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In the post-modern societal discourse, conflicts are a common phenomenon associated with human nature at all levels including individual, societal and the global level. Conflict is inherent in human nature because of differences and uniqueness, which results in competing interests. Lederach (2005) argued that conflict is an inherent and unavoidable aspect of social change, which is manifested through divergent interests, values and beliefs that are as attributed to the formations established by social change. Lederach further asserts that the manner in which we handle conflicts is a subject of habit and intelligent choice (Sandra et al., 2003). The fundamental inference that can be derived from this assertion is that there is a possibility to adjust the habitual responses and make use of intelligent choices when resolving conflicts. Conflict is viewed in the light of an instance of a dispute during a situation that is defined by goals, beliefs and mutual perception of the parties. It is important to note that conflict in itself involves communication. This is because it serves to reveal the passions and beliefs, and the nature and degree of concealed interests. Lederach (2005) asserts that parties engage in a conflict with the primary objective of attaining new expectations, implying that conflicts serve to integrate the different goals and beliefs into a balance among the parties to ensure that a balance of interests is achieved; this is the primary objective of conflict resolution in the contemporary society. Since addressing conflict situations is a matter of exercising habit and making intelligent choices, there is a probability that all conflicts, irrespective of their nature and magnitude, can be solved in a manner that guarantees satisfaction of the conflicting parties. Therefore, this essay argues that all conflicts are resolvable, and aims at exploring the reasons why all conflicts can be resolved. The fundamental argument is that conflict resolution takes the form of a continuous spectrum that offers numerous approaches that can be applied in the resolution of all kinds of conflicts (Sandra et al., 2003). In addition, effective conflict resolution at the global level extends beyond the differences to include the wider context of the conflicting parties.
A typical characteristic of a conflict scenario is the tendency to shield one’s own interests. For instance, if the interests of X clash with the interests of Y, then there is the likelihood that party X will ignore the interests of party Z or embark on damaging them. In the context of global conflict scenario, leaders of countries should safeguard their national interests, while overwhelm other’s interests in case of a conflict. Numerous approaches can be used to address conflicts, which are determined by the degree of concern for self and concern for the other as either low or high (Ramsobtham et al., 2011). The first approach is the contending style, which involves a high concern for self and a low concern for the other party. The second approach is to yield, which entails having high concerns for the other party and low concerns for the self. Conflict avoidance and withdrawal is the third alternative for approaching any kind of conflict, it entails having low concerns for the both the self and the other. The fourth approach to conflict involves maintaining a balance between the interests of the self and the other, which in turn results in compromise and accommodation (Sandra et al., 2003). The fifth approach to conflict entails maintaining a high concern for the interests of both parties to a conflict. This is the most common approach used in the conflict resolution field and guarantees satisfaction of all the parties engaging in a conflict. This approach to conflict means that one’s own interests are prioritized while being aware of the needs of the other party. This approach results in a problem-solving outcome during conflict resolution. Since there are numerous approaches to conflict resolution, it is highly likely that all conflicts, irrespective of their nature and magnitude, can be resolved. The conflicting parties can adopt the most suitable conflict approach in accordance to the conflict situation. The following paragraph discusses conflict resolution methodology to be deployed when the conflict approaches deployed by the conflicting parties are used jointly.
It is a typical characteristic of parties engaging in conflict to be inclined towards seeing that their interests are absolutely opposed. This implies that there are different possible outcomes of an attempt to resolve the conflict, they include win-lose, lose-lose, and win-win. A win-lose outcome is whereby one party wins and the other party loses, this is achieved through compromise by splitting their differences (Lederach, 2005). In lose-lose outcome, all the conflicting parties lose; this is a common outcome in most violent conflicts and usually occurs when neither of the parties fail to impose an outcome or that they are not willing to compromise their interests. The result is that the conflicting parties impose huge costs on each other. Lose-lose outcomes usually result in a bad outcome when compared to other strategies. In the analysis of conflict resolution, lose-lose outcome has been found to be more prevalent. On the other hand, win-win outcomes are characterized by compromise by both parties. An inference that can be derived from such a wide spectrum of conflict outcomes increases the likelihood that all conflicts can be resolved, provided the acceptable outcome by both parties is adopted during the conflict resolution process (Sandra et al., 2003).
Conventionally, the process of resolving conflicts has been viewed having the main objective of assisting conflicting parties who view their situation as zero-sum to perceive the conflict scenario as nonzero-sum conflict. This involves ensuring that either parties change their “self-gain is the other’s loss” perception towards a situation where they perceive the conflict as they both lose or gain. Adopting such an approach when resolving conflicts helps the conflicting parties to move towards the positive sum direction, this is an effective strategy in guaranteeing satisfaction during conflict resolution. The spectrum of outcomes during conflict resolution implies that any outcome can be adopted for any kind of conflict (Lederach, 2005).
It is vital to assess the significance of positions, interests, and needs in order to prove the claim that all conflicts are resolvable. How can conflicting parties adjust their positions if they are completely opposed? Classical conflict resolution suggests that it is vital to distinguish the positions maintained by the conflicting parties and their core interests. For instance, if two neighbors engage in a conflict over a tree, with each of them claiming that the tree is located on their land. In such a case, there is no possibility of a compromise because the tree cannot be divided into half. However, it can be determined that the parties have different interests in relation to the three, for example, one party has an interest in the fruit of the tree, while the other is more interested in using its shade. Such a case facilitates the reconciliation of their interests. It is easier to reconcile interests of the conflicting parties than their positions because there are numerous positions that might gratify the parties to a conflict. The conflict scenario is extremely complicated if it involves values or relations, values are usually non-negotiable. Resolving such a conflict poses the need for the conflicting parties to change their values, even though the same principle for evaluating the compatibility of the underlying motives can still be used in such a case. Analysts in conflict resolution claim that identification of the basic human needs such as uniqueness, security, and continued existence are the core determinants of the motives of the parties to a conflict. Therefore, irresolvable conflicts are because of the denial of such needs. The implication from this view is that barriers to conflict resolution can be eliminated through the satisfaction of such needs (Ramsobtham et al., 2011). The point of argument is that all conflicts can be solved through the reconciliation of the needs of both parties. In case the interests cannot be reconciled, then an outcome that fulfils the needs of the conflicting parties can be attained by attempting to resolve the conflict using the “needs” domain. For instance, three authors Wiley, Kelly and Smith are about to publish a book. However, Wiley maintains that he is the best author, yet his name is placed third on the authors list. Therefore, Wiley demands he must be placed first in the list. The other authors refuse this because they have their interests in attaining personal glory and fame. Wiley insists that if it is not resolved, then the book will not be published jointly, which is a common need for all the authors. This implies that the authors have to come up with a way of acknowledging equal participation. A conflict of such a kind is resolvable by adopting a position that serves to reflect the needs of the conflicting parties since their interests cannot be reconciled. The inference that can be made from this is that complications that may be posed by irreconcilable interests can be eliminated by satisfying the needs of both parties. This implies that almost all conflicts can be resolved provided the underlying interests and needs have been identified (Lederach, 2005).
The outcomes of conflict resolution can be enhanced using third party intervention, which plays an integral role in mediating the hostility and escalation that may arise during conflict. Third party intervention imposes significant changes on the structure of the conflict and provides diverse opportunities for communication between the conflicting parties. This means that the third party can engage on a reflection of the behavior, attitudes and messages of the conflicting parties prior to engaging on a conflict resolution strategy. The role of the third party is to facilitate negotiations or mediations using the powers and resources at their disposal. It is essential that third parties should restrain from becoming a full party to the conflict. There are numerous sources of power for the third party to be used in ensuring that the outcome of conflict resolution process satisfies both conflicting parties. Third party arbiters can use the soft power of persuasion and inspiration to ensure cooperation between conflicting parties. Coercive power can also be used to resolve a conflict. Third parties can use any form of power that guarantees positive outcomes. Third party intervention serves to increase the alternatives that can be used in conflict resolution, which in turn increases the probability that all conflicts can be solved. In addition, third parties are at liberty to use either coercive or non-coercive power to ensure that satisfactory outcomes for both conflicting parties (Sandra et al., 2003).
The discussion so far has focused on symmetric conflicts, which are conflicts between same parties. There is a probability that a conflict may take place among dissimilar parties. For example, a legitimate government and rebels, majorities and minorities, these are instances of asymmetric conflicts. In such a case, the underlying cause of the conflict does not depend on interests that are likely to split the parties; rather, conflict is caused by the structure of the relationship between the parties. For instance, a conflict is likely to arise if the structure of roles and responsibilities are changed. Some analysts claim that the classical conflict resolution is applicable to symmetric conflicts only. However, conflicts in the contemporary nature are mostly asymmetric in nature, posing the need to adopt other methodologies when resolving symmetric conflicts. Lederach (2005) pointed out that, in the case of asymmetric conflicts, the top dog usually wins, while the under-dog loses. Therefore, Lederach suggested that the only way to address asymmetric conflicts is through changing the structure, which is not usually consistent with the interests of the top dog. The inference is that resolving asymmetric conflicts has no win-win outcomes, which compels the third party to work with the underdog for the conflict to be resolved. Ramsobtham et al (2011) maintained that asymmetric conflicts also impose costs on both conflicting parties. Ramsobtham et al (2011)asserted that it is usually oppressive to be the oppressor, although the level of oppression is more for the case of the oppressed. Additionally, there are extra costs required for the top dogs to maintain their power and keep the underdogs down. In extreme cases of asymmetric conflicts, the cost of maintaining the relationship usually turns out to be unbearable for all the conflicting parties. This plays an integral role in opening the possibility for resolving the conflict using a shift from the present relationships structure to another. Such a transformation requires a third party intervention, and usually involves a confrontation with the top dog. This implies that the unbalanced and violent relationships will be transformed into peaceful and dynamic relationships. The stages involved in such transformation entails people becoming aware of the imbalances and injustice in the power relationships, this involved education and conscientization. The second stage is confrontation, which involves people organizing themselves to express their complaints. The third stage is negotiation, which involves agreeing on an equal power platform with those in power. The final stage is the resolution, which involves the establishment of a power relationship that is just and based on equity. There are various ways for implementing the above approach with the need for coercion. Ramsobtham et al (2011) suggests the tactic of “speaking truth to power” by Gandhi, influencing and persuading those in power. Lederach (2005) suggested the tactics associated with mobilization of popular movements, using solidarity, establishment of the need for change and making use of demonstrations for resolution. Empowering and strengthening the underdogs is also another approach that can be used in the resolution of asymmetric conflicts towards the establishment of balanced relationships and power structures.
The conflict model described in Lederach (2005) comprises of contradiction, attitude and behavior. This model is applicable to both symmetric and asymmetric conflicts. Contradiction is the core conflict situation that entails the actual or alleged inconsistency of goals among the conflicting parties, which primarily due to a divergence between social values and structures. In the case of symmetric conflicts, the definition of contradiction is determined by the conflicting parties, their respective interests, and the conflict of interests among them. In the case of asymmetric conflicts, contradiction is determined by the conflicting parties, their relationships and the clash of interest that are associated with the nature of the relationship. Attitude is defined by the perceptions and misperceptions of the conflicting parties towards each other and towards themselves. Attitudes can be either positive or negative, however, in the case of violent conflicts; the parties have a tendency of developing undignified stereotypes towards each other. In addition, attitudes are determined by emotional factors like fear, resentment and hate (Ramsobtham et al., 2011). The attitude of conflicting parties also include emotive, cognitive and willpower elements. Conflict resolution analysts who lay emphasis on the subjective aspects have an expressive view of the sources of conflict. The third component of conflict is behavior, which entails cooperation or cohesion and gestures used for indicating antagonism or reconciliation. Threats, cohesion and destructive attacks serve to symbolize violent conflict behavior. Conflict resolution analysts who place much emphasis on objective aspects like competition in material interests and structural relationships have an instrumental view of the origin of the conflict (Sandra et al., 2003). A conflict scenario must have all the three elements of the conflict model. A conflict structure that lacks attitudes or behavior is considered a structural conflict. According to Lederach (2005), conflict is perceived as a dynamic process whereby three elements of the conflict model change, interact and influence one another. With the emergence of a conflict, it transforms to conflict formation since the interests of the party clash or that their relationship turns to be oppressive. The conflicting parties usually organize themselves basing on this structure with the primary objective of pursuing their interests. Parties to a conflict are likely to establish hostile attitudes and conflictual behavior. Growth and development of conflict structure results in the widening of the conflict, its deepening and generation of secondary conflicts. This can complicate the efforts aimed at addressing the initial conflict. However, a critical analysis of the attitudes, behavior and contradiction can be helpful in addressing any conflict through facilitating reversal of the conflict behaviors and attitudes, changing the relationships and reconciling the divergent interests. Closely related to the conflict model is the differentiation between direct violence, structural violence and cultural violence. Direct violence is ended by altering the conflict behaviors, structural violence is ended by eliminating structural contradictions and prejudice, while cultural violence is eliminated by altering attitudes (Ramsobtham et al., 2011).
Dynamics of Conflicts
According to the model discussed above, conflict formations are mainly influenced by social change that results in violent and non-violent conflict transformation. In addition, conflicts arise from the need by marginalized groups organizing themselves with the primary objective of challenging the present power relationships and structure. The conflict lifecycle involves progression from peaceful social change towards conflict formation. The second phase is conflict transformation while the third phase entails a peaceful social change. However, there are variations in the phases of conflict depending on how resolution attempts are successful. For instance, the phases of conflict can avoid violence by progressing from conflict formation to conflict transformation. Furthermore, the conflict lifecycle cab progress from conflict formation, which can spiral further conflicts. Having an understanding of the dynamic of conflicts makes significant contributions towards ensuring that the outcomes of conflict resolution process are satisfactory to both the conflicting parties (Ramsobtham et al., 2011).
There is an emerging pattern of conflicts during the period after the Cold War, which is ultimately inducing new pattern of approaches to addressing such conflicts. Initially, the focal point was on global conflicts, presently, it focuses on internal conflicts. Most theoretical models of conflict resolution were established to address symmetric conflicts. However, asymmetric conflicts are increasingly becoming dominant in the global sphere. International conflicts have been considered as Clausewitzian affairs, which are fought by power centers that use systematic force against their enemies with the primary objective of breaking the will power of their enemy to continue fighting. In the contemporary society, conflicts entail disjointed decision-making and unsystematic forces that are directed at the civilian populations (Ramsobtham et al., 2011). Global conflicts took place between independent states; on the other hand, internal conflicts indicate the breakdown in the sovereign states, which serves to indicate the elimination of the power structures and relationships that served to maintain the power balance and the international fabric of independent states. As a response to the changing nature of global conflicts, scholars in the conflict resolution field have embarked in differentiating and widening the scope of third party intervention during conflict resolution. Despite the fact that classical conflict resolution emphasized on engagement in the conflict itself and engaging on non-violent ways to resolve violent conflicts, contemporary approaches to conflict resolution entails taking a broader view regarding to the timing of the third party intervention. Contemporary conflict resolution suggests that conflict resolution efforts must be initiated before the onset of armed conflict. In addition, conflict resolution efforts must be maintained during the armed conflict and be applied to facilitate peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention. The post-settlement phase should also involve the continuation of conflict resolution efforts. The asymmetric nature of contemporary conflicts associated with power imbalances, dissatisfaction of needs is mitigated using increased awareness, empowerment, using open confrontation when needed, and mobilization, these approaches are vital before embarking on the negotiation of new power structures and relationships (Ramsobtham et al., 2011). Additional mobilization and confrontation can be used to ensure that conflict transformation has stretched to the limit to guarantee peaceful political and social change within the acceptable institutional processes. Furthermore, with the variation in the sources of modern global conflicts and political emergencies, conflict resolution responses are needs at the various levels. The changes in conflict resolution vary in accordance with the global and regional arrangements, conflicts experienced at the state level poses the need for structural change at the national level, and conflicts between the parties needs conflict resolution at the relational level. In addition, cultural changes are needed at all levels to guarantee transformation and eliminate institutions and societal discourses that have the capability of reproducing violence (Sandra et al., 2003). It is important to stress the importance of integrating the various levels needed for effective functioning of conflict resolution and peace building for countries that are affected by conflicts. In connection to this, there is a move from relying on external third party intervention towards valuing the value of internal third party interventions or state peacemakers. Rather than relying on the outsiders to offer the platform for conflict resolution in mediation efforts, the focus is the call for establishing constituencies and capacity in societies and engaging in persistent learning from domestic cultures the various approaches that can be used to deal with conflicts in a sustainable manner (Ramsobtham et al., 2011). This approach to conflict resolution requires adequate support for domestic peace constituencies, development and strengthening of domestic institutions, and bringing out conflict resolution methods that are socio-culturally acceptable. The fundamental argument is that contemporary conflicts can be resolved by a shift from linking third party arbiters with externality and detachment. In the case of contemporary asymmetric conflicts, there is a chance that uninvolved outsiders may turn out to be parties to the conflict, which serves to widen the conflict and impose significant constraints in the conflict resolution process. A more preferable approach than external third party intervention is to rely on “embedded parties”, who are people or groups who may emerge from the core parties to the conflict and have the objective of playing the role of facilitating the move towards conflict resolution (Lederach, 2005).
Contemporary conflict resolution is sensitive to culture. The widening of scope and application of conflict resolution methods serves to meet the needs posed by complimentary third party arbitration. The integration of classical theoretical models with contemporary approaches to conflict resolution serves to increase the scope of global conflicts that can be resolved. In addition, it eliminates the complexities posed by asymmetric nature of contemporary conflicts. The following section explores the role of the international community in contemporary conflict resolution in a bid affirm that all conflicts are resolvable (Lederach, 2005).
The Role of the International Community in Conflict Resolution
According to Lederach (2005), the increasing costs of conflicts has resulted in an evolution of the conflict resolution capacities of the international community in order to address the ever increasing complexities associated with contemporary conflicts. Ramsobtham et al (2011)affirms that the affected states have the core responsibility of dealing with contemporary conflicts. However, four issues force outsiders to be involved in conflict resolution. The first factor is that the outside and inside sources of contemporary conflicts are equal. This implies that the international community has the responsibility of addressing the conflict in the first place. The second factor is the increasing interdependence implies that contemporary conflicts impose significant effects on the effects of neighboring and regional states. Thirdly, human suffering and media transparency increases the pressure on outside governments to act. Fourth, studies have affirmed that contemporary conflicts are only resolvable through the deployment of external resources. It is apparent the international community plays an integral role in contemporary conflict resolution using its numerous guises. Lederach (2005) asserted that third party intervention in international has been for a long time from the period of the Roman Empire and the Greek city-states. The primary role involved the great powers and neighboring states, which were after pursuing their interests. The roles of the international community in addressing conflicts have evolved with the changes in the nature of conflicts over time. Currently, contemporary conflicts are mostly non-interstates, which serve to indicate a breakdown of the state power structures, the downfall of sovereignty and a failure in the state system. The irony is that the responsibility of managing conflicts within such domain has been left significantly to the international institutions that still function under the principles of non-interference and sovereignty of stats. Non-interstate conflicts are not an exclusive responsibility of the various international institutions. Governments of external major states are usually less willing to be involved in internal conflicts, especially when the state interests are not linked to the conflict. The situation is further worsened when they are involved in such conflicts since the governments and the international institutions act at divergent purposes because of the variation in the interests and mandates. Simultaneously, the governments of countries facing internal conflicts usually perceive the involvement of the international community as an instance of meddling in their internal affairs. In addition, a failure in the state authority complicates the role of international institutions. For instance, a collapse of the state makes it difficult to determine who to conduct negotiations with when the state is under the rule of local leaders and militias. Issues of governance legitimacy are bound to arise in such conflicts, and place the international community in a challenging position to conduct negotiations. Lederach (2005) asserts that there are satisfactory international practices to deal with internal conflicts that have resulted in a collapse of the state. Apart from states, the three core elements of the international community that play a significant role in contemporary conflict resolution include the United Nations (UN), regional organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The UN and its numerous agencies are an essential element of the international community in responding to contemporary conflicts. For instance, the United Nations is a core instrument that the international community can use to initiate peacekeeping, demilitarization and resolve disputes. The UN is an important agent for peace building, peacekeeping, and peacemaking. It should be called during the earliest stages in order to help in conflict prevention.
Regional institutions also play an integral in contemporary conflict resolution. In fact, regional institutions should play the fundamental role in conflict resolution, with the UN coming in only after their efforts have failed (Lederach, 2005). However, this is not the case since most states have not sanctified the regional institutions to be involved in their internal affairs. However, there are regional institutions that have demonstrated success in handling internal conflicts and ensuring that states do not engage in activities that are likely to result to internal conflicts such infringement of human rights and their security practices. Examples of regional institutions include the Organization of African Unity, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Organization of American States, and the Association of Southeast Asian States. Regional institutions have the advantage of being close to the source of the conflict, which places them in a better position to resolve internal conflicts. In addition, they are familiar with the core actors, the local conditions and the socio-cultural values of states facing an internal conflict. The non-governmental agencies and humanitarian organizations come in handy to fill the void left by agencies of the international community. For instance, the International Committee of the Red Cross has played a forefront role in internal conflicts.
It is important to note that outside parties are equally important as domestic entities. However, it is the responsibility of the conflicting parties to manage and resolve their own conflicts. The capacity of internal conflict management is vital because there is a high likelihood that it will sustainable and culturally appropriate. The internal political institutions, learning and religious institutions, and business organizations play a significant role in the resolution of contemporary conflicts.
This essay has discussed the various forms contemporary conflicts and approaches that can be deployed to address them effectively. It is apparent that conflict in itself is a process that involves communication, which serves to affirm the claim that all conflicts are resolvable. This is because it is through conflict the passions and beliefs, and the nature and degree of concealed interests is revealed. The resolvability of conflicts is a core question for practitioners in this field; this is because of the changes in the nature of conflicts from symmetric to asymmetric, which in turn imposes significant challenges in the conflict resolution process. The conflict resolution process is further constrained by the fact that there is no satisfactory international conflict resolution practices needed to address legitimacy issues during cases of failures in the state systems. The point of argument in this essay is that conflict resolution offers a continuum of alternatives and outcomes that are applicable in all kinds of conflicts to facilitate conflict resolution that satisfies the needs of both the conflicting parties. In case the interests cannot be reconciled, then an outcome that fulfils the needs of the conflicting parties can be attained by attempting to resolve the conflict using the “needs” domain. Third party intervention serves to increase the alternatives that can be used in conflict resolution, which in turn increases the probability that all conflicts can be solved. Direct violence is ended by altering the conflict behaviors, structural violence is ended by eliminating structural contradictions and prejudice, while cultural violence is eliminated by altering attitudes. In the case contemporary conflicts, internal and international institutions can be deployed in the conflict resolution process.
Summary of How All Conflicts Are Resolvable
- All conflicts are resolvable through conflict transformation, which involves context transformation, structural transformation, actor transformation, issue transformation, and personal and group transformation.
- Third party intervention and mediation
- Negotiations and settlements
- Engaging the internal community in conflict resolution including regional institutions and non-governmental agencies