Chapter 2 Conflict Resolution: Foundations, Constructions and Reconstructions

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2.3 John Burton and a new paradigm in international studies

At this point we can review the contribution of our third 'founder-figure', John Burton. Burton was born in Australia in 1915. He studied at the London School of Economics from 1938, gained a Masters degree, and in 1942 a doctorate. He joined the Australian civil service, attended the foundation conference of the United Nations in San Francisco, served in the Australian Department of External Affairs and as High Commissioner in Ceylon. He was appointed to a post at University College London in 1963, following a period on a research fellowship at the Australian National University in Canberra. His appointment coincided with the formation of the Conflict Research Society in London, of which he became the first Honorary Secretary. An early product of this initiative was the publication of Conflict in Society (de Reuck and Knight (eds), 1966) with contributions from Boulding, Rapoport and Burton. Following soon after the appearance of other important studies of social conflict as a generic phenomenon, whether at community, industrial or other levels (Coser, 1956; Coleman, 1957) and coinciding with a rediscovery of Georg Simmel's pioneering work (1902), this represented a significant step in the drawing together of multidisciplinary insights for the study of conflict at international level from a much broader perspective than was current in the formal international relations field. Whereas some earlier social scientists, such as the Chicago School, regarded conflict as dysfunctional and the job of the sociologist to remove it, most analysts in the conflict resolution tradition saw conflict as intrinsic in human relationships so that the task became one of handling it better.

This was linked to attempts to coordinate international study through the formation of an International Peace Research Association (IPRA), which held its first conference at Groningen in Holland in 1965. At the same time, during 1965 and 1966, Burton organised the meetings which were to result in the use of controlled communication, or the problem-solving method, in international conflict, to be outlined further in the next section. These meetings were sufficiently impressive for both the Provost of University College London, and the British Social Science Research Council, to support and develop the theoretical and applied techniques which Burton and his group were pioneering. The result was the formation in 1966 of the Centre for the Analysis of Conflict established under the Directorship of Burton and based at University College, London.

Burton later spent a period in the mid 1980s at the University of Maryland, where he assisted Edward Azar with the formation of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management and where he worked on the concept of protracted social conflict, which became an important part of an emerging overall theory of international conflict, combining both domestic-social and international dimensions and focused at a hybrid level between interstate war and purely domestic unrest. This model, described more fully through an outline of Azar's analysis in chapter 3, in our view anticipated much of the revaluation of international relations thinking that has taken place since the end of the cold war. Burton himself did not hold back from making extravagant claims for this new approach in conflict analysis and conflict resolution, describing it as a decisive paradigm shift.

Burton finished his formal academic career as professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Virginia, and as a Fellow at the United States Institute for Peace in the late 1980s. Here he produced four volumes of the Conflict Series (1990), which offer a good summation of his own work and that of colleagues, associates and others working with him in the field.

Early influences on Burton's intellectual journey away from the conventional wisdom of international relations traditions were systems theory as a new vocabulary and set of explanations for the cooperative and competitive behaviour of social organisms, and games theory as a means of analysing the variety of options and orientations available to the conflict parties. The work of Thomas Schelling (1960) on irrationality in competitive strategies and Anatol Rapoport (Rapoport and Chammah, 1965; 1967) on the self-defeating logic of win-lose approaches were influential here. As Rapoport put it: 'the illusion that increasing losses for the other side is equivalent to winning is the reason that the struggles are so prolonged and the conflicting parties play the game to a lose/lose end' (1986, 441). We have introduced some of these ideas in chapter 1.

Another source of inspiration for Burton were the insights drawn from industrial relations, organisational theory and client-centred social work. Here the legacy of Mary Parker Follett 'mutual gains' approach was being vigorously carried forward (Blake et al., 1963; Walton and McKersie, 1965), and applied further afield in family conciliation work, community mediation, and the rapidly expanding arena of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in general, which sought less costly alternatives to formal litigation. Much of this literature, and related literatures on, for example, race and ethnic relations, was based on studies in social psychology and social identity theory, which examined the dynamics of intergroup cooperation and conflict through field based surveys and small group experimentation. The work of Kurt Lewin was further developed to show how group affiliation and pressure to gain distinctiveness by comparison with other groups can lead to intergroup conflict, and how positive relations can be restored or new relationships negotiated between groups in conflict. Morton Deutsch was amongst the first to apply this kind of research explicitly to conflict resolution (1949, 1973). Useful recent surveys of a wide field include Ronald Fisher (1990) and Kurt Lewin (ed.) (1993). This research has explored both the negative and positive aspects. Negatively, it has concentrated on processes of selective perception through forms of tunnel vision, prejudice and stereotyping, on malign perceptions of the ‘other’, on dehumanisation and the formation of enemy images, on the displacement of feelings of fear and hostility through suppression and projection. Positively, it has focused on changing attitudes, on developing mutual understanding and trust, on the development of common or ‘superordinate goals’, and on the general identification of conditions which promote positive intergroup contact (Sherif, 1966; Deutsch, 1973). These insights were at the same time applied to international conflict, as later summed up in Mitchell (1981). Linked to this were studies of 'perception and misperception' among decision-makers in international politics, to borrow Robert Jervis' 1976 title. Burton drew on this material in a series of books published in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including: Systems, States, Diplomacy and Rules (1968), Conflict and Communication (1969), and World Society (1972).

What made it possible to unlock these intractable conflicts for Burton was above all the application of needs theory (Maslow, 1962; Sites, 1990) through a 'controlled communication' or problem-solving approach. As already indicated in chapter 1, the positing of a universal drive to satisfy basic needs such as security, identity, and recognition provided Burton with the link between causal analysis and modes of resolution precisely because of the differences between interests and needs. Interests, being primarily about material 'goods' can be traded, bargained and negotiated. Needs, being non-material, cannot be traded or satisfied by power bargaining. However, crucially, non-material human needs are not scarce resources (like territory or oil or minerals might be) and are not necessarily in short supply. With proper understanding, therefore, conflicts based on unsatisfied needs can be resolved. It is possible (in theory) to meet the needs of both parties to a conflict, because 'the more security and recognition one party to a relationship experiences, the more others are likely to experience' (Burton, 1990, 242). For example, although the question of sovereignty in Northern Ireland or Jerusalem may appear to be intractable, if the conflict can be translated into the underlying basic needs of the conflict parties for security, recognition and development, a space is opened up for the possibility of resolution.

But the problem-solving approach was seen as more than a conflict resolution technique by Burton. It was to become a central concept in his idea of the paradigm shift in thinking about behaviour and conflict in general that he believed was essential if humankind was to avoid future disaster. He was again influenced by some of the concepts in general systems theory here, and in particular the idea of first order and second order learning. In systems theory attention is given to the role of social learning and culture in the way in which social systems change. The theory holds that, although social systems ‘learn’ through their members who individually adjust their world views according to experience, sociocultural systems also have underlying assumptions which make the system as a whole more resistant to change than their individual members. These underlying assumptions are defined by Rapoport as 'default values', which, because they are so commonly used, become regarded as immutable, and actors in the system tend to forget that they can exercise choices in order to attain goals. When problems occur, they are addressed by reference to the 'default values' and this kind of reaction is termed first order learning. Orderly and creative transformation of social systems, however, depends upon a capacity for second order learning, which requires a willingness and capacity for challenging assumptions. Ideological orientations to social change are regarded as the antithesis of second order learning, because ideologies are claims to ultimate truth achieved with a predefined set of ends and means, the challenging of which is seen as heretical. For systems theorists such as Rapoport 'the critical issue of peace and the need to convert conflict to co-operation demand incorporation of second order learning in social systems, and the most effective way to produce social learning is through a participative design process' (Rapoport, 1986, 442).

This idea of second order learning, or second order change, is further developed in Conflict: Readings in Resolution and Provention (1990), where it is seen to be essential for human survival. The problem-solving approach, given philosophical depth through Charles Sanders Peirce's 'logic of abduction', is the means of overcoming blockages to second order learning, thereby becoming a central element in what Burton saw as a new political philosophy, which moves beyond episodic conflict resolution to a new order marked by 'provention' (a neologism that has not been widely adopted): 'conflict provention means deducing from an adequate explanation of the phenomenon of conflict, including its human dimensions, not merely the conditions that create an environment of conflict, and the structural changes required to remove it, but more importantly, the promotion of conditions that create cooperative relationships’ (Burton and Dukes (eds), 1990, 2). It connotes, in other words, a proactive capability within societies to predict and avoid destructive conflict by the spread of the problem-solving method and philosophy throughout all relevant institutions, discourses and practices.

3 Constructions: the 1970s and 1980s

By the early 1970s, as suggested in the second quotation at the head of this chapter, conflict resolution, drawing from a wide range of disciplines and with a reasonably sound institutional base, had defined its specific subject area in relation to the three great projects of avoiding nuclear war, removing glaring inequalities and injustices in the global system, and achieving ecological balance and control. It was attempting to formulate a theoretical understanding of destructive conflict at three levels, with a view to refining the most appropriate practical responses. First, there was the interstate level, where the main effort went into translating detente between the superpowers into formal win-win agreements. Here the processes which produced the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, and later Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and Non-Proliferation Treaty negotiations were seen to vindicate Charles Osgood's 'graduated reciprocation in tension-reduction' (GRIT) approach (1962) and to exemplify Axelrod's analysis of the 'evolution of cooperation' described in chapter 1. Similar work went into the formulation of 'alternative defence' strategies in the 1980s. The expansion of the European Economic Community and of the North Atlantic security area were seen as further confirmation of the ideas of Mitrany and Karl Deutsch. Secondly, at the level of domestic politics, a great deal of conflict resolution work, particularly in the United States, went into the building up of expertise in family conciliation, labour and community mediation, and Alternative Dispute Resolution. An important new initiative here was in public policy disputes in general (Susskind, 1987). Thirdly, between the two, and for this book the most significant development in the 1970s and 1980s, was the definition, analysis and prescriptive thinking about what were variously described as 'deep-rooted conflicts' (Burton, 1987), 'intractable conflicts' (Kriesberg, Northrup and Thorson (eds), 1989) or 'protracted social conflicts' (Azar, 1990), in which the distinction between international and domestic level causes was seen to be elided. Here the emphasis was on defining the elements of 'good governance' at constitutional level, and of inter-group relations at community level. Since we will be outlining Edward Azar's thinking about protracted social conflict in chapter 3, we will not elaborate these concepts here. They seem to us to have constututed a significant advance in thinking about what has since become the prevailing pattern of contemporary conflict (see chapter 1, section 2). These levels of analysis were brought together from a conflict resolution perspective in studies such as Louis Kriesberg's The Sociology of Social Conflicts (1973) and Chris Mitchell's The Structure of International Conflict (1981).

In what follows we select for attention the first systematic attempts to apply the problem-soving approach to real conflicts, and the major advances in the analysis of the negotiation and mediation processes which took place in this period. We end the section by noting the concomitant expansion of the conflict resolution institutional base world wide, and pay tribute to the role of Elise Boulding both in encouraging it and in articulating its wider significance.

3.1 The Harvard School: Problem Solving and Principled Negotiation

One of the most sustained attempts to wed theory to practice was the attempt to set up 'problem-solving workshops' to tackle the more intractable conflicts of the day. Initially referred to as 'controlled communication', the first attempt to apply the problem-solving method was in two workshops in 1965 and 1966, which were designed to address aspects of the conflict between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, and between the Greek and Turkish communities in Cyprus. The London Group, whose members included Michael Banks, Anthony de Reuck, Chris Mitchell and Michael Nicholson as well as Burton, were joined for the second workshop in 1966 by Herb Kelman and Chad Alger from America. Kelman, who formed at Harvard the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and who had already been a significant influence in the emergence of conflict resolution research in the pioneering initiatives at the University of Michigan, went on to become perhaps the leading practitioner-scholar of the problem-solving method over the following thirty years, specialising in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Doob (ed.), 1970; Kelman, 1995; Kelman, 1996). To anticipate events in the 1990s, Kelman's longstanding 1974-91 'pre-negotiation' Arab-Israeli interactive problem-solving workshops, followed by the 1991-93 'para-negotiation' workshops, and post 1993 'post-negotiation' workshops (54 workshops in all so far), involved many of the chief negotiators of the 1993 agreement on both sides. Participants were influential but non-official figures, meetings were held in private academic environments, encouraged by third party facilitation but only in an enabling capacity inasmuch as ground-rules were explained and a problem-solving agenda followed. Information was shared, participants were encouraged to listen without judgement to each others needs, concerns and perspectives, there was then joint exploration of options, joint analysis of likely constraints, and a joint search for ways of overcoming those constraints. These were seen as non-binding non-official micro-processes, which, it was hoped, would contribute to macro-level negotiations but in no way substitute for them. One of the chief ways in which they might do this was through the building of new relationships.

As experience developed amongst a growing circle of scholar-practitioners in the 1970s and 1980s, problem-solving workshops were used to pursue a variety of goals - for example, in some cases they performed a research and educational or training role - and it became clear that each workshop had to be designed with some reference to the specific characteristics of the particular conflict. A universal model for the ideal problem-solving process did not emerge. Nevertheless, there now exists a whole cluster of approaches known variously as interactive conflict resolution, third party consultation, process-promoting workshops, facilitated dialogues, which use many of the essential characteristics of the problem-solving approach. This is well expained and illustrated in Chris Mitchell's and Michael Banks' Handbook of Conflict Resolution: The Analytical Problem-Solving Approach (1996). The difficult questions of methodology and evaluation have been much discussed (Mitchell, 1993), with a view to enhancing the process of hypothesis generation, theory testing and theory use.

By the 1980s the study of negotiation in international conflict had also taken on the win-win, problem-solving and mutual gain vocabulary of conflict resolution, particularly through the work of Roger Fisher and William Ury at the Harvard Program on Negotiation, popularised through their best-selling title Getting to Yes (1981), and more recently through the quarterly Negotiation Journal. We noted in the introduction the distinction between positions and interests which is central in the 'principled negotiation' approach. The Harvard Program involves a consortium of academic centres, and, in authentic conflict resolution vein, draws from a range of disciplines including politics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, and international relations, as well as labour relations, community negotiations and public planning. A number of systematic analyses and comparative studies of successful and unsuccessful negotiation approaches and styles are now available, including Druckman (ed.) (1977), Zartman (ed.) (1978), Raiffa (1982), Hall (1993), and Zartman and Rubin (1996).

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