Current Debate: Differing Approaches to Manage, Resolve or Transform Conflict?

Wednesday, 12 October, 2005 - 14:50

There is now much effort being put into resolving conflicts. Until the late 1980's most wars were fought between nation states. Now most wars are internal civil wars and the casualties are mainly civi

There is now much effort being put into resolving conflicts. Until the late 1980's most wars were fought between nation states. Now most wars are internal civil wars and the casualties are mainly civilians. While men are more likely to be killed, 'disappeared' or coerced into military action, women and children make up the majority of those who are displaced or become refugees. Many attribute this increase in civil wars to the ending of the Cold War and the resurgence of nationalism and ethnic identity in the wake of the collapse of the 'bipolar' world order. The collapse of the Soviet socialist sphere has also resulted in an unrestrained globalisation of capitalism that has had an impact on the efforts of people to build democratic societies and economies.

International financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), now have a more influential and decisive role in the way that weaker and poorer countries operate politically, economically and socially. Economic liberalisation has often fuelled tensions and conflict within these countries. The increase of internal conflicts, along with the globalisation of conflicts beyond the control of individual countries, has also resulted from the growth of associated trends such as warlordism, political corruption and criminal economies. In a sense, the ending of the Cold War opened a valve for many global tensions that had previously been forcibly repressed.

In response to this situation there has been a major expansion in research and practical effort to reduce violent conflict. Governments and civil society alike have tried to develop answers to a problem that in many areas is hampering development or derailing it completely. New organisations have sprung up, and a new terminology is struggling to be born. At this early stage there is a lively disagreement over what words mean. Below we offer a typology that is consistent but has no claim to be universally accepted. The terms describe the various approaches to addressing conflict. Sometimes they are seen as steps in a process. Each step taken includes the previous one (eg conflict settlement includes measures for conflict prevention, as appropriate). We use the term Conflict Transformation more generally to describe the field as a whole.

CONFLICT PREVENTION aims to prevent the outbreak of violent conflict.

CONFLICT SETTLEMENT aims to end violent behaviour by reaching a peace agreement.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION addresses the causes of the conflict and seeks to build new and lasting relationships between hostile groups.

CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION addresses the wider social and political sources of a conflict and seeks to transform the negative energy into positive social and political change. At different times and in different circumstances it may involve one or a combination of the above strategies.

Richard Smith rsmith@csvr.org.za (with acknowledgement to Responding to Conflict RTC).

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