Introduction to Conflict

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C H A P T E R

1 Introduction to Conflict Resolution: Concepts and Definitions

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N this second edition of our book we bring the survey of the conflict resolution field up to date at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Conflict resolution as a defined specialist field has come of age in the post-Cold War era. It has also come face to face with fundamental new challenges, some of which have come into even sharper focus since the first edition of this book.

Why a Second Edition?
As a defined field of study, conflict resolution started in the 1950s and 1960s. This was at the height of the Cold War, when the development of nuclear weapons and the conflict between the superpowers seemed to threaten human survival. A group of pioneers from different disciplines saw the value of studying conflict as a general phenomenon, with similar properties whether it occurs in international relations, domestic politics, industrial relations, communities, families or between individuals. They saw the potential of applying approaches that were evolving in industrial relations and community mediation settings to conflicts in general, including civil and international conflicts. A handful of people in North America and Europe began to establish research groups to develop these new ideas. They were not taken very seriously. The international relations profession had its own categories for understanding international conflict, and did not welcome the interlopers. Nor was the combination of analysis and practice implicit in the new ideas easy to reconcile with traditional scholarly institutions or the traditions of practitioners such as diplomats and politicians. 3

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C O N T E M P O R A RY C O N F L I C T R E S O L U T I O N

Nevertheless, the new ideas attracted interest, and the field began to grow and spread. Scholarly journals in conflict resolution were created. Institutions to study the field were established, and their number rapidly increased. The field developed its own subdivisions, with different groups studying international crises, internal wars, social conflicts and approaches ranging from negotiation and mediation to experimental games. By the 1980s, conflict resolution ideas were increasingly making a difference in real conflicts. In South Africa, for example, the Centre for Intergroup Studies was applying the approaches that had emerged in the field to the developing confrontation between apartheid and its challengers, with impressive results. In the Middle East, a peace process was getting under way in which negotiators on both sides had gained experience both of each other and of conflict resolution through problem-solving workshops. In Northern Ireland, groups inspired by the new approach had set up community relations initiatives that were not only reaching across community divides but were also becoming an accepted responsibility of local government. In wartorn regions of Africa and South-East Asia, development workers and humanitarian agencies were seeing the need to take account of conflict and conflict resolution as an integral part of their activities. By the closing years of the Cold War, the climate for conflict resolution was changing radically. With relations between the superpowers improving, the ideological and military competition that had fuelled many regional conflicts was fading away. Protracted regional conflicts in Southern Africa, Central America, and East Asia moved towards settlements. It seemed that the UN could return to play the role its founders expected. The dissolution of the Soviet Union brought to a close the long period in which a single international conflict dominated the international system. Instead, internal conflicts, ethnic conflicts, conflicts over secession and power struggles within countries became the norm in the 1990s. These reflected not so much struggles between competing centres of power, of the kind that had characterized international conflict for most of...
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