Cover: From Stalemate to Settlement

From Stalemate to Settlement

Lessons for Afghanistan from Historical Insurgencies That Have Been Resolved Through Negotiations

Published Feb 10, 2014

by Colin P. Clarke, Christopher Paul


Download eBook for Free

Full Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.9 MB Best for desktop computers.

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

ePub file 1.8 MB Best for mobile devices.

On desktop computers and some mobile devices, you may need to download an eBook reader to view ePub files. Calibre is an example of a free and open source e-book library management application.

mobi file 0.7 MB Best for Kindle 1-3.

On desktop computers and some mobile devices, you may need to download an eBook reader to view mobi files. Amazon Kindle is the most popular reader for mobi files.

Summary Only

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.3 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback92 pages $19.95

Research Questions

  1. Which steps and in what sequence have successfully brought about a negotiated settlement when the parties involved in waging and fighting an insurgency are locked in a military stalemate?
  2. How can these steps be distilled into a "master narrative" that characterizes this process?
  3. What lessons would such a narrative hold for the resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan, should the United States, the Afghan government, and the Taliban agree to initiate negotiations?

In June 2013, the Afghan Taliban opened a political office in Qatar to facilitate peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan governments. Negotiations between the United States and the group that sheltered al-Qaeda would have been unthinkable 12 years ago, but the reality is that a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan is one of several possible end games under the current U.S. withdrawal plan. Negotiating an end to an insurgency can be a long and arduous process beset by false starts and continued violence, but a comprehensive review of historical cases that ended in settlement shows that these negotiations followed a similar path that can be generalized into a "master narrative." This research examines 13 historical cases of insurgencies that were resolved through negotiated settlement in which neither side (insurgents or counterinsurgents) unambiguously prevailed. Taken together, these cases reveal that the path to negotiated settlement generally proceeds in seven steps in a common sequence. Although this resulting master narrative does not necessarily conform precisely to every conflict brought to resolution through negotiation, it can serve as an important tool to guide the progress of a similar approach to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw.

Key Findings

Historical Insurgencies That Were Resolved Through Negotiated Settlement After a Stalemate Followed a Common Path: a "Master Narrative"

  • Of the 71 insurgencies resolved between 1944 and 2010, 13 ended in a negotiated settlement in which neither side (insurgents or counterinsurgents) unambiguously prevailed.
  • Each of these 13 cases generally proceeded from stalemate to resolution in seven steps executed in a common sequence: (1) military stalemate and war-weariness created an environment that was "ripe for resolution," (2) the government accepted the insurgents as legitimate negotiating partners, (3) the parties brokered one or more cease-fires, (4) the government and insurgents entered into official intermediate agreements, (5) the government extended a power-sharing offer to the insurgents, (6) the insurgent leadership became more moderate and willing to engage in political compromise, and (7) a third-party guarantor helped reinforce the settlement and transition.

The Master Narrative Distilled from These Historical Cases Could Guide a Negotiated Settlement to the Conflict in Afghanistan

  • As the United States prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, a negotiated settlement is one of several possible end games.
  • The master narrative distilled from historical analysis could help guide such an approach to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, should policymakers and Taliban leaders choose this option. It reveals what has been successful and what has been less successful in past negotiations, providing some indication of the challenges that lie ahead and what concessions the Afghan government, the Taliban, and U.S. and coalition forces may be required to make to achieve a lasting settlement.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.