Chapter 2 Conflict Resolution: Foundations, Constructions and Reconstructions

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3.2 Adam Curle: the theory and practice of mediation

We noted in chapter 1 how the practice of mediation has a long history, traceable to Greek and Roman times in the West. By 1945 there were critical studies of state level diplomacy and international mediation to complement the day-to-day experience acquired by professional diplomats and negotiators (Mitchell and Webb, 1988). The attempt by the international community to convert this into a more formal institutionalised practice following the call in Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter for agreed mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes inspired studies such as that by Oran Young, which included an assessment of the role of the United Nations and its agencies (1967). Nevertheless, a number of scholars in the conflict resolution tradition in the early 1980s agreed with Dean Pruitt that there was a deficit in critical studies of mediation which still lacked systematic analysis (1986, 237). Since then much of the deficit has been made up. In addition to Mitchell and Webb, the literature now includes Saadia Touval and William Zartman’s International Mediation: Theory and Practice (1985) and Jacob Bercovitch and Jeffrey Rubin’s Mediation in International Relations (1992), as well as Moore (1986), Kressell and Pruitt (eds) (1989), Bercovitch (ed.) (1996) and a host of individual studies of particular mediations in specific conflicts. Quite sophisticated comparisons are now being made of different types of mediation, with or without 'muscle', by different types of mediator (official and unofficial, from the UN to individual governments, insider-partial or outsider-neutral), and in different types of conflict situation. A special issue of the Journal of Peace Research published in February 1991 encouraged critical comparison of the efficacy of new paradigm approaches (non-coercive and based broadly on problem-solving) in relation to power-coercion-reward models. Coming out of this have been attempts to suggest that different types of third party intervention are effective at different stages of the conflict process, that they can be seen as complementary, and that the type of appropriate intervention is contingent upon the nature and stage of the conflict. In one well-known model, for example, stages of conflict are related to optimal conflict resolution interventions (Fisher and Keashly, 1991). The argument is that softer forms of intervention are more appropriate when miscommunication and mistrust is high (when the subjective elements are strong), whereas harder forms of intervention are more successful when substantive interests are at the forefront. All of this is considered more fully in chapter 6, as is the question whether there are 'ripe moments' for the resolution of conflicts (Zartman, 1985). Relating all of this to the 'conflict triangle' (Box 8, page ), it is possible to see the structural approach exemplified by Galtung as addressing the 'contradiction' apex of the triangle, the 'controlled communications' approach of Burton and Kelman as addressing the 'attitude' apex, and the analytic study of various types of bargaining/negotiation, mediation/conciliation and (less usual) arbitration/adjudication approaches exemplified by Zartman, Bercovitch, Druckman, Pruitt and Rubin as addressing the 'behaviour' apex.

As a complement to the emphasis on Track I mediation in many of the studies noted above, we take Adam Curle as our exemplar for the development of 'soft' mediation in the conflict resolution field, particularly what John McDonald and Joseph Montville christened Track II mediation. Coming from an academic background in anthropology, psychology and development education, Curle moved from Harvard to take up the first Chair of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, which, together with the Richardson Institute for Conflict and Peace Research at the University of Lancaster and the Centre for the Analysis of Conflict at the University of Kent (a relocation of the original 1966 Centre based at University College London) was to become a focal point for conflict resolution in the UK.

Curle's academic interest in peace was a product of front line experiences of conflict in Pakistan and in Africa, where he not only witnessed the threats to development from the eruption of violent conflicts, but was increasingly drawn into the practice of peacemaking, especially as a mediatior. Most importantly, during the intensive and searing experiences of the Biafran War he felt a compelling need to understand more about why these conflicts happened (Yarrow 1978: Curle, 1971 and 1987). Violence, conflict, processes of social change and the goals of development began to be seen as linked themes. Making Peace (1971) defines peace and conflict as a set of peaceful and unpeaceful relationships so that 'the process of peacemaking consists in making changes to relationships so that they may be brought to a point where development can occur'. Given his academic background, it was natural that he should see peace broadly in terms of human development, rather than as a set of 'peace-enforcing' rules and organisations. And the purpose of studying social structures was to identify those that enhanced rather than restrained or even suppressed human potential.

In the Middle (1987) points to the importance of mediation and reconciliation themes in peace research and practice in the conflict-ridden world of the late 20th century. Curle identified four elements to his mediation process: first, the mediator acts to build, maintain and improve communications; second, to provide information to and between the conflict parties; third, to 'befriend' the conflict parties; and fourth, to encourage what he refers to as active mediation, that is to say to cultivate a willingness to engage in co-operative negotiation. His philosophy of mediation is essentially a blend of values and experiences from Quaker practice,xx with the knowledge of humanistic psychology absorbed in his early professional career, with both of these influences tempered and modified by his experiences in the field.

Adam Curle’s work is an illustration both of the applied nature of conflict resolution and its stress on the crucial link between academic theory and practice. It also provides one example of an approach to Track II or citizens diplomacy, and a number of studies have contributed to a fuller understanding of the methods and approaches of mediation and third party intervention in conflicts at both official-governmental and at unofficial-citizens diplomacy levels activity. A good general account of unofficial diplomacy is provided by Berman and Johnson in the introduction to their book, which includes a definition of citizens' diplomacy and a classification of the types of citizens organisations that conduct it (Berman and Johnson, 1977; MacDonald and Bendahmane (eds), 1987; Aall, 1996; Anderson, 1996).

3.3 Elise Boulding: new voices in conflict resolution

During the 1970s and 1980s the number of peace researchers and conflict resolution specialists worldwide continued to grow from a few hundreds to perhaps thousands, and the institutional bases for conflict resolution expanded accordingly, mainly in western Europe, North America and Japan, but also increasingly in other parts of the world. Notable centres were established in areas of protracted conflict such as South Africa, Northern Ireland, the Spanish Basque country and Sri Lanka. Some indication of this institutional expansion is given in Box 18, albeit unavoidably selective.


BOX 18

The Growth of the Conflict Resolution Field 1975-95

1979: University of Ulster, Centre for the Study of Conflict (Northern Ireland)

1982: Carter Center: International Negotiation Network

1984: Nairobi Peace Group (from1990, Nairobi Peace Initiative)

1984: United States Institute of Peace, Washington

1985: International Alert, United Kingdom

1986: Conflict Resolution Network, Australia

1986: Harvard Law School, Program on Negotiation

1986: Jean B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, USA

1988: Institute for Conflict Resolution and Analysis, George Mason University, USA

1988: Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution/European Peace University

1990: Centre for Conflict Resolution, University of Bradford

?1991: First European Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution, Istanbul

?1992: Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, Washington

?1992: Instituto Peruano de Resolucion de Conflictos, Negociacion, y Mediacion


1993: Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management, Berlin

?1993: Organisation of African Unity, Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution

1993: University of Ulster/United Nations University: Initiative on Conflict Resolution and Ethnicity (INCORE)

?1994: The Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe becomes the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, (OSCE), containing High Commissioner on National Minorities

1994: Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, New York

1994: Institute for the Prevention of International Conflict, Japan

?1994: UNESCO’s Culture of Peace Programme

1995: Kazakhstan Centre for Conflict Management

1996: European Centre for Conflict Prevention


In this section we take the work of Elise Boulding as exemplary of this process of expansion and of the development of thinking that has accompanied it.

Elise Boulding trained as a sociologist and was involved in the early work of the Michigan Centre oulined above, serving as Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) from 1964 and chair of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Much of her academic teaching career was spent at Dartmouth College and at the University of Colorado. She was active in the promotion of peace research and education through the United Nations system, including a variety of projects with UNESCO, UNIDIR, UNITAR, and the United Nations University. In order to encourage wider participation in peace and conflict resolution processes, she introduced the idea of 'imaging the future' as a powerful way of enabling people to break out of the defensive private shells into which they retreated, often out of fear of what was happening in the public world, and encouraging them to participate in the construction of a peaceful and tolerant global culture. The use of social imagination and the idea of imaging the future was placed within the context of what she called the '200 year present', that is the idea that we must understand that we live in a social space which reaches into the past and into the future: 'it is our space, one that we can move around directly in our own lives and indirectly by touching the lives of the young and old around us' (Boulding, E., 1990, 4). She was also an early exponent of the idea of civil society, of opening up new possibilities for a global civic culture which was receptive to the voices of people who were not part of the traditional discourses of nation state politics, and in this anticipated many of the preoccupations of conflict resolution workers today. Women and children were obviously excluded groups, but she added to these the idea that globalism and global civic culture needed to accommodate the many culture communities which were not heard in the existing international order. For Elise Boulding, the next half of our '200 year present', that is the next one hundred years from the 1980s, contains within it the basis for a world civic culture and peaceful problem-solving among nations, but also for the possibility of Armageddon. She saw the development of indigenous and international citizens' networks as one way of ensuring that the former prevailed. For Elise Boulding peace-making demands specific 'craft and skills', a peace praxis encompassing 'all those activities in which conflict is dealt with in an integrative mode - as choices that lie at the heart of all human interaction' (140). In the inter-subjective relationships which make up social and political life, as also in the structures and institutions within which they are embedded, the success with which this is inculcated and encouraged will determine whether, in the end, we are 'peace-makers' or 'war-makers'.

4. Reconstructions: the 1990s

As suggested in the introduction, the 1990s have offered students of conflict resolution unexpected opportunities to make effective contributions to the resolution of contemporary deadly conflicts, as the international community, through the United Nations and regional organisations, as well as through sympathetic governments, has come to adopt many of the approaches pioneered by those whose work has been described above. With greater opportunity has come greater critical scrutiny, however, as those working in related fields from military peacekeeping to aid and development work have become more interested in conflict resolution techniques and principles, particularly in what came to be called 'complex political emergencies'. From prevention to post-settlement peace-building, conflict resolution ideas are being tested both at local and governmental levels. Since the rest of the book is about these issues, we will comment quite briefly here. We conclude this chapter, first by noting one way in which new technology may open new possibilities for conflict resolution (see Box 19), and then by looking at four linked areas where there has been innovative constructive criticism, and where conflict resolution work is being adapted accordingly. These tend to be critiques from the radical 'left'. We postpone engagement with critiques from the radical 'right' to later chapters - for example, the criticism that there is no room for conflict resolution in conflicts between irreconcileable interests where power and coercion are the name of the game, and a questioning of the role of well-meaning outsiders whose interference may prolong the fighting and prevent a more secure peace following a clear-cut military victory.


BOX 19


In the 1990s an emerging world of cyberspace is ‘compressing time and space, flattening the traditional bureaucratic structures of governance and building "virtual” or electronically linked coalitions ... that are the structures of a global civil society’ (Solomon, 1997). For some observers these networks and coalitions are producing new opportunities for peacemaking and democracy, eroding traditional notions of national sovereignty and making national frontiers more permeable than they have ever been before. There are dangers as well as opportunities here. But, in addition to greater capacity to update information and link humanitarian and conflict resolution agencies, as shown in the UN’s Department of Humanitarian Affairs' ReliefWeb (DHA, 1997), there are also possibilities for overcoming the baleful effects of media manipulation such as that perpetrated on behalf of genocidal political programmes by Radio-Television Libre des Milles Collines in Rwanda and state-controlled media in Serbia. For example, late in 1996 there were mass protests against the decision of President Milosevic’s government not to accept the result of local elections which gave power to opposition groups in many of the cities of the Republic of Serbia. The demonstrators were using an independent radio station 'B92' to spread and co-ordinate their protests, with the result that the station was cut off by the government. In response the leaders of the protest put the B92 braodcasts onto the internet, where they were picked up by both the BBC and Voice of America and re-transmitted to Serbia. The protests continued and in February 1997 the government was pressurised into accepting the result of the elections. For Solomon this is a good illustration of 'cyber-democracy' in which ‘networked international communications empower people to act against government authority' and 'the Internet can build coalitions that are unconstrained by physical or political frontiers’ (1997, 3-4).


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