Political conflict resolution in practice

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Political conflict resolution in practice

Moshe Dayan and Abdullah el Tell reach a cease fire agreement during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Jerusalem. 30 November 1948
Wars may occur between warring parties who contest an incompatibility. The nature of an incompatibility can either be territorial or governmental but a warring party must be a “government of a state or any opposition organisation or alliance of organisations that uses armed force to promote its position in the incompatibility in an intrastate or an interstate armed conflict.” Wars sometimes conclude with a peace agreement, defined as a “formal agreement between warring parties, which addresses the disputed incompatibility, either by settling all or part of it, or by clearly outlining a process for how the warring parties plan to regulate the incompatibility.” A Ceasefire is another form of agreement between waring parties but unlike a peace agreement it only “regulates the conflict behaviour of warring parties… does not address the incompatibility.”
Peacekeeping measures may be deployed to avoid violence in solving such incompatibilities. Beginning in the last century, political theorists have been developing the theory of a global peace system that relies upon broad social and political measures to avoid war in the interest of achieving world peace.


Conflict resolution as both a professional practice and academic field is highly sensitive to culture. In Western cultural contexts, such as Canada and the United States, successful conflict resolution usually involves fostering communication among disputants, problem solving, and drafting agreements that meet their underlying needs. In these situations, conflict resolvers often talk about finding the win-win solution, or mutually satisfying scenario, for everyone involved (see Fisher and Ury (1981), Getting to Yes). In many non-Western cultural contexts, such as Afghanistan, Vietnam, and China, it is also important to find “win-win” solutions; however, getting there can be very different. In these contexts, direct communication between disputants that explicitly addresses the issues at stake in the conflict can be perceived as very rude, making the conflict worse and delaying resolution. Rather, it can make sense to involve religious, tribal or community leaders, communicate difficult truths indirectly through a third party, and make suggestions through stories (see Vinod Swami (1992), Conflict Mediation Across Cultures). Intercultural conflicts are often the most difficult to resolve because the expectations of the disputants can be very different, and there is much occasion for misunderstanding.

In animals

Conflict resolution has also been studied in non-humans, like dogs, cats, monkeys, snakes, elephants, and primates (see Frans de Waal, 2000). Aggression is more common among relatives and within a group than between groups. Instead of creating a distance between the individuals, however, the primates were more intimate in the period after the aggressive incident. These intimacies consisted of grooming and various forms of body contact. Stress responses, like an increased heart rate, usually decrease after these reconciliatory signals. Different types of primates, as well as many other species who are living in groups, show different types of conciliatory behaviour. Resolving conflicts that threaten the interaction between individuals in a group is necessary for survival and hence has a strong evolutionary value. These findings contradicted previous existing theories about the general function of aggression, i.e. creating space between individuals (first proposed by Konrad Lorenz), which seems to be more the case in conflicts between groups than it is within groups. In addition to research in primates, biologists are beginning to explore reconciliation in other animals. Until recently, the literature dealing with reconciliation in non-primates have consisted of anecdotal observations and very little quantitative data. Although peaceful post-conflict behavior had been documented going back to the 1960s, it wasn’t until 1993 that Rowell made the first explicit mention of reconciliation in feral sheep. Reconciliation has since been documented in spotted hyenas, lions, dolphins, dwarf mongoose, domestic goats, and domestic dogs.


Universities worldwide offer programs of study pertaining to conflict research, analysis, and practice. The Cornell University ILR School houses the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution, which offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional training on conflict resolution. Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding offers a BA and MA with a focus on practical applications in conflict-affected communities and regions. Additional graduate programs are offered at Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, and Trinity College Dublin. George Mason University’s Institute of Conflict Analysis and
Resolution offers undergraduate, certificate and masters programs in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and a Ph.D. program in The Philosophy in Conflict and Conflict Resolution. Nova Southeastern University offers a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis & Resolution which trains students in the skills and techniques of practice, interdisciplinary research, policy and program development, historical critique, cultural analysis, and theoretical foundations of the field. It is offered in both online and on-campus formats.
Many students completing a doctoral program enter the field as researchers, theorists, analysts, policy makers and professors in higher education.
Furthermore, the Pax Ludens Foundation based in the Netherlands is an organization that puts together conflict resolution simulations set in an International Relations scenario to help students learn about the intricacies of where conflict emerges in the world of international politics.
Conflict resolution is a growing area of interest in UK pedagogy, with teachers and students both encouraged to learn about mechanisms that lead to aggressive action, and those that lead to peaceful resolution.