Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lesson time: The Conflict Curve

Editors Note: The following is an article I wrote as a guest writer for the Barrie ON based blog www.civiliansheepdog.com back in February of 2011 It has gone through a mild revision for posting to my home blog.

Today we are going to talk about the conflict curve. This is a scale that was developed by Michael Lund in his book Preventing Violent Conflicts. this is a graph used to illustrate how conflict can be both violent and non-violent, and how the use of force in violent conflict tends to rise and fall over time. The curve also helps organize terms and concepts used by conflict management professionals, showing how a conflict's different phases relate to one another and to various kinds of third-party intervention.

The course of disputes that become violent conflicts is traced in relation to two dimensions: the intensity of conflict (the vertical axis) and the duration of conflict (the horizontal axis)." The line that forms an arc from left to right across the diagram portrays the course of a conflict as it rises and falls in intensity over time. Its smoothly curving bell shape is oversimplified to characterize an 'ideal type' life history. As suggested by the arrows that deviate from the line, the course of actual conflicts can exhibit many different long and short life-history trajectories, thresholds, reversals, and durations. Even conflicts that have been resolved can re-escalate quickly. Nevertheless, the model has value in allowing us to make certain useful distinctions among the conflict management interventions that relate to different levels of intensity.

The column on the left describes relations between parties to the dispute and is divided into various phases of peace or conflict, Durable Peace, Stable Peace, Unstable Peace, Crisis, and War—with lower intensity phases characterized by what Lund calls interactive, mutually accommodative behavior, such as debates and negotiations and higher intensity phases characterized by unilateral, coercive behavior, such as ultimatums, sanctions and physical force. The best way to understand the model is to take a close look at each of these phases.

Durable Peace involves a high level of reciprocity and cooperation, and the virtual absence of self-defense measures among parties, although it may include their military alliance against a common threat. A ‘positive peace’ prevails based on shared values, goals, and institutions (e.g. democratic political systems and rule of law), economic interdependence, and a sense of international community.
Even in a state of durable peace, disagreements will arise on any number of issues, but these disputes will be resolved through Peacetime Diplomacy or Politics, whose objectives include maintaining and strengthening stable relations and institutions.

Stable Peace is a relationship of wary communication and limited cooperation (e.g. trade) within an overall context of basic order or national stability. Value or goal differences exist and no military cooperation is established, but disputes are generally worked out in nonviolent, more or less predictable ways. The prospect for war is low. As in durable peace, the mechanism for resolving disputes is still termed Peacetime Diplomacy or Politics.
If disputes remain unresolved and tensions continue to rise, the conflict may over time enter a phase known as Unstable Peace. This is a situation in which tension and suspicion among parties run high, but violence is either absent or only sporadic. A ‘negative peace’ prevails because although armed force is not deployed [or employed], the parties perceive one another as enemies and maintain deterrent military capabilities... A balance of power may discourage aggression, but crisis and war are still possible.

if preventive diplomacy and crisis prevention are not successful, tensions may continue to rise. Through various types of confrontation, relations may reach the phase of Crisis. Crisis is tense confrontation between armed forces that are mobilized and ready to fight and may be engaged in threats and occasional low-level skirmishes but have not exerted any significant amount of force. The probability of the outbreak of war is high.
Initiatives taken to diffuse tension during a period of crisis are termed Crisis Diplomacy and Crisis Management, whose objectives include containing crises and stopping violent or coercive behavior.
If efforts at crisis diplomacy are not successful, there may be an outbreak of violence, and the conflict may enter the phase of War. War is defined by the USIP as sustained fighting between organized forces. It may vary from low-intensity but continuing conflict or civil anarchy…to all-out ‘hot’ war. Once significant use of violence or armed force occurs, conflicts are very susceptible to entering a spiral of escalating violence. Each side feels increasingly justified to use violence because the other side is. So the threshold to armed conflict or war is especially important.

Efforts by outside parties at ending hostilities are known as Peacemaking or Conflict Management. If an agreement to end hostilities has been reached, such outside parties might then engage in Peace Enforcement or Conflict Mitigation.

Now if efforts at peacemaking and peace enforcement are successful, the fighting will subside. There may be a cease-fire such as the 38th parallel between north and south korea which may help reduce tensions and move the relationship from a state of war back simply to a state of crisis. At this point, efforts to keep the conflict from re-escalating are typically called Peacekeeping and Conflict Termination.

As the result of a settlement, the parties may begin the difficult processes of Conflict Resolution and Post-Conflict Peace Building. Through such efforts, tensions can be reduced to a point where the relationship can be described as a stable peace or even a durable peace.

This is just a quick introduction to conflict analysis For more information I highly reccomend looking into the USIP's online website for more information about the subject.


Cheers folks

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