Chapter 2 Conflict Resolution: Foundations, Constructions and Reconstructions

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2 Statistics of deadly quarrels

Having outlined some of the ideas that continue to shape the conflict resolution field, our second task in this introduction is to familiarise ourselves with the 'statistics of deadly quarrels', to borrow the title of Lewis Richardson's posthumously published seminal study (1960).

2.1 The conflict domain

What are to count as the relevant conflicts? Conflict resolution analysts have traditionally included all levels of conflict from intrapersonal conflict through to international conflict, and all stages of conflict escalation and deescalation. In this book we restrict our focus to actual or potentially violent conflicts, ranging from domestic conflict situations which threaten to become militarised beyond the capacity of domestic civil police to control, through to full-scale interstate war. The Interdisciplinary Research Program on Causes of Human Rights Violations (PIOOM) at Leiden University includes five 'stages of conflict' in its annual review of international conflict. These begin with (1) 'peaceful stable situations' which are defined as a 'high degree of political stability and regime legitimacy', and move on to (2) 'political tension situations' defined as 'growing levels of systemic strain and increasing social and political cleavages, often along factional lines' (these cases are not included in their statistics). At stage (3), 'violent political conflict', tension has escalated to 'political crisis' inasmuch as there has been 'an erosion of political legitimacy of the national government' and/or a 'rising acceptance of violent factional politics' which is roughly quantified in terms of the number of people killed in any one calendar year up to but not including 100 (in 1996 PIOOM listed 74 such conflicts). At stage (4), 'low-intensity conflict', there is 'open hostility and armed conflict among factional groups, regime repression and insurgency' with 100 to 999 people killed in any one year (42 such conflicts listed for 1996), and at stage (5), 'high-intensity conflict', there is 'open warfare among rival groups and/or mass destruction and displacement of sectors of the civilian population' with 1,000 or more people killed (19 such conflicts listed for 1996) (Jongman and Schmid, 1997). The striking assumption here is that contemporary conflict will be mainly 'internally' generated and that interstate war of the classic kind can be virtually ignored. This is in marked contrast to most quantitative studies of major armed conflict and war since 1945, and is an eloquent testimony to the transformation in conflict studies which has taken place in recent years.

Lewis Richardson included both international and domestic conflicts in his dataset of 'deadly quarrels' between 1820 and 1949. By deadly quarrel he meant 'any quarrel which caused death to humans. The term thus includes murders, banditries, mutinies, insurrections, and wars small and large' (1960). Pitrim Sorokin included revolutions as well as wars in his study (1937). Most studies since the 1950s in the 'classical' phase of the statistical study of international conflict, however, confined the field to interstate and related wars above a certain measurable threshold. The best-known study is the Correlates of War Project of David Singer and Melvin Small. They counted 'interstate wars', which were defined as conflict 'involving at least one member of the interstate system on each side of the war, resulting in a total of 1,000 or more battle-deaths', and 'extra-systemic' wars (e.g. imperial war, colonial war and internationalised civil war) which were defined as international wars 'in which there was a member of the interstate system on only one side of the war, resulting in an average of 1000 battle deaths per year for system member participants' (1972, 381-2).v In more recent studies, however, these restrictive definitions have been progressively relaxed in a partial return to Richardson's original wide canvas.

A comparison of conflict datalists in the 1990s reveals a wide discrepancy both in criteria for inclusion and in reliable figures for what are often chaotic and politically contested war zones. Despite considerable effort we have found no way of definitively reconciling these discrepancies, so that the composite list of major deadly conflicts 1995-1997 given in Box 14 represents a series of compromises between competing


BOX 14


Ongoing conflicts 1995-97 with a cumulative total of 1,000 or more conflict-related deaths since the fighting began. Acronyms are given in full on page .vii

Location Inception Principal conflictants Deaths

Afghanistan 1978 Rabbani vs Hekmatyar 1-2 m

Taleban vs Dostum/Masood

Algeria 1992 Govt. of Algeria vs > 60,000

FIS, GIA etc (Islamic)

Albania 1997 Govt. of Albania vs >1,500


Angola 1975/1992 Govt. of Angola vs > 500,000


Azerbaijan 1988 Govt. of Azerbaijan vs > 50,000

Armenia (Nagorno-Karabakh)

Bangladesh 1973 Govt. of Bangladesh vs > 3,000 JSS/SB (Chittagong)

Bosnia- 1992 Govt. of B-H vs >100,000

Herzegovina Bosnian Croats (Croatia)

vs Bosnian Serbs (FRY)

Burundi 1993 Govt. of Burundi vs > 100,000

Hutu etc militia

Cambodia 1975 Govt. of Cambodia vs > 2 m

PDK (Khmer Rouge)

Chad 1966 Govt. of Chad vs > 100,000


Colombia 1978 Govt. of Colombia vs > 30,000


Cocaine drug barons

Croatia 1991 Govt. of Croatia vs > 10,000

Croatian Serbs (FRY)

Cyprus 1964 Cyprus National Guard vs *

Turkish and Turkish Cypriot


Egypt 1992 Govt. of Egypt vs > 1,000

Gamaat Islamiya

Georgia 1991 Govt. of Georgia vs > 17,000

Abkhazian rebels South Ossetian rebels

Guatemala 1968 Govt. of Guatemala vs > 45,000


India Govt. of India vs

1979 ULFA (Assam) > 5,000

1981 KLF/KCF (Sikh) > 20,000

1989 JKLF etc (Kashmir) > 15,000

1992 BdSF (Bodo) *

Indonesia 1975 Govt. of Indonesia vs

Fretilin (E. Timor) > 100,000

1984 OPM (Irian Jaya) > 10,000

Iraq 1980 Govt. of Iraq vs > 500,000

KDP, PUK (Kurds)

Shi'a, SAIRI etc

Iran 1979 Govt. of Iran vs > 5,000

Mujahideen e-Khalq

KDPI (Kurds)

Israel 1948 Govt. of Israel vs > 13,000

PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah,

Islamic Jihad, PFLP-GC

Kenya 1992 Govt. of Kenya vs > 1,500 tribal resistance

Lebanon 1976 Govt. of Lebanon >15,000

Hizbollah, SLA

Liberia 1989 Govt. of Liberia/ECOWAS > 200,000 vs NPFL, Krahn factions etc

Mexico 1994 Govt. of Mexico vs >*


Moldova 1992 Govt. of Moldova vs > 1,000

Transdnestr rebels

Myanmar 1948 Govt. of Myanmar vs > 14,000

KNU (Karen) etc

Pakistan 1986 Govt. of Pakistan vs > 1,500 MQM

Papua New Guinea 1989 Govt. of PNG vs *


Peru 1980 Govt. of Peru vs > 28,000

Sendero Luminoso

MRTA (Tupac Amaru)

Philippines 1968 Govt. of Philippines vs > 30,000

NPA (New People's Army)


Russia 1991 Govt of Russia vs > 20,000

Chechen rebels

Rwanda 1990 Govt. of Rwanda vs > 800,000

Hutu death squads

Sierra Leone 1989 Govt. of Sierra Leone vs > 20,000

(Executive outcomes)

Revolutionary United Front

Somalia 1991 USC (Mahdi) vs > 400,000

USC (Aidid) etc

South Africa 1996 ANC vs IFP >15,000

Sri Lanka 1983 Sri Lankan govt. vs > 35,000

LTTE (Tamils)

Sudan 1983 Govt. of Sudan vs > 1.5 m


Tajikistan 1992 Govt. of Tajikistan/CIS vs > 30,000 United Tajik Opposition

Turkey 1983 Govt. of Turkey vs > 20,000

PKK (Kurds)

Uganda 1994 Govt. of Uganda vs > 1,000

Lord's Resistance Army etc

United Kingdom 1969 UK govt. vs > 3,000

Provisional IRA etc

Western Sahara 1973 Govt. vs POLISARIO >15,000

Zaire 1993 Govt. Zaire vs > 20,000



2.2 Conflict trends

Given the discrepancies noted above over which conflicts to include in datasets, it has proved difficult to discern significant trends in post-cold war conflict. For example, comparing data over the period 1993 to 1996, the PIOOM programme at Leiden University conclude that the number of high-intensity conflicts and low-intensity conflicts has remained at a 'relatively constant level' (Jongman and Schmid, 1997), whereas, according to the Uppsala University data used by SIPRI, over the period 1989-1996 'there was an almost constant decline in the number of major armed conflicts worldwide' (1997, 20). More specifically, in 1995, Wallensteen and Axell reported a 'new pattern of conflict' in the 1990s in which the prime emphasis is on 'challenges to existing state authority', including secessionist movements which threaten the territorial integrity of the state (former Yugoslavia, Chechnya) and challenges to central control which may also end in fragmentation with no one actor in overall command (Liberia, Somalia) (1995, 345). There have been attempts to find quantitative measures for conflict escalation and deescalation from year to year (PIOOM uses 13 variables, and SIPRI uses a five level numerical scale), and to note regional variations and changes in the incidence of different conflict types (see next section). One of the most hopeful findings at the time of writing is Gurr's conclusion, based on 12 years of research at the Minorities at Risk Programme, that, although there were 11 'new ethnonational wars of autonomy and independence' in 1991-93, there were no new ethnonational wars in 1994-96, suggesting that the turbulence following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war may now be dying away. Moreover, whereas at the end of each five year period between 1971 and 1990 there had been between 22 and 25 ongoing ethnonational wars, in 1996 there were 11. Of the 24 wars ongoing in 1993, 8 had been contained or suppressed and 5 settled through accommodation three years later (Gurr, 1998). Clearly, though, these suggested recent trends may be a poor basis for future prediction. A violent response to rapid economic change in China or uncontrollable intercommunal conflict in India might swiftly trigger a huge increase in regional turbulence.

One major trend, however, shows through in almost all accounts, and that is a decline in the number of interstate wars. Over a longer-term time-frame, according to Holsti, the number of interstate wars per year per state has gone down from 0.036 for the period 1918-1941 to 0.005 for the period 1945-1995 (1996, 24).viii In chapter 3 we will suggest that the key transition here came earlier rather than at the end of the cold war, but since 1989 the decline in the number of interstate wars has approached its limit. There were no interstate wars in 1993 and 1994, and only a minor border altercation between Peru and Ecuador in 1995 and a flare-up in the long-running dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir in 1996 (Wallensteen and Sollenberg 1996; SIPRI 1997, 17). We must no doubt hesitate before celebrating 'the end of international war'. Nevertheless, given the data to hand, the main thrust in this book must clearly be to discuss conflict resolution in relation to non-interste rather than to interstate war.

2.3 Conflict distribution

Many commentators agree that, with the ending of the cold war, regional patterns of conflict have become all the more significant. There have, therefore, been efforts to compare characteristics of conflict from region to region.ix At the heart of such studies lies the attempt to provide a reliable statistical basis for distinctions such as those between 'zones of peace' and 'zones of war' (Kacowicz, 1995). There are many variations here. For example, Holsti (1996, chapter 7), following Deutsch (1954), Jervis (1982), Vayrynen (1984) and Buzan (1983, 1991), distinguishes 'pluralistic security communities' in which no serious provisions are made for war between member states such as North America, the Antipodes, Western Europe; 'zones of peace' between states such as the Caribbean and the South Pacific; 'no-war zones' such as Southeast Asia and (perhaps) East Asia; and 'zones of war' such as Africa, some former Soviet republics, the Middle East, Central America, South Asia and the Balkans.

It is clearly relevant to conflict resolution to understand the distinctions between regional 'security regimes' with relatively stable interstate relations such as ASEAN, 'security communities' which avoid large-scale violence as in Western Europe and North America, and more volatile and conflict-prone regions. There are several quite striking regional variations here, such as the surprising absence of interstate war in South America since 1941 despite its famously turbulent past (Holsti, 1996, 150-182). More recently, SIPRI sees a declining number and intensity of conflicts in Central and South America but little change in the Middle East (1997, 20-1). The level of violent conflict in Southern Africa in the 1990s has been going down, but not in Sub-Saharan West Africa or the Great Lakes region. Why is this? Setting geographical location aside, is there a quantitative and qualitative difference in the incidence and nature of armed conflict between and within developed countries in comparison with so-called third world or post-colonial countries? And do different types of conflict predominate in different regions?

2.4 Conflict types

This leads to one of the most testing questions in conflict analysis. Are there different types of conflict which need to be distinguished from each other if effective and discriminate conflict resolution is to be undertaken? Unfortunately the overall state of current conflict typology is in a state of confusion. There are as many typologies as analysts, and the criteria employed not only vary, but are often mutually incompatible. A compilation of some of the different labels used in well-known analyses from the 1990s soon runs to well over a hundred. Some differentiate in terms of conflict parties,x others in terms of conflict issues,xi others in terms of conflict causes,xii but most in terms of hybrid lists that seems to muddle diverse categories. Some have two types, others run to more than twenty. The field is littered with typologies suggested by particular authors but discarded by others. In order to clarify our discussion, we offer our own working typology in Box 16.

First, it may be helpful to think more in terms of historically and geographically based 'generations' of conflict rather than in terms of blanket typologies. After all, the roots of all major conflicts reach back into the historical past - often several centuries back. Superimposed on this are clusters of 'enduring rivalries', many still unresolved, going back respectively to the time of: (a) the break-up of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires at the end of the First World War (we might add Northern Ireland to this list); (b) the political settlements at the end of the Second World War; (c) the period of decolonisation (1950s, 1960s); (d) the post-colonial period (1970s, 1980s), and (e) the break-up of the Soviet bloc (1990s). Some analysts anticipate future generations of conflict fuelled by environmental deterioration, north-south tensions, weapons proliferation, and the collapse of weak states under the twin pressures of globalisation and fragmentation (see chapter 3).

Second, we would do well to heed Singer's advice that a classificatory system should 'remain as atheoretical as possible' lest 'by accepting conventional labels of certain armed conflicts, we buy into simplistic interpretations, and ultimately embrace disastrous reactions and responses' - although it is unlikely that we will succeed in finding a typology which is 'logically exhaustive, mutually exclusive, operationally explicit, semantically consistent, and substantively comparable' (1996, 40, 48). Box 15 compares Singer's conflict typology with that of Holsti (1996).


BOX 15


Singer's conflict typology (1996, 43-7) is based on the political status of conflict parties. He retains his original distinction between (a) interstate wars and (b) extra-systemic (mainly colonial) wars, but now adds two further classes of non-interstate conflict: (c) 'civil' conflicts, in which, unlike (b), one protagonist may be 'an insurgent or revolutionary group within the recognised territorial boundaries of the state', and (d) the 'increasingly complex intra-state wars' in former colonial states, where the challenge may come from 'culturally defined groups whose members identify with one another and with the group on the basis of shared racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, or kinship characteristics'. Holsti (1996, 21) has also recently adapted his typology. He earlier categorised international (interstate) conflict up to 1989 in terms of 24 issues, grouped into five composite sets: conflict over territory, economics, nation-state creation, ideology, and 'human sympathy' (ie ethnicity/religion). He concluded that the incidence of the first two had been declining, but that of the last three if anything increasing (1991, 306-34). He now focuses on non-interstate war and bases his typology on 'types of actors and/or objectives', ending up with four categories of conflict: (a) 'standard state versus state wars (e.g., China and India in 1962) and armed interventions involving significant loss of life (the United States in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan)', (b) 'decolonizing wars of "national liberation"', (c) 'internal wars based on ideological goals' (e.g., the Senderoso Luminoso in Peru, the Monteneros in Uruguay), and (d) 'state-nation wars including armed resistance by ethnic, language and/or religious groups, often with the purpose of secession or separation from the state' (e.g., the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Ibos in Nigeria).


Singer's and Holsti's typologies seem more or less to coincide. Omitting Singer's 'extra-systemic wars' and Holsti's 'decolonizing wars' on the grounds that the era of decolonisation is all but over, there seems to be rough agreement about a distinction between Type 1 interstate conflict, and two types of non-interstate conflict, Type 2 revolution-ideology conflict (Singer's and Holsti's type (c)), and Type 3 identity-secession conflict (Singer's and Holsti's type (d)).xiii Finally, we are also tempted to distinguish revolution-ideology and identity-secession conflicts in turn from a third class of non-interstate conflict, Type 4 factional conflict, in which the fighting is not about revolutionary-ideological issues, nor about identity-secessionist issues, but solely about the competing interests or power-struggles of political or criminal factions.xiv

This line of enquiry, therefore, suggests that provisional distinctions may usefully be made between three types of non-interstate conflict. The term 'factional conflict' covers coups d'etat, intra-elite power-struggles, brigandage, criminality, and warlordism where the aim is to usurp, seize or retain state power merely to further particular interests. The term 'revolution-ideology conflict' includes the more ambitious aim of changing the nature of government in a state, for example by (a) changing the system from capitalist to socialist, or (b) changing the form of government from dictatorship to democracy, or (c) changing the religious orientation of the state from secular to Islamic. In the post-cold war world it is possible to discern a decline in the incidence of (a) but not in the incidence of (b) and particularly (c). The term 'identity-secession conflict' involves the relative status of communities or 'communal groups', however defined, in relation to the state. Depending upon the nature of the group and the contextual situation, this includes struggles for access, for autonomy, for secession, or for control.xv In brief, a factional conflict is merely a struggle to control the state or part of the state, a revolution-ideology conflict is in addition a struggle to change the nature of the state, and an identity-secession conflict may well be a threat to the integrity of the state (see Box 16).


BOX 16


Conflict type Example

Interstate conflict Type 1 (Gulf war 1991)

Non-interstate conflict

- Revolution-ideology conflict Type 2 (Algeria)

- Identity-secession conflict Type 3 (Sri Lanka)

- Factional conflict Type 4 (Liberia)


Needless to say, specific conflicts elude neat pigeon-holing of this kind on closer inspection. Scholars disagree about categorisation, as seen, for example, in the elaborate attempts by Marxist analysts in the 1960s and 1970s to interpret Type 3 ethnic conflict as Type 2 class conflict (Munck, 1986), in contrast to the reverse trend on the part of many analysts in the 1990s. Moreover the conflicts themselves often change character over time, and are interpreted in different ways by the conflict parties.xvi As John Darby notes with regard to Type 3 'ethnic' conflicts: '[e]thnicity is often situationally determined and may wax or wane according to circumstances', so that it 'may be acquired or divested according to the extent to which it aligns with, or becomes dissociated from, other grievances' (1998, 3-4). It may also be invoked by unscrupulous political leaders in what would otherwise be classed as Type 4 factional conflict. The same elasticity is found in other categories of conflict. Singer's ideal of an 'atheoretical' taxonomy, therefore, proves to be a chimera. For this reason we do not rest much weight on conflict typologies in this book, apart from the broad distinction between Type 1 interstate conflict and various forms of non-interstate or 'international-social' conflict as further elaborated in chapter 3.

Returning to the question posed at the end of the last section, according to the Uppsala classification system used by SIPRI, it is striking that in the Americas there have been no major 'territorial' (identity-secession) conflicts in the early 1990s, whereas in Europe there have been no 'government' (revolution-ideology) conflicts (see Box 17).


BOX 17


1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995


Eur - 1 - 2 - 4 - 6 - 5 - 3

ME 1 4 2 5 2 3 2 4 2 4 2 4

Asia 5 10 3 8 4 9 4 7 4 7 4 8

Afr 8 3 8 3 6 1 6 1 6 1 5 1

Amer 4 - 4 - 3 - 3 - 3 - 3 -

G = Government (type of political system, change of central government or its composition)

T = Territory (control of territory (interstate), secession or autonomy)

(ICRC 1996, 138)


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