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Understanding Conflict


Handling conflict
A great deal of research has been and is being done to find the best ways of dealing nonviolently with conflicts in all their stages, whether they are interpersonal, local, national or international. All kinds of techniques and practices have been developed and are being tried out. The aim is to transform conflicts from destructive forces into violence-free, constructive ones. This approach is new. It focuses on the underlying, deep-rooted causes of conflict, and looks for solutions to them.

Most techniques for handling conflict involve the intervention of individuals or teams of individuals who aren't involved in the dispute themselves. How they intervene depends on the stage that the conflict has reached, and on their particular skills.

It also depends on who they are. Locally, you may already know people who have intervened in domestic and group disputes: they are likely to be people respected by all sides whose job it is to help sort out such problems. In community and international conflict, some interveners are voluntary peace workers or members of aid agencies. Some are from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and support agencies. In international conflicts, some interveners are diplomats from other countries, or representatives of international organisations such as the European Union (EU) or the United Nations (UN). Neutral members of the region in conflict also have a part to play.

Handling conflict 1. Prevention
Some peace-makers and teams concentrate on spotting areas in which conflict looks likely to break out, and then monitoring them closely. At the same time they help the conflicting sides to work out their disputes without use of violence.

Although this work may well prevent the outbreak of violence and the spiral into all-out war that can follow, it cannot resolve the conflict until the underlying causes have been dealt with. This requires long-term projects to identify the causes correctly and provide the sort of support needed to put things right. The right kind of support also needs to be imaginatively perceived and given. (One kind of support, of course, is training in peaceful problem-solving.)

At the moment (2001), there simply aren't enough skilled and committed people available to do this kind of work world wide. It's also difficult, at present, for those who are at work on conflict prevention to make themselves heard where it counts. Better links between teams, and more effective ways of acting quickly to prevent violence, have yet to be devised.

DISCUSSION/Q/Action. Talk about the kind of intervention that you think might be welcome to defuse conflicts that you know of, both from your own experience and from what you've heard. What sort of support would be most helpful - money? aid? training? reforms? In your study of either current affairs and/or your own community and neighbourhood, do some detective work yourself to spot possible causes of conflict, and their underlying reasons.

Handling conflict 2: crisis management
If violence is imminent but hasn't yet broken out, an intervener acceptable to both sides has a chance to remind them of the destructive risks they are running, and to express anxiety that nobody gets hurt. Again, this approach may halt the drift towards violence, but the issues disputed have not been dealt with: violence may still break out at a later date.

If violence has already taken hold, then the interveners' work is primarily an effort to keep it to a minimum and to deal with the damage it is causing. But interveners can also make sure that news of the conflict, and information abut it, is spread.

In the past, outside intervention at this stage has often been military, which may sometimes seem effective in the short-term. In fact military intervention causes long-term (and sometimes irreparable) damage and makes the conflict much harder to resolve. The introduction of armed intervention simply adds another combatant to the conflict and reinforces the mistaken idea that violence can resolve it. A conflict halted by violence retains all its problems and causes, now added to and made worse by death and destruction.

DISCUSSION/Q. Talk about why people turn so readily to military forces to deal with disputes. Why can this never be lastingly effective? Find examples from past events, local or national or international, to show how military intervention fails to resolve the causes of a conflict, and sows seeds of future conflict as well.

NEXT: handling conflict



underlying causes of conflict
life-cycle of a conflict
understanding peace
handling conflict short term
handling conflict long term


see also:
- nonviolence
- pacifism


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