Suppose two countries are at war and consider a cease-fire, but each country suspects that the other country would break the cease-fire unilaterally, e.g. by firing ground-ground missiles. One could hope that UN forces could be used to prevent both sides from initiating war, but UN forces are usually quite weak (see Have UN forces ever successfully defended a region? ). So here is an alternative way to at least partially enforce the cease-fire, without using UN military force:

  1. At the start of the cease-fire, each country deposits a large amount of money with a neutral third-party;
  2. The UN should watch over the border area (e.g. using a satellite) to detect cease-fire violations;
  3. Whenever one of the countries violates the cease-fire, both deposits go to the other country.

While this is not a complete deterrant, it at least gives some incentives to both parties to keep the cease-fire.

Is each part of this scheme viable (technologically, politically or economically)?

Has any similar scheme been used successfully?


2 Answers 2


It's not a bad concept, and I'm pretty sure I've seen it used between corporations (although the name escapes me), but it seems unlikely to be useful between countries.

First of all, governments rarely have large amounts just sitting around in a bank account somewhere that aren't already committed to something else. Unlike a large business which can fairly freely reallocate money and tends to have sizable cash reserves, a government wanting to make this deposit would have to go through the lawmaking process to approve it (or else take it away from some related department that was already counting on having it).

Secondly, the size of government budgets is wildly different between countries, so what could be a huge commitment on one side could be a rounding error to another. For example, the US annual budget is on the order of 6.4 trillion dollars. Israel's annual budget is on the order of 139 billion dollars, and the Gaza Strip's annual budget is on the order of 3.8 billion. At the low end, some countries have budgets in the single-digit millions. (source for all those values) What would be a fair amount to escrow with the third party? If it's a percentage rather than a flat amount, you instead have one side putting up far more in absolute terms than the other.

Finally, assuming the cease fire is broken, who decides which side broke it? Say someone attacks a soldier with a knife during the cease fire and is shot dead. Is it broken? By which side? What if the attacker was actually a militant/soldier acting on their own and not a civilian? What if the defending soldier thought they were being attacked, but were mistaken? (There's a big difference between throwing a tomato at someone and throwing a molotov cocktail or grenade, but the solider would likely shoot the thrower regardless, before realizing what it was.) Depending on the level of commitment to the cease fire from the two governments/militaries, these kinds of incidents can be smoothed over or used by both sides to claim the other side broke it first. How is an uninvolved third party going to figure out which side's payment gets taken?

  • 2
    I think the business term you are looking for is Escrow
    – xyldke
    Dec 11, 2023 at 13:50
  • @xyldke - I feel like there's a term specifically for where both parties escrow money against breaking a contract, but I could be mistaken and it's just under the general term.
    – Bobson
    Dec 12, 2023 at 13:27
  • Could be a question for Law.SE! :)
    – xyldke
    Dec 12, 2023 at 13:44
  • The last paragraph is the hardest one. Even if we have perfect information and perfect penalties, it is hard to define what "breaking the cease-fire" means, e.g. if a person from one country attacked a person of the other country without permission. Do you see any possible solution for this problem? Dec 14, 2023 at 23:05
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi Short of 24/7 surveillance recording of everything transmitted to some publicly accessible place (so that no one could claim selective release), I think the best solution possible is the one we have, even if it's not all that good: The two sides determine it between themselves, based on how much they want to preserve it, and every one else is just stuck needing to believe one side or the other if they differ, and third parties stay out of it.
    – Bobson
    Dec 15, 2023 at 15:08

Most governments and similar actors don't have any savings. They have debt. And rely on taxation etc. or sometimes foreign aid for income. Which is why the threat of sanctions or withholding aid is far more common as means of external pressure to comply with whatever, be it a ceasefire or something else. OTOH there's the freezing/seizing of foreign reserves that happens sometimes.

  • I've been trying to find if there's some research on the effectiveness of seizing/freezing foreign reserves separately from other kinds of sanctions in terms of getting the sanctioned to comply with (some) demands, but insofar I came up empty on that. Dec 11, 2023 at 12:28
  • FWTW there's a 1993 book that claims by its title that is the most effective method of sanctions, but upon checking a book review of that, it's just a case study of Iran sanctions, not really a comparative one, so the conclusion might be cherry picked. Dec 11, 2023 at 12:54

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