Randall Lesaffer of Tilburg University. This session was introduced and chaired by Duco Hellema of Utrecht University.

The second session focused on the role of colonial regimes and trade monopolies at the Peace of Utrecht. In his keynote address, Koen Stapelbroek, of Erasmus University Rotterdam, introduced the participants to the ideas of Isaac de Pinto, a Dutch eighteenth century publicist.  De Pinto wondered why European statesmen were both conscious of the beneficial effect peace had on trade, and so jealous of the possessions of their neighbors that they constantly tried to obtain these possessions through war. Stapelbroek examined the many trade-related treaties that were signed at the same time the Peace of Utrecht was signed, to further analyze the relationship between trade and peace. Benno Teschke of the University of Sussex provided a perspective from international relations, and Sundhya Pahuja of the University of Melbourne added a legal approach. Chair for the second session was David Onnekink (Utrecht University).

The third and final session dealt with the influence of the Peace of Utrecht in the development of the international legal order. The Keynote address was delivered by Martti Koskenniemi of the University of Helsinki. He looked at three discrepancies between ideas and facts in eighteenth century Europe: first, the continuous and grandiloquent talk of perpetual peace in time of continuous war; second, the many daydreams of a European Union when interesting events were mostly taking place elsewhere, especially in the colonies; and, finally, the development of many scientific theories on a balance of power when Britain was quick to become the one and only superpower. Stella Ghervas gave comments from a historical point of view. Fred Soons of Utrecht University chaired this session.

The Hague

The next day, everybody went to the Peace Palace for the second day of this joint conference. Prof. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of Leiden University welcomed all participants. Then Martti Koskenniemi built a bridge between the two conferences in his address entitled “From Utrecht’s peace to peace in modern times.”

The remainder of the programme in the Palace consisted of four sessions. In the first three sessions, a group of experts debated the success and effects of a particular well-known peace agreement. The fourth and final session was about the role of the UN Security Council and International Court of Justice in settling international disputes in the absence of peace agreements between the parties to the conflict.

The first session was about the Versailles Peace Agreement, made in Paris in 1919, to end the First World War. The keynote was delivered by Sir Adam Roberts of the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences. In his talk, he essentially asked three questions: first, how could the distinguished diplomats gathering in Paris at the end of such a disastrous war have made such a disastrous peace agreement?  Why were the victors so keen on punishing Germany? And why did the USA insist on its utopian vision of a world based on self-determination of peoples when the world was not ready for it? Second, Roberts asked himself and the experts present in the Peace Palace in what way the Peace Agreement contributed to the great depression of the 1930s and the subsequent eruption of the Second World War. And finally, he asked what the world has learned – and can still learn – from the 1919 disaster. Is the United Nations (UN) doing a good job at peacemaking? Randall Lesaffer provided the first comments. This was followed by a Round Table discussion.

After the Coffee break, the discussion resumed with an assessment of the Dayton peace talks, which were organized to formally end the civil war in Yugoslavia. Abiodun Williams, Director of the The Hague Institute for Global Justice, was the keynote speaker. Marc Weller of Cambridge University was the first to comment. Williams was himself a UN peacekeeper serving in the Balkans, both before and after the Dayton Agreement was made in 1995. He told the participants that the credibility of the United Nations was at an all-time low at that time, and thus the UN was not even invited to come to Dayton and participate in the peace talks. The UN did, however, have a role in the reconstruction of the region, as part of an ambitious post-war peace building effort of the international community.  Williams spoke about the successes and shortcomings of the military, political, legal and economic dimensions of stabilization and peace-building efforts in Bosnia, inter alia in relation to the Dayton Agreement.

After lunch, the discussion resumed with the Sudan Peace Agreement of 2005. Barney Afako, former legal advisor to the Juba Peace Talks, gave an insider’s view. He explained why the peace negotiations between North and South Sudan, facilitated by Kenya, and based on clear principles and realistic but ambitious aims, could be seen as exemplary in various ways. The mediators cleverly took advantage of the regional and international circumstances of the moment and used this to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement that really helped the South become responsible for its own future. In 2011, South-Sudan became an independent State, after the people in the region expressed their preference for independence in a referendum. Afako also stressed the importance of the implementation of the peace agreement and its follow-up. Both the African Union and the United Nations have played an important role in this process. Sarah Nouwen of Cambridge University gave comments.

The final session dealt with situations characterized by the absence of a “traditional” peace agreement. Djamchid Momtaz of the University of Teheran gave the keynote speech, followed by commentary from Nico Schrijver of Leiden University. Momtaz addressed the role of the United Nations Security Council in settling international disputes. He explained how the Council can use – and has used – its authority under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to impose binding legal obligations on all UN Member States. If the Council « imposes » a peace agreement on the belligerent parties in this way, this has the advantage that the victorious State cannot humiliate the losing party in the conflict. It also avoids a sometimes long and tedious peace negotiation. At the same time, peace agreements imposed on the parties by the Council are highly dependent on the interests of the permanent members of the Council, and sometimes the victorious States are the same as (some of) the permanent members of the Council. As examples, Momtaz referred to the Council’s response to the war between Iraq and Iran, and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. After concluding remarks by Ben Bot, the chairman of the Carnegie Foundation, there was a reception.