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A Brief Introduction to Conflict Analysis and Resolution

Conflict and Conflict Resolution in General: Some Observations

* Conflict is a natural and very typical phenomenon in every type of human relationships, at every level: From intrapersonal (the realm of psychology) to global.

* Conflicts at every level have very significant common characteristics and dynamics, and, therefore, it makes sense to examine them together and comparatively.

* People get involved in conflicts because their interests or their values are challenged, or because their needs are not met.

* What we in the field of conflict resolution mean by 'conflict resolution' is a peaceful and mutually satisfactory way to end or significantly --and hopefully permanently-- de-escalate a conflict. You can end a conflict through violence or war and by destroying your oppontent. You can also end a conflict by surrender and capitulation. Or, you can temporarily de-intensify a conflict by deceiving your opponent. Yet, we do not regard such options as conflict resolution. And they do not resolve a coflict, anyway. The conflict remains; it just loses its intensity.

* It is easy to resolve or help resolve a conflict stemming from a clash of interests. It is more difficult to deal with a conflict that emanates from a clash of values. And it is even more difficult to handle a conflict in which at least one party's basic human needs are not satisfied. That is why such conflicts usually are deep-rooted and intractable.

* There are several basic human needs that are especially pertinent to conflict and conflict resolution: The needs for recognition, for development (and self-actualization), for security, for identity, for bonding, and finally for targets to project hate.

* It is extremely difficult for the parties to the conflict, even with outside assistance, to find a way, a solution that would satisfy all of the above needs for both/all of them. What makes things even more complicated is the fact that the need for targets to project hate, a.k.a. the need for enemies, is usually satisfied through the intensification of conflict, and not through its resolution.

* Mediators, intermediaries, third parties, etc. are not really conflict resolvers. They can not resolve the conflict. They can only facilitate directly involved parties in their endeavor to resolve their conflict. Therefore, it is the conflicting parties, the people or groups of people directly involved in a conflict, that can be the true conflict resolvers.

* Yet, some conflicts cannot be resolved without the help of an intermediary, a third party. Parties' perceptions of each other and of the issues of the conflict are so biased, so limiting, that they cannot see mutually satisfactory, mutually beneficial, or integrative options, even when they have the desire to settle their differences. It is in such cases that third parties can be the most helpful. By bringing to the conflict their own knowledge and experience, their own perspective, and, of course, their own power and leverage, they make previously unconsidered options visible and feasible.

* As far as dealing with the need for enemies is concerned, mediators may help the parties understand what makes them the enemy of each other: What social-economic-political conditions, what dynamics, what ideas and ideologies, what misperceptions...The parties may then project their negative emotions and energies to the causes of conflict and may cooperate with each other to eliminate them. (At least that is the theory).

As you can see, conflict resolution is a truly multidisciplinary field. It is an amalgam of psychology, philosophy, political science, sociology, anthropology, law etc. Which elements from which discipline are or should be the dominant ones, depends on who you talk to. I, for one, think that the psychological aspects are a little more important than other aspects. Therefore, I believe researchers and practitioners should pay more attention to the psychodynamics of conflict and its resolution.

Some Observations Regarding Ethnic Conflicts

* Ethnic conflicts, especially conflicts between ethnic minorities and majorities (my area of interest) tend to be intractable. They can be settled for a certain period of time, but they can rarely be resolved. Parties in such conflicts very often block the satisfaction of each other's basic human needs. Minorities tend to believe that their identity is not recognized, that they are given less opportunities for development, and that their culture (and sometimes their existence) is under threat. Majorities, on the other hand, may also perceive minorities as a threat to their security, especially if the minority leaders cooperate with enemy countries.

* The leadership and the elites of both minorities and majorities, tend to be more hawkish, more fanatical, more biased than the average minority or majority member. They have accumulated more negative feelings, more misperceptions on their way to the top. In addition, they had to compromise their moral principles to such a degree, that in many cases these principles have become non-existent. It is really difficult to help such people deal constructively with their conflicts. And it is almost impossible for them to achieve conflict resolution, if they do not have the willingness to work towards it. (In that case, mediators may achieve a settlement, but only if they coerce the conflicting parties; see: Bosnia).

1996 Dimostenis Yagcioglu

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(The opinions and ideas expressed above are entirely mine, and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution of George Mason University, where I am a student.)

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