Q&A with our Research Team: How comparative evidence can guide options for a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine

Inclusive Peace has just launched a report sharing ideas and options for a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine. Read the co-authors, Alexander Bramble, Nick Ross and Philip Poppelreuter’s reflections on the importance of this research and the methodology they applied in this Q&A.

Why was it important to conduct this research at this point in time?

Firstly, 18 months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, there are clear indications that neither Ukraine or Russia will be able to achieve a decisive military victory. The resulting prospect of prolonged fighting – and with it continued loss of life, human suffering, infrastructural and environmental destruction and the knock-on effects for the rest of the world – highlights the importance of considering alternative pathways to end the war – including negotiations, which statistically constitute the most likely chance of sustainably ending the war. Secondly, the idea of exploring diplomatic solutions to end the war has gained increasing traction among state leaders since early 2023. You can see this in repeated public calls by leaders from states such as Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, and South Africa for immediate negotiations to end the war, French president Emmanuel Macron referring to a negotiated settlement as the most likely outcome of the war, and Ukrainian president Zelenskiy seeking support for his ten-point peace formula.

However, despite negotiations seeming less distant than a couple of months ago, there have been only vague proposals for how to prepare for them and what a negotiation framework could look like. Our research provides concrete options for policy makers, experts from civil society and business, and the media to prepare for negotiations and design a negotiation framework that ensures Ukrainian interests are taken into consideration, unlike during the Minsk process in 2014/15.

In what way has the past (past conflict/peace processes) informed this research? Why is this approach important?

The challenge of designing a negotiation framework that the conflict parties deem viable can seem overwhelming and requires both creativity and process design expertise. Our research draws heavily on comparative evidence and past peace processes to show that setting up a negotiation framework that paves the way for a mutually acceptable compromise for how to end a war is always possible – no matter how unthinkable this may seem initially. Moreover, using comparative evidence allows us to highlight concrete options for how to prepare for and design a negotiation framework to end the war in Ukraine – without prescribing one specific negotiation framework or preparatory activities.

What are the advantages of this approach? What are the pitfalls?

While every armed conflict has its specific features and is exceptional in various ways, there are often similarities across conflicts in the reasons for the outbreak of fighting and the obstacles that prevent conflict parties from considering negotiations as a genuine alternative. Past experiences around negotiation processes combined with a thorough analysis of the armed conflict can therefore advance the thinking about meaningful steps to prepare for negotiations and a comprehensive negotiation framework that can pave the way for sustainable peace.

The risk of comparing apples with oranges is a pitfall of this research approach. Actors who are less familiar with the peacebuilding field might also develop the misguided idea that what has worked to end conflict in the past can be replicated in an almost identikit way in other contexts. Superficial comparisons may also result in premature and flawed ideas for how to prepare for negotiations and design a negotiation framework, which is likely to be unhelpful in reaching a diplomatic solution.

How do you hope that this research will be applied?

Past peace processes can offer a valuable starting point and source of inspiration, not least as they show that other wars involving deeply felt grievances and seemingly irreconcilable positions have ended through negotiation too.

Policymakers could use our report to identify and act on concrete steps for preparing for negotiations. This also includes thinking about which of the options the report presents for designing a negotiation framework could work in the case of Ukraine. The same is true for civil society actors, who will find various information they can use to publicly advocate for the need to start preparing for negotiations and think about what role they want to play in the preparatory phase and the subsequent negotiation process.

We also hope our report will contribute to a more nuanced public discourse on the importance of preparing for negotiations to end this war. The media could use our research to advance a better understanding of the role of negotiations in ending wars and how preparing for them can pave the way for both a lasting peace and at least the start of the transformation of the international security architecture that is needed for sustainable peace.

What aspects of this report can you say would most likely be easily misunderstood? Why?

There has been a tendency in Western public discourse to thus far overlook – or in some cases even reject – any attempt to talk about negotiations as an act of compromising on Ukrainian interests and a sign of weakness towards Russia and a validation of its strategy of invasion. We don’t see it like that. Given that negotiations are highly likely to happen at some point, providing assistance to the Ukrainian government to ensure it can defend its position and interests in any potential peace talks constitutes one key facet of the package of support Ukraine’s allies can provide. Also, the longer Ukraine’s allies wait before pivoting to a strategy that also involves preparatory assistance for a diplomatic solution in addition military and economic support, the harder it will be to avoid the perception that this constitutes a major policy shift that relinquishes support to Ukraine that was previously portrayed as being unwavering.

What’s your advice on how researchers can avoid oversimplifications or inaccuracies when using historical analogies to understand current conflicts?

We see two concrete strategies for researchers to avoid this kind of trap. Firstly, it is important to be aware of the fallacy that there is one pathway for ending an armed conflict. It follows that both the framing and interpretation of historical analogies is key: they can reveal entry points and help to develop suggestions for managing and ending present and future conflicts, but can’t provide ready-made blueprints. Communicating transparently about the opportunities and limitations of historical analogies is also key in this respect.

Secondly, incorporating voices and experts that are familiar with the conflict-affected region under study/observation will also be key for interpreting drawn analogies. Various actors, both individuals and institutions, with context-specific knowledge can provide advice on potentially insightful historical analogies and to what extent they apply to the specific case under consideration.

Overall, as ever, the devil is in the detail and how that detail is interpreted. This implies that only a thorough reading of comparative historical cases and a comprehensive analysis of the conflict at stake can foster a better understanding of the specific circumstances under which past conflicts were managed and ended and what this implies in terms of options for pathways to ending contemporary armed conflict.


Photo credits: manhhai (Flickr) 


Negotiating an End to the War in Ukraine: Ideas and Options to Prepare for and Design a Negotiation Process

This report provides ideas and options for a negotiation process to end the war in Ukraine. It draws on comparative evidence to illustrate how and why a negotiation process could start, how different actors can prepare for negotiations, and what the negotiation framework could look like.

August 2023|Philip Poppelreuter, Thania Paffenholz, Nick Ross, Alexander Bramble,

Briefing Note,

Briefing Note: Negotiating an End to the War in Ukraine: Ideas and Options to Prepare for and Design a Negotiation Process

This briefing note provides a summary of Inclusive Peace's full research report that draws on comparative evidence to explore ideas and options to prepare for and design a negotiation process to end the war in Ukraine.

August 2023|Philip Poppelreuter, Thania Paffenholz, Nick Ross, Alexander Bramble,