Conflict Analysis and Resolution as a Field: Core Concepts and Issues
Summary and Keywords
Core concepts of the interdisciplinary social science field of conflict analysis and resolution (CAR) are discussed. Work in the field is based on numerous generally accepted ideas about the nature of conflict and constructive approaches to conflict. These ideas include ways of waging conflicts constructively, tracing the interconnectedness of conflicts, and assessing the multiplicity of actors. Other important core concepts relate to stages of conflicts: emergence, escalation, de-escalation and settlement, and sustaining peace. Finally, current and future issues regarding CAR conceptualizations and their applications are examined.
This article addresses core concepts of the interdisciplinary social science field of conflict analysis and resolution (CAR), primarily in terms of ideas, as expressed in the literature, about the ways in which conflicts can be done constructively. In focusing on the ideas that constitute the field, it looks at relevant theory and research, treating CAR as an interdisciplinary social science field, particularly as it relates to international relations. Additionally, it considers some relatively prescriptive writing when it derives from a degree of empirical evidence. Significantly, peace studies is one of the sources for the field, and it now overlaps with and contributes to the field (Kriesberg, 1991). Peace studies work helps to foster normative concerns about the goals sought in waging conflicts and the strategies for reaching them.
The contemporary CAR approach builds on academic research and theorizing, as well as on traditional and innovative practices. Scholars of the approach share a number of generally accepted ideas about the nature of conflicts and constructive approaches to resolving them. These ideas provide the foundation for analyzing conflicts, finding ways of waging conflicts constructively, tracing the interconnectedness of conflicts, and assessing the multiplicity of actors. The CAR approach tends to rely minimally, if at all, on the use of violence in waging and settling conflicts. It also tends to emphasize the role of external intermediaries in the ending of conflicts and in conflict processes that generate solutions yielding some mutual gains for the opposing sides. Another important foundational concept is stages of conflicts: emergence, escalation, de-escalation and settlement, and sustaining peace.
As CAR evolves, workers in the field debate the salience of various ideas and even the meaning of basic concepts in the field. This engagement has led to increased contributions to the CAR literature by scholar-practitioners. These contributions offer a view based on experiencing the realities of various conflicts. This section discusses these ideas and realities, noting some contemporary variations in their interpretation (Bercovitch, Kremenyuk, & Zartman, 2009; Coleman, Deutsch, & Marcus, 2014; Sandole, Byrne, Sandole-Staroste, & Senehi, 2009; see also the companion article by Neu and Kriesberg, “Conflict Analysis and Resolution: Development of the Field of Scholarship (forthcoming),” in this encyclopedia.)
This article has three main sections. The first, “Constructive Approaches to Conflict,” explores the generally accepted ideas about the nature of conflict and about constructive approaches to conflict and how they play out in the scholarship on analyzing conflicts, finding ways of waging conflicts constructively, tracing the interconnectedness of conflicts, and assessing the multiplicity of actors. The second, “Conflict Stages,” addresses stages of conflicts: emergence, escalation, de-escalation and settlement, and sustaining peace. The third, “Current and Future Issues,” discusses concepts that are likely to become more controversial as the social-political context becomes less supportive of the CAR approach.
Constructive Approaches to Conflict
There is general consensus within the conflict analysis and resolution (CAR) community on some core ideas about social conflicts. First, social conflicts are universal and potentially beneficial, providing opportunities to achieve desired change. Second, social conflicts are waged with different degrees of destructiveness, and the parties in conflict determine how constructively or destructively they will conduct the conflict. Third, social conflicts entail contested social constructions; each party has its own view of what the fighting is about and who its opponents are. Fourth, social conflicts can be transformed; no matter how entrenched the conflict, outside actors or the parties themselves can take positive steps to move toward peaceful transformation. Fifth, social conflicts are dynamic and tend to move through stages; these stages reflect the constantly changing nature of the conflict and therefore may not always be linear (Kriesberg & Dayton, 2017).
1. Social constructions. Each party interprets its own and its adversaries’ identities, as well as which issues are at stake, from its own vantage point. Differences between parties’ interpretations, therefore, often are contentious.
2. Heterogeneity of adversaries. Within each party, there are different interests and goals—notably, among and between its leaders and their constituencies others. As relationships within the party change, a shift in the direction of the conflict may be feasible.
3. Variety of inducements in waging conflict. These include coercive sanctions to force change, positive inducements to reward constructive change, and the use of persuasion to appeal to the other’s best interests and values.
4. Interconnectedness. Conflicts are interrelated and overlap in time and social space. A conflict is not a closed system and so may be amenable to the intervention of external intermediaries who can help transform the conflict.
5. Consideration of others. Establishing long-term legitimate relations among adversaries by considering the opponents’ concerns and interests as well as the long-term interests of their own people may be the most difficult challenge for everyone, but it often brings mutual benefits (Kriesberg, 2015).
6. Mediation. Third-party intervention to assist de-escalation and negotiations among adversaries can help to transform and settle conflicts.
7. Dynamism. Conflicts move through stages during which parties can act with greater or lesser constructiveness to advance positive conflict transformation.
There is long-standing general agreement that the initial step in engaging in or studying a conflict is to analyze it (Schirch, 2013; U.S. Department of State, 2008; Wehr 1979). This includes identifying the parties in the conflict and the issues in contention, as the parties perceive them. In any large-scale conflict, each party is highly differentiated, and there will be some variation among different groups within each entity, even regarding what is in contention. Moreover, many other parties have an indirect interest in the conflict and are affected by its course, and they therefore may become directly engaged in the conflict or withdraw from engagement in the future. Thus, the parties and intermediaries in a conflict are likely to be affected by both the possible and the actual interventions of external actors. All parties ought to reflectively analyze a conflict before acting in it.
The perspectives of the analysts influence their analyses. Generally, people who are engaged in a conflict, whether as partisans or as interveners, tend to focus on the explicit positions of the parties in the conflict and how they are acting in the conflict. Those who are less directly engaged tend to place more emphasis on the structure of the relationship among the adversaries and the social context of the conflict. The former kinds of analyses tend to emphasize factors that are amenable to change in the short term; the latter kinds of analyses tend to emphasize structural factors that are less malleable in the short term.
The methods of engagement that people employ influence their analyses. Those who rely heavily on military methods often tend to see conflict as framed by military force; whereas CAR practitioners, who engage in training, workshops, and dialogue work, may emphasize the role of opposing narratives and misunderstandings when analyzing conflicts. Theoretical and ideological inclinations also influence analyses. Greater recognition of these different circumstances may help foster more comprehensive analyses and better synthesizing and sequencing of strategies.
Asymmetry between adversaries in a conflict greatly affects the course the conflict and how it is waged and ended. Members of the CAR field stress the multidimensional character of asymmetry and its fluidity, since they vary with different issues (Mitchell, 1995). Reducing certain asymmetries, then, is not necessarily conducive to transforming a conflict and settling it constructively. That depends in good measure on the direction in which a particular asymmetry is reduced. Thus, if one side has greater solidarity and cohesion than the other, asymmetry that is reduced by increasing the other side’s ability to effectively change policies would be conducive to mutual conflict transformation. By the same token, if one side has greater commitment to the issue in contention, asymmetry that is reduced by that side softening its unyielding position would be conducive to bringing about a mutually acceptable conflict transformation.
The changing character of power differences and other kinds of asymmetry are crucial in choosing the appropriate interventions. For example, if equitable accommodations are sought, certain kinds of mediation may not be advisable when the asymmetry in resources between the adversaries is very great.
Recognizing the complexity of this kind of conflict analysis, CAR scholars have produced a broad array of frameworks for conflict analysis (Fund for Peace, 2014; Goodhand, Vaux, & Walker, 2002; Mason & Rychard, 2005; Samarasinghe, Donaldson, & McGinn, 2001; U.S. Department of State, 2008), together with more in-depth examinations of conflict analyses (Levinger, 2013; Schirch, 2013).
Methods of Waging Conflicts
A cardinal tenet of CAR is that social conflicts are inevitable and often necessary to improve peoples’ rights. The critical matter in this regard is the way the conflict is conducted and the methods each adversary applies. Conflicts are commonly defined as struggles in which each side tries to hurt the other to advance toward its goals. A basic CAR insight, however, is that efforts to achieve a contested goal are not only coercive, involving only negative sanctions (Boulding, 1989; Kriesberg, & Dayton, 2017). Positive sanctions can be a second powerful kind of inducement to obtain desired goals. A third kind of inducement is to use persuasive appeals and arguments, relying on shared values and identities. These three kinds of inducements are combined in many ways to constitute a particular strategy at a given time.
Interestingly, this idea has been articulated by leading public figures who are not identified as practitioners in the CAR field. Joseph S. Nye (2004), for example, has influentially written about the importance of “soft power” in world politics, referring to the many noncoercive inducements that the United States can and does effectively deploy in foreign affairs. Armitage and Nye (2007) further elaborated on combining “soft power” and “hard power,” particularly military power, which would constitute “smart power.” Hillary Clinton, at her January 2009 confirmation hearings for secretary of state, spoke clearly about the importance of using smart power and not relying solely on military power.
As the field has expanded to address how adversaries may be brought to the negotiating table, more thought has been given to noncoercive inducements and also to applying coercive force that tends to avoid destructive escalation. One strategic method that has been increasingly examined and employed is nonviolent action (Chenoweth & Stephan, 2011; Schock, 2005; Sharp, 2005). Imposing nonviolent sanctions can avoid dehumanizing the enemy and holds out the promise of future mutual benefits.
Interconnectedness of Conflicts
One important reason for conflict fluidity is that each conflict is interconnected with many others (Dahrendorf, 1959). Many conflicts are nested in larger conflicts and also encompass smaller ones. Conflicts are generally also linked sequentially, each arising from a previous one. And each party in a large-scale conflict experiences numerous internal conflicts that arise among different factions, ranks, and identity groups (Colaresi, 2005). Furthermore, each party is simultaneously engaged in numerous conflicts with a variety of adversaries.
As the salience of one conflict increases, it tends to reduce the salience of the other conflicts. Enemy number one may slip to being enemy number two, making de-escalation in that secondary conflict easier and likelier. Partisans and intermediaries may choose strategies that are intended to alter the salience of a conflict and speed its peaceful resolution.
Multiplicity of Actors
Workers in the CAR field are sensitive to the reality that conflicts are rarely between two homogeneous, unitary entities. Rather, many parties are involved directly or indirectly in every conflict (Crocker, Hampson, & Aall, 1999; Touval & Zartman, 2001). Even when there appear to be only two sides, in actuality, each side has some characteristics of a coalition. Divisions among the members of each party in a conflict, particularly among leaders and other groups, significantly affect the course of a conflict. External conflict can strengthen internal solidarity, but not always and not forever (Wilkenfeld, 1973).
As a conflict de-escalates and moves toward resolution, some factions or allied groups may resist the movement or even reject a signed agreement. They are spoilers, unsatisfied with the terms of the accommodation with the adversary or with their portion in that accommodation (Goren & Elman, 2012; Stedman, Rothchild, & Cousens, 2002). The parties making the agreement then may try to placate and co-opt the rejectionists or to isolate, marginalize, and overwhelm them. If the parties have not dealt with their spoilers by the time the peace talks begin, then it falls to the third party to decide the best course of action for the talks—either talking to the spoilers or sidelining them. In varying degrees, spoilers are a widespread phenomenon. Attention to them is often critical in undertaking de-escalation and in constructing and sustaining an equitable accommodation.
Actors who are not directly engaged in a conflict can also affect its course (Ury, 2000). They are potential or actual intermediaries, allies, and antagonists. The actions of those who are directly engaged in a conflict are affected by concerns about the potential interventions of external actors. In the CAR field, the possible effects of a mediator in facilitating and hastening a negotiated end to a conflict is a major topic of study.
The demand for official Track I mediation to resolve armed conflict has increased and with it, the number of organizations and individuals interested in meeting this demand. There are multiple mediators in peace processes, who may have different skill levels, understandings of the conflict and parties, and conflicting interests. This may allow the parties to play one mediator off the other to the detriment of the process. One idea to minimize competition between potential mediating organizations was suggested by the African Union: to have the most local of the intergovernmental organizations take the lead mediation role (de Coning, 2015; Nathan, 2016b). But considering the meager organizational resources of many regional and subregional organizations, this is not a plausible solution. Nathan (2016b) has suggested that partnerships at the decision-making level of intergovernmental organizations would be more powerful in securing cooperation and coordination in peace processes. Recognizing the problem of multiple mediators, the United Nations issued guidelines emphasizing the critical need for “coherence, coordination and complementarity of mediation efforts” (United Nations, 2012).
Other international actors take part in peace processes as “friends of” the mediation or as interested states. They may not be directly involved in the talks, but they can have a positive influence if they support the goals of the peace process (Whitfield, 2010). Finally, representatives of civil society, women, and youth from the conflict areas will be present as participants in the talks, observers, or advisers to the parties or the mediation team or both.
A central tenet of the CAR approach is that conflicts are not immutable and that even highly intractable conflicts decline in intractability as policies and circumstances change. This happens as conditions change within the adversaries, in their relationships, and in their social contexts. This understanding is manifested in the recognition that conflicts move through a series of general stages. There is little consensus about the names for the stages, but they may be identified by terms such as emergence, escalation, de-escalation, termination, and recovery (Kriesberg, 1982; Pruitt & Rubin, 1986). In 1992, the UN secretary-general, Boutros-Ghali, issued his “Agenda for Peace,” bringing attention to the different phases of peacemaking and peacebuilding (Boutros-Ghali, 1992). The stages are not clearly bounded or always linear; past stages may recur. Furthermore, groups engaged in the conflict may not participate at the same pace in all the stages. Nevertheless, it is analytically useful to distinguish between the different stages to highlight the relevant CAR factors and processes at each stage.
The field of CAR initially focused on negotiating the end of conflicts, sometimes using mediation. Soon, concern about the prior and later stages of the conflict increased. Greater attention was directed at getting adversaries to the negotiating table and on the quality and sustainability of agreements that are reached. With the increase in outside intervention in internal societal wars and attention to nonstate actors, the field expanded to include giving greater attention to preventing the outbreak of warfare and to recovering from past violent outbreaks. The field presently incorporates the full range of conflict stages, and practitioners often specialize in particular stages of conflict. The ideas and practices that are particularly important at each stage are discussed next.
Conflict emergence draws attention to the underlying conditions that precede an overt conflict. Thus the conditions of structural violence, of unsatisfied human needs, and of exploitation are often pointed to as crucial in characterizing a latent conflict preceding the outbreak of a manifest conflict (Burton, 1990; Dahrendorf, 1959). In actuality, conflicts often break out not because of the actions of the most oppressed, but because of the actions of the more powerful. The oppressed may have reason to fight, but they often do not believe that some particular group is responsible for their poor circumstances or that they can change those others in a way that will improve their conditions. The more powerful, however, have reason to believe that they can readily get more of what they want from the weaker party. Acting on this belief, they may provoke resistance and a violent conflict.
Adversaries’ beliefs about collective identities, the perceived capabilities of each side, judgments about what is fair and just, and the chance of achieving sought-for goals determine if and when a conflict becomes manifested in deeds. This is why the ideologies that are constructed and adopted by members of a collectivity are critical in conflict emergence. Political, religious, military, and intellectual leaders can utilize a suitable ideology to arouse and mobilize supporters against an enemy and influence the means to be used in the struggle against that enemy. This also is highly relevant for conflicts that stress ethnic differences or differences in religious or political systems of thought.
How a conflict emerges influences how quickly and destructively it escalates. Often, a burst of violence at the initial manifestation of a conflict results in a rapid and sustained escalation, which can entrap the adversaries, who will want to keep fighting in order to justify the losses they have already experienced (Brockner & Rubin, 1985). A careful, proportional, tit-for-tat series of exchanges, however, can often contain the scale of the escalation and result in cooperation (Axelrod, 1984). The way adversaries interact is the basic determinant of the duration and destructiveness of a conflict’s escalation (Dayton & Kriesberg, 2009). Attention to the growing role of nonviolent action and to transforming feelings and thought via social media has increased attention about constructive escalation (Kriesberg & Dayton, 2017).
External interventions, often in the form of mediation and consultation by, for example, representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and other international governmental organizations, helped prevent destructive escalation in Eastern Europe after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (McMahon, 2007; Möller, 2006). External actions or the threat of them can also help to contain a conflict, inhibiting wide-ranging violent attacks. They can also help channel the means of the struggle to electoral politics or nonviolent actions. Unofficial Track Two conflict resolution training and the facilitation of workshops can contribute to such channeling.
Conflict De-escalation and Settlement
Before the emergence of the CAR approach, research and theorizing about de-escalation were relatively neglected topics. Now there is considerable work on the factors and processes that contribute to de-escalation, conflict settlement, and, particularly, negotiating agreements.
Processes and factors that are internal to each adversary, pertain to their relationships, and are components of the external context can contribute to turning an escalating conflict around. Internally, some groups come to believe that the burdens of continuing to fight to achieve some contested goals are costlier than those goals are worth. The relationship between adversaries may change as conciliatory gestures by one side are convincingly made (Mitchell, 2000). Changes in the global system’s power relations or salient norms can help shift a conflict toward de-escalation.
The transition from confrontation to de-escalation is a matter of great interest in the field. The idea that a turning point is reached when the adversaries are locked in a hurting stalemate is an influential one (Touval & Zartman, 1985). Indeed, members of the opposing sides often come to believe that neither side can impose the settlement it would like, and they begin to search for a settlement they can accept. The discovery or construction of a new option may then appear highly attractive. An interplay between the conflict conditions at a given time and the possible new options marks the suitable time for a particular solution to be proposed and accepted.
There has been a growing literature since the 1990s about the content of peace agreements, recovering from violent societal conflicts, reconciliation, building legitimate institutions of governance, and other matters pertinent to fashioning an enduring and equitable peace (Bar-Siman-Tov, 2003; Pouligny, Chesterman, & Schnabel, 2007). Peace agreements are difficult to obtain and to sustain. Of 121 armed conflicts between 1990 and 2005, only one third were concluded by peace agreements (Harbom, Hogbladh, & Wallensteen, 2006). Yet since the 1990s, negotiated settlements have become the preferred way to end wars (DeRouen et al., 2010).
Walter (2002) defines the success of a peace agreement in terms of duration: if there is no violence for at least five years after the agreement is signed and the parties make efforts to implement the terms of the agreement, then it is successful. Hampson (1996) suggests that a “partial success” would be when the parties observe the terms of the agreement they have signed. A more complete success would entail putting in place structures and institutions that discourage the parties from going back to war. Westendorf (2015) posits that a minimalist view of success would be physical security and the absence of war—that is, a negative peace. A maximalist view would be establishing a positive peace—which would require a deeper and longer term commitment to making the changes needed to establish conditions that are popularly viewed as equitable and legitimate institutions that can address potential conflicts.
Durable peace agreements are characterized by (a) adequate state capacity to implement the agreement (DeRouen et al., 2010), (b) third-party intervention during the peace process and post-agreement implementation (DeRouen et al., 2010; Hampson 1996; Walter 2002), (c) inclusion of a mechanism that foresees and addresses problems that may arise during implementation; and (d) participation of civil society and women in the peace process and in post-agreement implementation (Nilsson, 2012; O’Reilly, Ó Súilleabháin, & Paffenholz, 2015; Wanis-St. John & Kew, 2008).
Some of the reasons given for the fragility of peace are that civil society is not always in a position to provide the space and resources for peacemaking, that ongoing violence is socially and politically destabilizing, and that most peace processes have a narrow focus on governance reform (Brewer, 2010, p. 30).
Current and Future Issues
Given the diversity of CAR’s sources, the changing topics of inquiry, and the increasing domains of work, it is to be expected that many contentious issues are currently matters of disagreement and dialogue. Consideration of seven such matters follows.
Universal or Cultural
An enduring controversy relates to the universality of particular ideas in the CAR approach. As in the case of conflict emergence, some in the field emphasize a particular set of universal human needs, which, when unsatisfied, result in conflicts. Others stress that ways of negotiating, forms of mediation, styles of confrontation, and many other aspects of conducting and settling conflicts vary among different national cultures, religious traditions, social classes, gender, and many other social groupings (Abu-Nimer, 2003; Cohen, 1997; Faure, 2005). Moreover, within each of these groups are subgroupings and personal variations. The differences between groups are matters of central tendencies, and there is a great overlapping of similarities. More needs to be known about the effects of situational as well as cultural effects and about the ease with which people learn new ways of contending and settling fights. The UN declarations and conventions on human rights offer CAR analysts and practitioners standards that can guide CAR practice and yield equitable and enduring settlements (Hayner, 2009).
Discipline or General Approach
A major internal issue in the CAR field concerns the extent to which CAR is and should be a focused discipline, a collection of loosely related arenas of research and practice, or a shared broad general approach. In the 1950s, the vision of many workers in the field was of a new comprehensive, interdisciplinary, research-grounded theory, but that was not realized.
Considerable agreement does exist about particular conflict processes and empirical generalizations. Without a comprehensive theory, however, inconsistencies among various generalizations and propositions are not reconciled. Moreover, without a comprehensive theory or theories of the middle range, it is difficult to know under what conditions a particular social process or empirical generalization is or is not operative, and to apply such knowledge to practice. On the other hand, the more general and necessarily abstract perspective about social conflicts lacks the precision needed to make reliable applications. Despite these considerations, empirical generalizations and knowledge of relevant conflict processes can be useful guides to effective actions that minimize the destructiveness of conflicts if used in conjunction with good information about a particular conflict.
Complicating the CAR approach are the differing places occupied by theory and practice. Each has varied in prominence within the field, and both are, in principle, regarded as important. In actuality, however, theory and practice have not always been well integrated. Theory has rarely sought to specify or assess major theoretical premises or propositions. Often, it is largely descriptive of patterns of actions. And though more research on assessing practice is being done, it has been focused on particular interventions, executed and assessed within a short time frame. Although in some spheres, there is a strong interplay between theory and practice, notably regarding negotiation, mediation, nonviolent action, and problem-solving workshops, additional work is needed to integrate other realms.
Nonviolence or Limited Violence
Another contentious issue relates to the use of violence in waging conflicts. There is widespread agreement among CAR analysts and practitioners that violence is wrong, particularly when it is used to serve internal needs rather than for its effects on an adversary. The presumed internal needs may be psychological, status- or power-based, or economic in nature and situated within individuals, organizations, or larger collectivities. Adherents of CAR generally agree that violence is morally and practically wrong when violence is used in a broad, imprecise manner and when it is not used in conjunction with other means to achieve constructive goals. The increasing use of “smart bombs” and missiles from drones pose moral and practical problems about what is good policy regarding the recourse to such allegedly targeted killing. From its origins, some workers in the CAR field have opposed resorting to the use of violence in any conflict, whereas others have believed that limited violence is necessary and effective in some circumstances, as, for example, is articulated in just war theory.
These differences in values and beliefs are becoming more important with the increased use of military intervention to stop destructive and escalating domestic and international conflicts and gross violations of human rights. The challenges are made greater by the increased cooperation of CAR adherents with governments. Much more analysis is needed about how specific violent and nonviolent policies are combined and with what consequences for the various parties under particular conditions. More specificity is needed beyond the generalization that great reliance on naked violence often fails. When violence is undertaken, in desperation, against a mightier antagonist, it most likely fails.
Neutral Process or Good Result
A long-standing issue in the CAR field is whether the emphasis should be on the process by which a conflict is settled or on the justice and consequences of the settlement. If the process is emphasized, the value of the neutrality of the intermediary is stressed and less attention is directed at the nature of the conflict to be settled. This matter is particularly acute in considering when and how mediation is best undertaken (Laue, 1982). Some practitioners in the field stress mediator neutrality and the mediator’s focus on the process to reach an agreement. Others argue that a mediator either should avoid mediating when the parties are so unequal that equity is unlikely to be achieved or should act in ways that will help the parties reach a balanced and just outcome (Nader, 1991).
As is no doubt the case in any field, research findings and best practices have not always been applied internally within the CAR field. Gender bias, for example, remains a challenge. There is notable progress, in many CAR programs in universities, women now appear to be in the majority. According to the ISA’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession, women earned 58% of doctoral degrees in the social sciences, and 42% of those in political science. Yet the committee found that women constituted only 12.3% of full professors compared to 23.5% for men (Hancock, Baum, & Breuning, 2013). With the rise of contingent workers at universities, women faculty members are disproportionately employed in part-time positions (Curtis, 2013). Women and men faculty express the same preference for research and share the opinion that service is an imposition, yet women spend significantly more time teaching, mentoring, and providing service to the university than do their male counterparts (Chenoweth et al., 2016; Misra, Lundquist, Holmes, & Agiomavritis, 2011).
Gender bias extends to whose research gets taught and whose work is cited. Consistent with numbers in the top international relations journals, 82% of the assigned reading in international relations proseminars was written by male authors. Work by women and mixed-gender teams made up the remaining 18% (Colgan, 2015). Other research shows that international relations articles written by women were cited less than those by men and that even when a research article by a woman is published in a top journal, it receives significantly fewer citations than had that article been written by a man (Maliniak, Powers, & Walter, 2013).
The way CAR relates to other fields and to its social context raises several issues. As the number and variety of would-be intermediaries in large-scale conflicts increase, the relations among CAR-associated organizations and other kinds of governmental and nongovernmental actors becomes more problematic. The engagement of many organizations allows for specialized and complementary programs but also produces problems of competition, redundancy, and confusion. Adversaries may try to co-opt intermediary organizations or exploit differences among them. For example, human rights organizations and conflict resolution organizations can complement each other; but they may also interfere with each other’s work (Babbitt & Lutz, 2009).
To enhance the possible benefits and minimize the difficulties of relations among many intervening organizations, coordination of some sort can be helpful. Research indicates that a variety of measures may be undertaken, ranging from informal ad hoc exchanges of information to regular meetings among organizations in the field and having one organization be the “lead” agency (Kriesberg, 1996; Nan, 2008). The Applied Conflict Resolution Organizations Network (ACRON) was founded in the late 1990s to promote collaboration among conflict resolution organizations to become “a true force for peace” (Applied Conflict Resolution Organizations Network, 2000). ACRON went through a name change in 2003, finally becoming, in 2006, the Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP). The AfP brings together 125 organizations and 1,000 individuals engaged in peacemaking and peacebuilding work. Although coordination will always remain a work in progress, the AfP has succeeded in providing global linkages that have strengthened peacebuilding efforts.
The funding for CAR work usually comes from external sources, which raises another set of issues. The Hewlett Foundation ended its 20-year program of support for conflict resolution programs in 2004, and no comparable source for sustaining programs of theory, research, and applications has since appeared. Tuition charges help support education and training; service fees help sustain nongovernmental organizations doing applied work; and government agencies and various foundations provide funds for research and service projects. All this keeps the work relevant for immediate use. However, the small scale and short duration of this kind of funding hamper the making of long-term and large-scale research assessments and the theory building that are needed for creative new growth and appropriate applications.
Autonomy or Dependence
Finally, issues relating to autonomy and professional independence deserve attention. CAR analysts and practitioners may tailor their work to the preferences, as they perceive them, of their funders and clients. This diminishes the goals that in their best judgment they might otherwise advance. These risks are enhanced when tasks are contracted out by autocratic or highly ideological entities. Furthermore, as more nongovernmentals are financially dependent on funding by national governments and international organizations, issues regarding autonomy and co-optation grow.
On the other hand, CAR ideas are increasingly picked up by people who do not consider themselves as being in the CAR field. For example, the evidence that countries with democratic political systems do not fight wars with each other has been used as a reason to try to make countries democratic, even by warfare. Obviously, officials and other actors who do not accept the CAR approach as a whole may selectively use elements of it. Such usage sometimes appears to be misusing the approach and making it ineffective. Nevertheless, as people who do not think of themselves as being in the CAR field adopt particular methods and ideas of the field, those methods and ideas are diffusing into society and gaining + credibility.
On the Future
Undoubtedly, the sociopolitical context in the United States and in many other countries in the 21st century has become less conducive to the rise and acceptance of the CAR approach. As discussed in Neu and Kriesberg, “Conflict Analysis and Resolution: Development of the Field of Scholarship (forthcoming),” the sociopolitical context in earlier decades supported the emergence and institutionalization of the CAR approach. Several recent developments have contributed to the deterioration of this support. Notably, in the United States, political parties have become highly polarized with a high level of mutual hostility (Dionne, Ornstein, & Mann, 2017). Growing economic inequality, stagnating wages for many, and increasing wealth for a few generated grievances among the nonrich. Some of the rich used their resources to further enrich themselves—by denying inconvenient scientific facts, disregarding democratic civility, weakening trade unions, and denigrating opponents of these actions. Republican Party leaders often joined in promoting such practices. Moreover, Democratic Party leaders failed to deal with the growing public dissatisfaction with these developments (Frank, 2016).
Many other broad, external changes contributed to the foregoing changes. These include technological changes relating to the evolving social media that reduced previously widely shared views of reality. Conversely, technological developments have also contributed to the growing integration of the world, with accompanying economic effects. Following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, a surge of wars prompted waves of refugees entering Europe. Terrorist attacks added fears, gave rise to anti-Muslim feelings, aroused ethnonationalist sentiments, and contributed to authoritarian tendencies in many countries around the world. In the United States, the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States is a symptom of and promotes views and behaviors that are antithetical to the CAR approach. This is illustrated by his bullying style, lack of empathy, and discounting of empirical evidence.
Many aspects of the reaction to these developments in the United States and elsewhere, however, are consistent with and lend support to the CAR approach. A reliance on many aspects of nonviolent action has been evident in massive demonstrations and acts of solidarity with people threatened by the policies of the Trump administration. Resistance has taken many forms, including forming broad coalitions and creating new social organizations, notably in the national Indivisible movement (Dionne, Ornstein, & Mann, 2017). Moreover, many of the persuasive efforts convey empathy for and propose alternative policies to alleviate the grievances that drove some people to vote for Trump. Generally, the persuasive efforts foster mutual regard for all people and attention to evidence-based understandings of reality.
The new circumstances should be met with new adaptations among workers in the CAR field. Broadly, this would include giving more attention to enhancing human rights and satisfying human needs in the ways conflicts are waged and transformed. Attention to such matters would extend to sustainable peacebuilding. This could include work on the ways governmental officials and nongovernmental organizations work together constructively (Gerard & Kriesberg, 2018). Humans, over many thousands of years, have gradually come to live together with declining rates of violence (Pinker, 2011). Work in the CAR field can contribute to continuing that progress, despite setbacks.
Links to Digital Materials
Note: The following list is not intended to be comprehensive; it is, however, illustrative of the diversity of CAR resources. Many of the descriptions are from the organizations’ websites.
ACCORD: The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Durban, South Africa). ACCORD is a South Africa–based civil society organization working throughout Africa to bring creative African solutions to the challenges posed by conflict on the continent. ACCORD publishes the African Journal on Conflict Resolution, Conflict Trends, and Policy and Practice Brief.
Alliance for Peacebuilding (Washington, DC). The Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) leads a community of more than 100 organizations building peaceful and just societies around the world. In this integrated field, the AfP amplifies the strengths of its members through collaboration, tackling a spectrum of issues too large for any one organization to address alone.
Berghof Foundation (Berlin, Germany). The Berghof Foundation is an independent nongovernmental organization that supports efforts to prevent political and social violence and to achieve sustainable peace through conflict transformation. The foundation publishes the Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation.
Beyond Intractability (Boulder, CO). Created by a team of more than 400 distinguished scholars and practitioners from around the world, the Beyond Intractability/CRInfo Knowledge Base is built around an online “encyclopedia” with easy-to-understand essays on almost 400 topics. The essays explain the many dynamics that determine the course of conflict along with the available options for promoting more constructive approaches.
The Carter Center (Atlanta, GA). The Carter Center, a nonprofit organization in partnership with Emory University, is guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering. It seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.
Centre for Conflict Resolution (Cape Town, South Africa). The center aims to contribute to a just and sustainable peace in Africa by promoting constructive, creative, and cooperative approaches to the resolution of conflict through training, policy development, research, and capacity building. The center produces a wide range of publications including seminar reports, policy briefs, books, and occasional reports.
HD: The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (Geneva, Switzerland). The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) is a Swiss-based private diplomacy organization founded on the principles of humanity, impartiality, and independence. Its mission is to help prevent, mitigate, and resolve armed conflict through dialogue and mediation. The center publishes reports on the conflicts and issues in which it is involved.
Centre for Mediation in Africa (Hatfield, South Africa). The center strives to make mediation efforts throughout Africa more effective by offering academic and practical courses in mediation, researching new and current best practices, and supporting organizations such as the United Nations, the African Union, and those African governments involved in the mediation process. The center produces research on mediation best practices.
Conflict Management Initiative (CMI) (Helsinki, Finland). The Conflict Management Initiative (CMI) works closely with all conflicting parties in some of the world’s most intractable conflicts to forge lasting peace through informal dialogue and mediation. CMI was founded in 2000 by Nobel Peace laureate and former president of Finland Martti Ahtisaari.
Conflict Resolution Information (Boulder, CO). A free online clearinghouse, indexing peace- and conflict-resolution-related webpages, books, articles, audiovisual materials, organizational profiles, events, and current news articles.
Conciliation Resources (London, UK). The mission of Conciliation Resources is to provide practical support to help people affected by violent conflict achieve lasting peace. It draws on shared experiences to improve peacebuilding policies and practice worldwide. Conciliation Resources publishes the Accord series.
Crisis Group (Brussels, Belgium). An independent, nonprofit nongovernmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict, Crisis Group conducts analyses of major current conflicts based on fieldwork and makes policy suggestions. It publishes alerts, reports, and briefings on the various conflicts it works on.
European Institute of Peace (Brussels, Belgium). The European Institute of Peace (EIP), launched in May 2014, is an independent partner to the European Union and Europe, augmenting its global peace agenda through mediation and informal dialogue. The EIP pursues multitrack diplomacy and acts as a flexible external tool in support of EU mediation efforts where the EU has limited freedom to act. It also serves as an operational hub, connecting existing expertise and sharing knowledge and lessons on European mediation.
Institute for Peace and Security Studies (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia). The Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) at the Addis Ababa University is the premiere institute for education, research, and policy dialogues on peace and security in Africa. The IPSS produces two types of policy periodicals, the IPSS Policy Analysis and the IPSS Policy Brief to provide comprehensive policy options in the areas of peace, security, and governance.
INCORE: International Conflict Research Institute (Ulster, UK). INCORE is a joint project of the United Nations University and the University of Ulster. It provides a Conflict Data Service and a comprehensive database and resource guide to conflict-prone regions and countries.
Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (Accra, South Africa). The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) is one of three institutions designated by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as a regional Centre of Excellence for the delivery of training and research in the areas of conflict prevention, management, and peacebuilding.
Nairobi Peace Initiative–Africa (Nairobi, Kenya). The Nairobi Peace Initiative–Africa (NPI-Africa) is a continental peace resource organization, engaged in a broad range of peacebuilding and conflict transformation initiatives in Africa.
Peace and Collaborative Development Network (Washington, DC). Created by Dr. Craig Zelizer in 2007, the Peace and Collaborative Development Network (PCDN) is the go-to hub for the global change-making community. The PCDN is a rapidly growing social enterprise that gathers over 35,500 professionals, organizations, and students engaged in social change, peacebuilding, social entrepreneurship, development, and related fields.
Peace Research Institute of Oslo (Oslo, Norway). Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO) conducts research on the conditions for peaceful relations between states, groups, and people. It publishes the journal Security Dialogue and the Journal of Peace Research.
Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (Stockholm, Sweden). The Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (SIPRI) is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control, and disarmament. SIPRI provides data, analyses, and recommendations based on open sources to policymakers, researchers, media, and the interested public. SIPRI produces the annual SIPRI Yearbook.
United States Institute of Peace (Washington, DC). An independent, nonpartisan institution established and funded by the U.S. Congress. Its goals are to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts; promote postconflict stability and development; and increase conflict-management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide. The USIP offers online and on-site courses, and the United States Institute of Peace Press has been publishing books on CAR since 1991.
UN Peacemaker (New York, NY). UN Peacemaker is the online mediation support tool developed by the United Nations Department of Political Affairs. Intended for peacemaking professionals, it includes an extensive database of peace agreements, guidance material, and information on United Nations mediation support services. UN Peacemaker is part of the United Nation’s overall efforts to support UN and non-UN mediation initiatives.
West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (Accra, South Africa). The West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) is a leading regional peacebuilding organization founded in 1998 in response to civil wars that plagued West Africa in the 1990s. Over the years, WANEP has succeeded in establishing strong national networks in every member state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and has over 500 member organizations across West Africa.
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(*) This article and Conflict Analysis and Resolution: Development of the Field update and expand Conflict Analysis and Resolution as a Field.