What it is: The word can be used for any kind of struggle or clash, but in discussing war and peace 'conflict' or 'armed conflict' is used to refer to any fierce and violent behaviour which has not (officially at any rate) reached the scale of a war.
What it means: Choosing between 'conflict' and 'war' can simply be a matter of how different people see the situation. British governments, for example, have always referred to the many years of violence in Northern Ireland as a 'conflict', even though it has involved the killing of more than 3,200 people and the injuring of over 38,000 more; but some of the groups involved have more openly called the situation a war. Sometimes using the word 'conflict' instead of 'war' makes bringing it to an end that much easier or quicker. The word 'conflict' is usually preferred when the combatants are not members of a country's armed forces, though it can be used if some of the combatants are armed police. 'Conflict' also applies to localised outbreaks of violence over a long period, as is often the case in ethnic conflicts and armed resistance movements.
Think about it: Conflict is a characteristic of human existence. It is part of the dynamic of life that drives us into the future. That doesn't mean we don't need to deal with it and work hard at damage prevention. Violence, destruction and killing aren't healthy aspects of life, and always create the probability of more violence in the future. People who have studied conflict say that it can be managed and controlled. To manage conflict one has to understand the way it works, which is basically the same whether it's between groups and nations or between individuals. Which means that anyone can start trying to understand it - and take a step on the way to preventing conflict from getting out of control. Take a detached look at conflicts you know about, and try to work out where they started and how they developed. (see also Conflict resolution)