In a highly influential article in International Security, Stephen Stedman introduced a model of “civil war spoilers,” which focused valuable attention on the generally underappreciated role of elites in determining the course of negotiations and in implementing intrastate peace accords. For all its virtues, however, the spoiler model did not suggest the best set of strategies for deterring or defeating those who might seek to undermine peace processes. This is because context-specific and actor-specific measures tend to affect diplomatic instruments only at the margin and because, while spoiler type does not change over time, actors' commitment to fulfilling the provisions of peace accords often does; thus these static characteristics cannot be the critical variables the spoiler model suggests they are. Instead, as a detailed reexamination of three of Stedman's case studies (i.e., Angola, Mozambique, and Cambodia) demonstrates, a capabilities-based model offers a more parsimonious and generalizable explanation for why, when, and under what conditions actors who seek to undermine the peace will emerge or retreat. As such, the real key to deterring and defeating would-be spoilers lies in the possession and exercise of the material power to coerce or co-opt them, rather than in the capacity to discern their true character or personality type.

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