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1.2 Obstacles to conflict resolution
Chapter 3 has indicated some of the reasons why contemporary international-social conflicts are so hard to end. Sources of conflict, which usually persist in intensified form into the ensuing war, were identified at international, state and societal levels, and were also located in the factional interests of elites and individuals. To these are added the destructive processes and vested interests engendered by the war itself, as described in chapter 5. Violence spawns a host of groups who benefit directly from its continuation. Soldiers become dependent on warfare as a way of life, and warlords on the economic resources and revenue they can control (Berdal and Keen 1998; King 1997:37). Even in low intensity conflicts, protagonists may depend, economically or psychologically, on the continuation of the conflict, such as the people in Belfast who sustain paramilitary operations through protection rackets. Leaders who have become closely identified with pursuing the conflict may risk prosecution, overthrow or even death once the war is over, and have strong incentives for intransigence (for example Karadzic in Bosnia, Savimbi in Angola, Vellupillai Probhakaran in Sri Lanka). Local and regional party officials or military officers who have made their careers in the conflict may develop a stake in its continuation (Sisk 1997: 84). For such protagonists, peace may bring loss of role and status, and thus directly threaten their interests (King 1997).
It would be easy to draw the conclusion that conflict resolution is not possible, and that political groups, like nations, will fight to the death to achieve their ends. However, we need to keep the obstacles in proportion. Most violent conflicts impose massive costs on the societies concerned, and so there is a usually a large segment of the population which will benefit from the conflict ending. This is a shared interest across the conflicting communities, affecting security and economic welfare. Moderate politicians and constituencies, who may have been silenced or displaced by the climate of violence, will be keen to re-establish normal politics. Ordinary people will welcome a return to peace and wish to put the distress of war behind them. There is, therefore, a large reservoir of potential support that peace-makers should be able to foster.
We can point to a number of cases where conflicts have been settled by negotiation: examples include the ending of apartheid in South Africa, the ending of the internal conflicts in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, the settlements in Mozambique and Namibia, and in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Given political vision, engaged peacemakers, moderation and the right conditions, conflicts can be brought to a negotiated end. It is, therefore, worth trying to identify the ingredients of an effective conflict resolution approach, and the conditions under which attempts to end conflict are likely to succeed.
2 Conflict resolution and war ending
In looking at the scope for conflict resolution in ending violent conflict, we will follow Raimo Vayrynen in adopting a broad approach which recognizes the fluidity of the conflict process. Conflicts are inherently dynamic and conflict resolution has to engage with a complex of shifting relations:
The bulk of conflict theory regards the issues, actors and interests as given and
on that basis makes efforts to find a solution to mitigate or eliminate
contradictions between them. Yet the issues, actors and interests change over
time as a consequence of the social, economic and political dynamics of
societies. Even if we deal with non-structural aspects of conflicts, such as
actor preferences, the assumption of stability, usually made in the game
theoretic approach to conflict studies, is unwarranted. New situational
factors, learning experiences, interaction with the adversary and other
influences caution against taking actor preferences as given’
(Vayrynen, 1991, p.4).
The requirements are best seen as a series of necessary transformations in the elements which would otherwise sustain ongoing violence and war.
2.1 Transformers of conflict: a generic framework
Vayrynen identifies a number of ways in which conflict transformation takes place (Vayrynen 1991). His ideas complement those of Galtung (1984; 1989; 1996), who has developed his views on the resolution of inter-party and intra-party conflicts, in their structural, attitudinal and behavioural aspects into a full theory of nonviolent conflict transformation. From these sources, and informed by Burton, Azar, Curle and the related theorists mentioned in chapter 2, we outline five generic transformers of protracted conflict which correspond to the outline framework for the analysis of contemporary conflict offered in chapter 3.
First, context transformation. Conflicts are embedded in a social, regional and international context, which is often critical in maintaining them. Changes in the context may sometimes have more dramatic effects than changes within the parties or in their relationships. The end of the Cold War is the prime recent context transformation which has unlocked protracted conflicts in southern Africa, central America and elsewhere.lix
Second, structural transformation. The conflict structure is the set of actors, issues and incompatible goals or relationships which constitutes the conflict. If the root causes of the conflict lie in the structure of relationships within which the parties operate, then a transformation of this structure is necessary to resolve the conflict. In asymmetric conflicts, for example, structural transformation entails a change in the relationship between the dominant and weaker party. Empowerment of the weaker side (for example through international support or recognition or mediation) is one way this can be achieved. Another is dissociation—withdrawal from unbalanced relationships, as for example in the Kosovar Albanians’ decision to boycott the elections in Serbia and set up a ‘shadow state’.
Third, actor transformation. Parties may have to redefine directions, abandon or modify cherished goals, and adopt radically different perspectives. This may come about through a change of actor, a change of leadership, a change in the constituency of the leader, or adoption of new goals, values or beliefs. It may involve intra-party conflicts, which is often crucial to the resolution of inter-party conflict. Changes of leadership are common as precipitators of change in protracted conflicts. Changes in the circumstances and interests of the constituency a party represents also transform conflicts, even if such changes in the constituency often take place gradually and out of view. Splitting of parties, and integration of parties, are important forms of change.
Fourth, issue transformation. Conflicts are defined by the conflicting positions parties take on issues. When they change their positions, or when issues lose salience or new ones arise, the conflict is transformed. Changes of position are closely related to changes of interest and changes of goals, and hence to actor transformation, and also to the context and structure of the conflict. Re-framing of issues may open the way to settlements.
Fifth, personal and group transformation. For Adam Curle, this is at the heart of change.lx If we accept the Buddhist view that conflict is in the hearts and minds of people, then it is in hearts and minds that change comes about. John McConnell has shown how an understanding of Buddhist psychology sheds light on the processes involved. Conflict arises from loba (craving for fixed goals, striving for mastery), dosa (hatred, or generalised suspicion) and moha (self-distorted perceptions). It can be transformed by being transmuted into aloba (reconciliation); adosa (mutual acceptance); amoha (broad vision and clarity) (McConnell 1995). The former guerrilla leader, committed to victory through any means, becomes the unifying national leader, offering reconciliation; the leader of an oppressive government decides to accept his opponents into the government. Excruciating suffering leads in time through mourning and healing to new life (Montville 1993).
Transformations of this kind do not necessarily move in a benign direction. It is characteristic of conflicts that they intensify and widen, power passes from moderate to more extreme leaders, violence intensifies and restraint and moderation wither. These five types of transformation are useful, however, as a framework for analysing steps toward conflict resolution, and for thinking about interventions in conflict.
The middle three transformers (structure, actor, issue), correspond to the conflict-level factors identified in Chapter 3, context transformation corresponds to the global, regional and state levels, and individual and group transformation to the individual-elite level.
In many cultures conflicts are explained as ‘tangles’ of contradictory claims that must be unravelled. In Central America the phrase ‘we are all entangled’, as in a fisherman’s net, best describes the concept of conflict, and the experience of conflict is ‘enredado’, (to be tangled or caught in a net) (Duffey, 1998). At the root of conflict is a knot of problematic relationships, conflicting interests and differing worldviews. Undoing this knot is a painstaking process. Success depends on how the knot has been tied and the sequencing of the untying. The timing and co-ordination of the transformers is crucial (Fisher and Keashly 1991). They need to develop sufficient energy and momentum to overcome the conflict’s resistance.
This broad view of conflict transformation is necessary to correct the misperception that conflict resolution rests on an assumption of harmony of interests between actors, and that third-party mediators can settle conflicts by appealing to the reason or underlying humanity of the parties. On the contrary, conflict transformation requires real changes in party’s interests, goals or self-definitions. These may be forced by the conflict itself, or may come about because of intra-party changes, shifts in the constituencies of the parties, or changes in the context in which the conflict is situated. Conflict resolution must therefore concern itself not only with the issues that divide the main parties but also with the social, psychological and political changes that are necessary to address root causes, the intra-party conflicts that may inhibit acceptance of a settlement, the context which affects the incentives of the parties, and the social and institutional capacity that determines whether a settlement can be made acceptable and workable. As we argued in chapter 5, a ‘multi-track’ approach is necessary, relying on interventions by different actors at different levels (Rupesinghe 1996).
Having outlined the main general requirements for ending violent conflicts in terms of conflict transformers, we now apply this in more detail, first to the issue of the role of mediation and third party intervention in war ending, second to the question whether there are ‘ripe moments’ for peace-making as determined by the conflict itself, and third to the nature of successful peace processes including the significance of turning points and sticking points and the threat from ‘spoilers’ who want to wreck the prospects for settlement.
2.2 Mediation and third party intervention
As the concept of conflict resolution has gained currency, many more conflict resolution attempts are being made. They involve different kinds of agency (international organizations, states, non-governmental organizations, individuals), address different groups (party leaders, elites, grass-roots), and vary in form, duration and purpose. Chapters 1 and 2 referred to this developing practice, including Track I, Track II, Track III and multi-track diplomacy, employing a spectrum of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ intervention approaches, ranging from good offices, conciliation, quiet or ‘pure’ mediation at one end, through various modes of more muscled mediation and leace-keeping, to peace enforcement at the other. Much of this has been controversial. There have been fierce debates over whether third party intervention should be impartial or partial, coercive or non-coercive, state-based or non-state based, carried out by outsiders or insiders (Bercovitch 1996; Curle 1987; Lederach 1995; Mitchell and Webb 1988; Touval and Zartman 1985; van der Merwe 1989). Attempts to integrate different approaches, such as Fisher and Keashly’s (1991) ‘contingency model’lxi and life-cycle models of conflict (Creative Associates 1997: 3-4) suggest appropriate responses at different phases of conflict, though such models do not resolve the ethical issues involved, or the practical issues of coordination (Webb, Koutrakou and Walters 1996). They do, however, point to the conclusion that third-party interventions usually need to be continued over an extended period, and that ‘third parties need other third parties’ (Hampson 1996: 233).
At the softer end of the spectrum third parties are often essential in contributing to issue transformations. They typically help the conflicting parties by putting them in contact with one another, gaining their trust and confidence, setting agendas, clarifying issues and formulating agreements. They can facilitate meetings by arranging venues, reducing tensions, exploring the interests of the parties and sometimes guiding the parties to unrealised possibilities. These are tasks that are usually contentious and even dangerous for the conflictants to perform themselves. By allowing the parties to present their cases, exploring them in depth, framing and ordering the discussion, and questioning the advantages and disadvantages of different options, before the parties have to make a commitment to them, mediation can sometimes perform a valuable role in opening up new political space.
Mediation is especially important at a stage when at least some of the conflicting parties have come to accept that pursuing the conflict is unlikely to achieve their goals, but before they have reached the stage of accepting formal negotiations. At this point, face-to-face meetings may be very difficult to arrange, and mediation and ‘back-channels’ become important. They played a large role in the peace processes in Northern Ireland, South Africa and the Israel/Palestine conflict. In the Northern Ireland case, for example, the SDLP, Sinn Féin, and the Irish government established communications by sending secret messages through representatives of the Clonard monastery, a religious community which ministers to Republican families living on the ‘front line’ in Belfast; this prepared the ground for the Hume-Adams proposals (Coogan 1995). The back-channel between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership, established through the good offices of the Norwegian NGO FAFO, has become justly famous; it broke the impasse in the Madrid talks and led to the Oslo accords. Jane Corbin (Corbin 1994) tells the story of how it developed out of informal contacts between academics on the two side, built around the formula of ‘Gaza first’—and rapidly developed into informal and then formal negotiations between the two sides. The Norwegian government assisted by providing confidential meeting places and skilled facilitators to maintain a constructive atmosphere, in which unexpected breakthroughs became possible. In the South African case, the contacts arranged between the ANC and the government by third parties enabled preliminary communication between the two sides, before they were ready to negotiate openly.
International organizations, governments and non-governmental organizations can all play a role at this stage. Although they usually have limited resources, non-governmental organizations may be able to enter conflicts that are barred to international organizations and governments on grounds of sovereignty. A growing number of NGOs (such as the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), the Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management, the Carter Center, the Community of Sant’ Egidio, the Conflict Analysis Centre at Kent, the Harvard Centre of Negotiation, the Institute for Multi-track Diplomacy, International Alert, and Search for Common Ground) have gained experience of working in conflict (Serbe, Macrae and Wohlgemuth 1997; van Tongeren 1996). They use a variety of approaches including facilitation (Fisher and Ury 1981), problem-solving workshops (Burton 1987; Kelman 1992; Mitchell and M.Banks 1996; Reuck 1984), and sustained mediation.
It is possible to point to a number of cases where mediators from NGOs have contributed to transformation at key moments, usually in conjunction with governments and international organizations—the Community Sant’Egidio in Mozambique (Hume 1994; Msabaha 1995, p.221), Jimmy Carter in Ethiopia/Eritrea (Ottoway 1995, p.117), the Moravians and the Mennonites in Central America (Wehr and Lederach 1996, p.65, 69), the Norwegian organization FAFO in the Oslo talks between Israel and the PLO (Corbin 1994), and the Conflict Analysis Centre in Moldova.
NGOs have sometimes been able to adapt their methods to the local culture, and can work usefully with one or several parties rather than with all. John-Paul Lederach, for example, found in his work in Central America that the parties look for confianza (trust) rather than neutrality in third-parties, and that an ‘insider-partial’ would be more acceptable than impartial outsiders (Lederach 1995; Wehr and Lederach 1996).
The current trend in NGO interventions is away from entry into conflict situations by outsiders, towards training people inside the society in conflict in the skills of conflict resolution and combining these with indigenous traditions. We noted in chapter 2 how the constructions and reconstructions which took place in conflict resolution thinking placed great stress on the need to bring into the discoure of conflict resolution the ideal of a global civic culture which was receptive and responsive to the voices often left out of the politics of international order. Thus Elise Boulding envisaged the evolution of a problem-solving modus operandi for civil society, and Curle and Lederach defined the priorites and modalites of indigenous empowerment and peacebuilding from below. Indeed, it is in the encounter with local traditions that important lessons about conflict resolution are being learned, particularly about the limitations of the dominantly Euro-American model defined in chapter 2. In the study of the Arab Middle East, mentioned earlier, Paul Salem has noted a ‘rich tradition of tribal conflict management (which) has thousands of years of experience and wisdom behind it’ (Salem, 1997, xi). Such perspectives are now beginning to emerge in contemporary understandings and practices of conflict resolution. Rupesinghe emphasises the importance of building capacity to manage conflict within the affected society, a process which will necessarily involve the need for knowledge about the traditions of conflict management to which Salem referred. Kelman, Rothman and others have used an elicitive model in their workshops in the Middle East, drawing on the wisdom of local cultures to stimulate creative dialogue and new thinking at elite or grass-roots levels. Participants in their workshops have gone on to play significant decision-making roles in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (Kelman 1997; Rothman 1992). Similarly, comunity relations organizations in Northern Ireland have built networks of people across the communities who are a long-term resource for peace-building, and are changing both the society and the actors. Thus the encounter between conflict resolution ideas and social and political forces can subtly transform the context of conflict. NGOs also work towards structural transformation, for example by acting to empower the weaker side (Curle 1996; Lederach 1995; van der Merwe 1989).
Of course, international organizations and governments still play much the largest role in managing conflicts in the post-cold war world. The UN Secretary General and his representatives exercise good offices in many parts of the world (Findlay 1996), and made important contributions to the settlements in El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique and Namibia. The UN’s legitimacy contributes to its special role, and its resolutions sometimes play a defining role in setting out principles for settlements (as in the case of Resolutions 242 and 338). It is true that the UN has also faced some dreadful failures in the post-cold war world, including Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalialxii. Nevertheless, as the instrument through which the international community arranges ceasefires, organizes peacekeeping, facilitates elections and monitors disengagement and demilitarisation, the UN has an acknowledged corpus of knowledge and experience to bring to bear.lxiii
Governments also play a prominent role as mediators. For example Portugal (with the UN) facilitated the Bicesse Accord in Angola (Hampson 1996:87-127), the ASEAN countries took a leading role in Cambodia, and the United States in Central America. The United States is especially significant in post-cold war conflicts, given its unique international position. However, governments are not always willing to shoulder a mediating role when their national interests are not at stake, and where they are, mediation readily blurs into traditional diplomacy and statecraft.
When governments bring coercion to bear to try to force parties to change position, they become actors in the conflict. Forceful interventions clearly can bring forward war endings in some circumstances, as in the case of Bosnia, where after many months of abstention the US tacitly built up the Croatian armed forces and sanctioned NATO air-strikes on Serb positions in order to force the Dayton settlement. The question is whether such interventions can lead to a stable ending of conflict, and whether imposed settlements stick.lxiv We have discussed the dilemmas involved briefly in the previous chapter, and elsewhere (Ramsbotham and Woodhouse 1996).
The timing of mediation is a delicate issue, that depends on the particular conflict. On the one hand, mediation can only be successful if the parties are willing to explore a settlement, or can be induced to consider one. On the other, it is impossible to know whether the parties are ready without making the attempt. Zartman has argued that it is only when a conflict is ‘ripe’ for settlement that negotiations can succeed; by implication premature mediation is a waste of effort. What is ‘ripeness’ and how useful is this concept for conflict resolution?
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