The Development of The Conflict Resolution Field

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The Development of

The Conflict Resolution Field

Louis Kriesberg

Conflict resolution (CR) is oriented toward conducting conflicts constructively, even creatively, in the sense that violence is minimized, antagonism between adversaries is overcome, outcomes are mutually acceptable to the opponents, and settlements are enduring. CR includes long-term strategies, short-term tactics, and actions by adversaries as well as by mediators. It is based on the work of academic analysts and official and nonofficial practitioners. As such, the rapidly expanding CR field is not a narrowly defined discipline, but a general approach.

The first part of this chapter distinguishes and analyzes the major phases in the growth of the CR approach. The second part of the chapter discusses the current status of the field and likely future developments, particularly the ways the CR approach and international relations theory and practice influence and complement each other.


Conflict resolution is a complex field of endeavor, with many interdependent kinds of activities. This is the natural consequence of the many tasks its practitioners seek to accomplish and the diverse sources of its emergence


and expansion. This section discusses the contributions made by various scholars, practitioners, and organizations within four distinct periods, ac- cording to the years of their initial primary contribution: 1914-45, when ideas and actions prepared the way for the emergence of the CR field; 1946- 69, a period of early efforts and basic research; 1970-85, a period of crystallization and expansion; and 1986-present, a time of extension, diffusion, and institutionalization.

However, the periods are not discrete; events and developments in later years have antecedents in earlier periods, and what begins in one period stretches into later years. The developments and events are discussed in terms of particular years not to indicate origin so much as salience. For a chronological listing of major events in the field, see the appendix. Events in the United States are given particular attention for various reasons, including the central role they have played in what is becoming an increasingly global endeavor.

1914-45: Precursors

The outbreak of World War I greatly undermined liberal optimism that

spreading economic development, democracy, and trade would produce a relatively harmonious world in the not too distant future. Wilsonian idealism briefly revived such expectations in the postwar era, but they were short lived. The Great Depression, the rise of fascism, and the horrors and devastation of World War 11 further undermined faith in the attainment of enduring peace. These developments provided the context for some early work that contributed to the beginnings of modem CR.

One major body of work that helped prepare the ground for the CR field encompassed analyses of the eruption of large-scale conflicts. This work included studies of class-based struggles, particularly revolutions, as exemplified in the work of Crane Brinton (1938). This period also witnessed analyses of conflicts within organizations, particularly in labor-management relations. In this regard, the work of Mary Parker Follett (1942) notably helped lay the groundwork for contemporary CR. Finally, academic studies examined the outbreak of particular wars; foremost among the quantitative analyses of the incidence of wars was Quincy Wright's (1942) monumental study.

A major theme in this work was the importance of nonrational feelings in the outbreak of large-scale conflicts. Much of the research on the causes of war at this time focused on mass emotions aroused by nationalist politicians who mobilized their followers for armed struggle. This phenomenon



was evident in various social movements and their attendant conflicts during this period, when personal attributes of national leaders served as powerful political symbols (Lasswell 1930). For some analysts, the rise of Nazism seemed to exemplify this aspect of national development.

In addition to analyzing the causes of intense conflicts, considerable work was done on ways conflicts could be managed and their destructive escalation avoided. First appearing in the 1930s, these analyses of social-psychological and group processes in ethnic, industrial, family, and other conflicts left a legacy of methods and issues on which CR scholars have built (Lewin 1948).

To some extent, the nonrational aspects of many conflicts made them amenable to management, since they were not based entirely on a clash of objective interests. The human relations approach to industrial conflict built on this assumption (Roethlisbeiger and Dickson 1943). Other work in industrial organization stressed the way struggles based on differences of interests could be controlled by norms and institutions if asymmetries in power were not too large. The experience with regulated collective bargaining provided a model for this possibility.

1946-69: Early Efforts and Basic Research

In the 1950s and 1960s, rapid growth in many CR-relevant scholarly and practitioner activities provided the foundations for further CR research. Some of the work was spurred by the specter of nuclear annihilation that the Cold War evoked, but many other components of the CR foundation had independent origins. Basic research in many academic disciplines helped establish a solid base for the later applications of CR. An early locus for such work was the University of Michigan, where the Journal of Conflict Resolution began publication in 1957 and the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution was established in 1959 (Harty and Modell 1991).

Obviously, social context profoundly affects the course of social conflicts and the way analysts and partisans think about them. For many years after the end of World War 11, nations were preoccupied with economic reconstruction and growth, followed by an era largely distinguished by concerns about justice, autonomy, and equality in the 1960s. National liberation movements suddenly sprouted in the great powers' colonies; the United States was the scene of mass social unrest over civil rights and the country's involvement in Vietnam; and student demonstrations and national revolutions seemed to be engulfing the world's political landscape. Many analysts as well as activists viewed these struggles as based on valid grievances and worthy of support.



The Cold War was an important part of everyone's social context; it profoundly structured world politics and the ways analysts thought about conflict resolution for over four decades, but its character changed greatly over that time. For the purposes of this discussion, this era is divided into two periods. Some analysts use the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to mark the fundamental shift in the Cold War, but 1969 seems more appropriate, since it marks a relatively stable change in several areas. First, the antagonism between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China had be, come especially intense, as revealed in bloody skirmishes along their border. Second, the Social Democratic Party came to power in West Germany and instituted its policy of accommodation with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (Ostpolitik). Third, Richard Nixon became president of the United States and, partly as a way to end U.S. engagement in the war in Vietnam, undertook a policy of détente with the Soviet Union.

Spurred by concerns about the possible eruption of nuclear as well as non-nuclear wars, an important body of scholarly work based on quantitative methods flourished during this period. Systematic data began to be collected in an effort to examine the incidence and correlates of wars (Richardson 1960; Singer 1972). In addition, quantitative data on conflicting and cooperative interactions among countries began to be collected. These data continue to be analyzed, testing CR as well as traditional international relations concepts (McClelland 1968; Isard 1988; Leng 1993;

Vasquez 1993).

Another important body of work focused on the ways cooperative activities and institutions could and did provide a basis for increasing international integration that lessened the possibility of destructive conflict. Much of this work consisted of examining variations in the levels of integration and cooperation among countries, finding that highly integrated countries formed communities with little likelihood of war, as documented in the work of Karl Deutsch et al. (1957). An important strand of thought argued that functional integration among countries would help create the reality of a common interest in peace (Mitrany 1943). Ernst B. Haas (1958) empirically analyzed how this occurred in the case of the European Coal and Steel Community, established in 1951, which gradually evolved into the present-day European Union.

Game theory has also been influential in the development of CR. It has helped analysts think about the conflict implications of various payoff matrices and the' strategies chosen by interacting players (Rapoport and Chammah 1965). The prisoner's dilemma payoff matrix especially has been


the basis of much work. Rather than assuming a zero-sum game, in which one side wins what the other loses, the variable-sum or mixed-motive game of the prisoner's dilemma type has been the subject of considerable analysis and experimentation. In the prisoner's dilemma game, each side can choose to cooperate or to defect (and seek unilateral advantage). In the payoff matrix, if one side cooperates and the other does not, the player who cooperates loses a great deal and the detecting player gains great deal. If they both cooperate, they both gain a considerable amount; if they both defect, they both lose much. From the perspective of either party, with no additional information about what the other side will do, the best strategy is to defect; but if both sides do that, they both lose. Many experiments have been conducted to discern what factors affect the likelihood that people will follow one strategy or the other. Thomas Schelling's (1960) influential work, also drawing from game theory, examined the logic of bargaining.

During this period, traditional diplomacy was also subjected to careful analysis, inferring principles of practice that could be used to create policy in a nuclear age (Ikle 1964). The increasing attention to the new conditions of international politics created by nuclear weapons, especially for the purpose of deterrence, stimulated growing interest in the nonrational components in foreign-policy decision making and crisis behavior (Jervis 1976; Jervis, Lebow, and Stein 1985).

Considerable research was done in the 1950s and 1960s on factors that affect relations between potentially contending groups and how overt struggle can be prevented or, failing that, waged constructively and resolved amicably. Research methods included public opinion surveys, field observations, and small-group experimentation. For example, much work was done on race and ethnic relations, producing the well-documented finding that equal-status interaction among members of different ethnic groups reduces prejudice and antagonistic behavior among them. Another relevant finding centered on how the development of superordinate goals can bring contending groups into a cooperative relationship (Sherif 1966). A variety of experimental work on constructive and destructive conflict processes was conducted by Morton Deutsch (1973), helping to set the agenda for much subsequent work.

Also during this period, many sociologists analyzed the processes of industrial, community, ethnic, and other kinds of conflicts (Coleman 1957). Moreover, some analyses treated social conflicts as generic phenomena, noting similarities as well as differences among them (Coser 1956). Recognizing the ubiquity of conflicts, many of these sociologists directed their



attention to the various functions of different conflicts and how they were waged and settled. Some anthropologists studied dispute settlement processes in societies with and without formal legal systems (Nader 1965; Gulliver 1979).

The analysis of nonviolent action provided another significant element to the development of CR (Sharp 1973). As articulated by some leaders of nonviolent campaigns, committing violence made future negotiation and reconciliation much more difficult. Instead, they argued, waging a nonvio- lent struggle enhanced the likelihood of later attaining an enduring and mutually acceptable outcome.

An additional influence in the development of CR has been the diverse field of peace research (Stephenson 1989), which makes several kinds of contributions. It draws attention to how people in different cultures and roles are socialized to believe that certain ways of waging conflicts are proper and others are not. Peace research also examines the social and institutional bases of war, including the military-industrial complex and other vested interests that influence the decision to pursue external conflicts; in so doing, this school of research contributes to the demystification of large-scale conflicts. Particularly germane to CR is the peace research community's analyses of how protracted conflicts may be de-escalated. For example, the idea underlying Graduated Reciprocation in Tension-Reduction (GRIT) is that de-escalation of tensions between adversaries can occur if one side announces it is undertaking conciliatory actions, invites reciprocation, and persists in conciliatory moves even when there is no immediate reciprocation (Osgood 1962). This idea has been influential among scholars and practitioners in the CR field, and there is much evidence that, under certain conditions, it has been an effective instrument in peacemaking when applied to protracted international conflicts (Etzioni 1967; Goldstein and Freeman 1990).

In addition to academic work, actual CR practice underwent significant change during 1946-69, when unofficial diplomacy became increasingly important in international affairs. For example, in 1957, nuclear physicists and others engaged in the development of nuclear weapons from the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union began to meet to exchange ideas about reducing the chances that nuclear weapons would be used again (Pentz and Slovo 1981). The first meetings were held at the summer home of Cyrus Eaton in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, and developed into what have come to be called the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. From the 1950s through the 1970s) the exchange of ideas and information



at these meetings contributed to the signing of the Partial Test-Ban Treaty, the Nonproliferation Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, and tile Antiballistic Missile Treaty. In 1995, the Pugwash Conferences and Joseph Rotblat, their executive director, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Other regular, nonofficial meetings between well-connected persons from adversarial parties also played significant roles in opening up new channels of communication for discussing solutions to contentious issues. III tile domestic context, this communication usually occurs in community relations through interethnic and interreligious councils or dialogue groups. One important international example is the Dartmouth Conference (Chufrin and Saunders 1993). At the urging of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Norman Cousins, then editor of the Saturday Review, brought together a group of prominent U.S. and Soviet citizen' s as a means of keeping communications open when official relations were especially strained. The first of many such meetings was at Dartmouth College in 1960.

Practice was also changing in the domestic sphere. For example, in the United States, the civil rights struggle gave new salience to the power of nonviolent action. Efforts to mitigate the civil strife associated with the protests and demonstrations, for example, were carried out by the U.S. Justice Department and included not only observation and oversight, but also quiet mediation.

1970-85: Crystallization and Expansion

During this period, the practice of contemporary CR began to flourish, As new fields of CR activity were cultivated and expanded, publications disseminated CR ideas, and reports of experience with the more and more specialized types of mediation were published. Academic and relevant nonacademic institutions added training in negotiation and mediation to their programs.

A consensus on many of the core ideas of CR crystallized during this period. Part of this consensus included the idea that conflicts often could be restructured and reframed so that partisans would regard the conflict as a shared problem that had mutually acceptable solutions. The consensus did not preclude the option of coercive struggle to help bring about such change. Another core idea is that intermediaries can and do provide many services in assisting adversaries to construct mutually acceptable agreements to settle and ultimately resolve their conflicts. Furthermore, part of the consensus included the idea that negotiators and mediators could learn to improve their skills to manage and settle disputes in ways that would enhance the adversaries' relationships.



The rapid expansion of CR in the United States was in many ways a social movement, whose origins could be traced to the convergence of several other social movements, including the post-1960s appeal of local self- government and community activism (Adler 1987; Scimecca 1991). CR as a social movement was also fostered by the peacemaking and mediation activities of religious organizations, particularly those associated with the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Mennonites. In addition, the expansion was furthered by the growth of the legal profession, litigation, and the ensuing congestion of the American court system. The emerging alternative dispute resolution (ADR) movement seemed attractive to some lawyers and many nonlawyers as an alternative to adversarial proceedings and to some of the judiciary as a way to reduce the burden on the courts (Ray 1982). Also, CR seemed to offer peace movement members, whose numbers soared in the early 1980s, a practical alternative to the nation's reliance on military options (Lofland 1993). Finally, CR ideas arising from research and theory provided a theoretical basis and intellectual justification for CR practices.

During this period, the Cold War underwent profound changes as well. Official détente began to crumble in the mid-1970s and collapsed by the end of the decade. The Cold War intensified greatly, spurred by the rhetoric and policies of the Reagan administration. But the growing integration of the world economy and sociocultural relations undermined the premises of the superpower rivalry. Suffering economic stagnation, the Soviet Union began a radical course of reform with the accession to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, eventually leading to the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War during 1989-91.

One important development in CR during the 1970-85 period was the great expansion of CR work in many parts of the world. Notable contributions to theory and practice emerged from European peace research. In Germany, several peace and conflict research institutes were established after the Social Democratic Party came to power in 1969. Ideas about nonoffensive defense and how military defense could be structured so that the other side was not threatened spread across the continent; such ideas included a new generation of possible confidence-building measures. Finally, the earlier work of C3ene Sharp on nonviolent action evolved into the idea of a civilian- based defense.

Feminist theory and research was another source of ideas in the development of CR. Feminist thought provided a critique and an alternative to the prevailing emphasis on hierarchy and coercive power as the essential



mode of decision making in social life, including the international realm (Harris and King 1989). The feminist critique, viewing the traditional perspective largely as a product of men's socialization and dominance, sought to emphasize the importance of nonhierarchical social relations and the possibility of reaching integrative agreements through relatively consensual decision-making processes. In addition, feminist theory highlighted the many contributions of women in public as well as private life, even in a patriarchal world. In many ways, these feminist ideas were congenial with CR and provided additional rationales for its development.

Additional contributions to CR during this period stemmed from further scholarly investigations of game theory. For example, Snyder and Diesing (1977) analyzed international crises and found that the variation in representative payoff matrices of the crises helped explain their outcomes. Another body of work was based on the payoff matrix for the prisoner's dilemma game. Computer simulations and other evidence indicated that cooperation would result if one party followed a tit-for-tat strategy in an extended series of reiterated games (Axelrod 1984). In an analysis of inter- actions among the Soviet Union, the United States, and the People's Re- public of China, however, the C3RIT model seemed to provide .i better fit with movement toward de-escalation and cooperation than did tit-for-tat (Goldstein and Freeman 1990).

An extensive body of social-psychological theory and research also has made important contributions to CR. Testing a variety of theories pertaining to cognition, interaction, and personality, among others, the research methodology has been predominantly small-group experimentation. Some work, for example, has focused on how entrapment contributes to escalating conflicts and how the process can be interrupted (Brockner and Rubin 1985). A great deal of work, in many CR disciplines, focused on the negotiation process itself during this period (Druckman 1977; Zartman 1978).

Another important source of contributions to the development of CR is the considerable work done on social movement theory and research (Tilly 1978; Toch 1965). The influential resource-mobilization approach stresses the importance not only of grievances as a source of conflict, but the belief that such grievances can be redressed. The emergence and transformation of large-scale conflicts, therefore, can be regarded as a function of the apparent strength of the opposition, the capabilities of the social movement's members, and the leaders' formulation of credible goals.

Peace movement actions during the period 1970-85 manifested themselves in traditional ways, such as mass public demonstrations, but they also



took on new forms, such as various kinds of civil disobedience. The anti- Vietnam War demonstrations and resistance ended as U.S. military forces were withdrawn. After years of quiescence, peace movement actions were renewed in the early 1980s, with new goals and different forms, including demonstrations and political mobilization in the United States in favor of a bilateral freeze on the production, testing, and deployment of nuclear weapons (Marulto and Lofland 1990; Meyer 1990). In many west European countries, protest demonstrations and political pressure were directed at preventing the deployment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's cruise and Pershing II missiles against the Soviet Union. In addition, a groundswell of people-to-people diplomacy occurred during this period, as large numbers of U.S. citizens visited the Soviet Union and U.S. cities developed ties with Soviet counterparts (Lofland 1993).

Also during this period, interactive problem-solving workshops became increasingly popular. In this method of conflict resolution, a convenor (in most cases, an academic) brings together a few members of a conflict's opposing sides to guide and facilitate their discussions about the conflict (Kelman 1992). The participants typically have ties to the leadership of their respective sides or have the potential to become members of the leadership in the future. The workshops usually go on for several days, moving through several distinct stages.

John Burton, Leonard Doob, Herbert Kelman, Edward Azar, Ronald Fisher, and others are responsible for developing the workshop concept as a method of conflict resolution (Fisher 1996). Workshops typically have been held in relation to protracted internal and international conflicts, such as those in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, and the Middle East.

The workshops' participants themselves sometimes become quasi-mediators upon returning to their adversary group, but as workshop participants, they do not attempt to negotiate agreements (Kriesberg 1995). Sometimes they become participants in negotiations later on, as was the case in the negotiations between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Israeli government following the workshops organized by Herbert Kelman over the course of the struggle (Kelman 1995).

Problem-solving workshops are one element of what is often referred to in international relations as Track Two diplomacy (Montville 1991). Track One consists of the mediation, negotiations, and other official exchanges between governmental representatives. Track Two actually includes much more than problem-solving workshops and is best viewed as multitrack (McDonald 1991). Among the many unofficial multitrack channels are



transnational organizations within which members of adversarial parties meet and discuss matters pertaining to the work of their common organizations. Another kind of track includes ongoing dialogue groups with members from the adversary parties discussing contentious issues between their respective countries (or communities or organizations).

Finally, the practice of ADR also greatly expanded during this period, as community dispute resolution centers were established in many parts of the United States. CR was also increasingly used in public disputes over environmental issues, such as disposal of radioactive waste, water use, and landfills (Susskind 1987).

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