A peace treaty is an agreement between two hostile parties, usually countries or governments, that formally ends a war or armed conflict.
One of the earliest recorded peace treaties was between the Hittite and Egyptian empires after the Battle of Kadesh c. 1280 BC. The battle took place in what is now modern day Syria and that entire area of the Levant was at that time a contested area between the two empires. After an extremely costly four-day battle in which neither side gained any significant advantage both sides claimed victory. The lack of resolution in the situation meant that just a few years later an almost identical battle was looking imminent. Neither side could afford another war at that time as each were being threatened by other enemies a peace treaty was concluded.
The peace treaty was recorded in two versions, one in Egyptian hieroglyphs and the other in Akkadian using Cuneiform script and we are lucky that both versions survive. This dual language method is common to many subsequent treaties. What is rather different from other treaties is that the two copies were differently worded. Although the majority of the text is identical the Hittite version claims that the Egyptians came to them asking for peace whereas the Egyptian version of the same text say it was the other way round, the Hittites ask for peace from them. The treaty was given to the Egyptians in the form of a silver plaque and this 'pocket-book' version was taken back to Egypt and carved into the Temple of Karnak.
The Treaty was concluded between Ramses II and Hattusili III, and in its eighteen articles it first calls for peace and then says that their respective gods also demand peace. It contains many elements found in more modern treaties although it is perhaps more far-reaching than the simple declaration of the end of hostilities in later treaties. It also contains a mutual assistance pact in the event of one of the empires are attacked by a third party or in the event of internal strife. There are articles pertaining to the forced repatriation of refugees and provisos that they should not be harmed this can be thought of as the first extradition treaty. There are also threats of retribution if the treaty is broken.
This treaty is considered of such importance in the field of international relations a reproduction of it hangs in the United Nations headquarters.
There are many possible issues which may be included in a peace treaty and a treaties content usually depends heavily on the nature of the conflict being concluded. Some of these may be:
- Formal designation of borders.
- Processes for resolving future disputes
- Access to and apportioning of natural resources
- Status of prisoners
- Status of refugees
- Settling of existing debts
- Settling of ownership claims
- Defining of proscribed behaviour
- The re-application of existing treaties
Treaties are often ratified in territories deemed neutral in the previous conflict and delegates from these neutral territories act as witness to the signatories. In the case of large conflicts between numerous parties there may be one global treaty covering all issues or separate treaties signed between each party.
In more modern times certain intractable conflict situations especially those involving terrorism are first brought to cease-fire and are then dealt with via a peace process where a number of discrete steps are taken on each side to eventually reach the mutually desired goal of peace and the signing of a treaty.
Since the founding of the United Nations after World War II this organization has sought to act as a forum for resolution in matters of international conflict and is often instrumental in peace processes and peace treaties. The number of international treaties and obligations member states are involved in which seek to limit and control behaviour during wartime has now made the idea of total war less tenable. This has meant that formal declarations of war are frequently not undertaken and therefore a peace treaty at the end is also not entered in to. The Korean War is an example of a war which was suspended with a cease-fire but never closed with a treaty.
Famous examples include the peace treaty signed at the Appatomatox Courthouse , formally ending the American Civil War or the Treaty of Versailles, formally ending the First World War. The latter treaty is possibly the most notorious of peace treaties in that is blamed for the rise of National Socialism in Germany and the eventual outbreak of the Second World War. The costly reparations Germany was forced to pay the victors of the war, the fact that Germany must accept sole responsibility for starting the war and the harsh restrictions on German rearmament were all listed in the treaty and they caused massive resentment within Germany. Whether the treaty of Versailles can be blamed for starting another war or not it shows the difficulties involved in making peace.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:13:43