Understanding Conflict and Conflict Analysis


Ho-Won Jeong

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  • Part I: Concepts and Analysis

    Part II: Sources and Situations

    Part III: Process and Structure

    Part IV: Dynamics and Escalation

    Part V: De-Escalation and Termination

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    In International Relations (IR), there is a long tradition of research studying inter-state behavior with a focus on decision making behavior. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, many IR scholars adopted advanced theories developed in various fields of the social sciences to enrich our understanding of foreign policy makers' behavior in a crisis and other inter-state conflict situations. In illustrating international conflict, our attention has been expanded to the analysis of inert-group dynamics, actor motivations and external constraints beyond interstate rivalry and governmental decision making. There has been a growing demand for new knowledge about the emergence and dynamics of many conflicts embedded in a complex environment of national and international politics.

    While many of these studies respond to the necessity of reducing the risks of unnecessary catastrophic wars, we have observed complex conflict phenomena at various settings along with the major changes in the international system. Even before conflict studies were well recognized by scholars in mainstream IR, new theories and conceptual thinking about structural, psychological, communicative and behavioral aspects of a conflict process were developed by Chadwick F. Alger, John W. Burton, David J. Singer, Johan Galtung, Theodore Lentz, Paul Smoker, Marc Ross, Milton Esman, Anatol Rapaport, Christopher Mitchell, Janice Stein, Kenneth Boulding, Nazli Choucri, Ronald Fisher, Dean Pruitt, Glen Paige, James Rosenau, Charles F. Hermann, Herbert Kelman, Morton Deutsche, Louis Kriesberg, Jurgen Dedring, and many other prominent scholars. In order to develop a major textbook in conflict studies, it is necessary for us to assess the current status of our knowledge about the topic with recognition of the existing intellectual traditions.

    My aim in this book is to provide a solid, elaborate conceptual knowledge base that helps students be better orientated toward the analysis of contemporary conflict phenomena, ranging from ethnic and other inter-group conflict, international terrorism, and inter-state disputes. In doing so, it identifies major theories needed for a full grasp of real world conflict situations, their sources and dynamics. I began to realize the importance of this task more, when I chaired the admission committee of my program and reviewed many hundred files of promising applicants whose careers range from diplomats, high ranking military officers to NGO workers.

    What many of our students aspire to have is the intellectual skills they can depend on for responding to many conflict situations. Most importantly, this capacity cannot be developed without a full grasp of how each conflict evolves and in what context. This book is designed to help our students be prepared for this task by devoting full attention to the process of conflict emergence, escalation, de-escalation and settlement as well as structural characteristics of interlinked conflict system, and modes of interaction between conflict participants. As an attempt to reflect past studies on behavioral, psychological, and structural aspects of conflict dynamics, the volume sheds light on the options and choices available to various actors, social psychological aspects of adversarial interactions, and behaviors constrained by such relational characteristics as power symmetry or asymmetry.

    The objective of student learning should focus on building the intellectual skills of conflict diagnosis that is essential prior to any efforts to initiate conflict settlement and resolution. In the field of conflict studies, there has been much discussion about conflict resolution practice and skills, but research on conflict analysis and dynamics has been relatively less emphasized. The intent of this manuscript is, in part, to fill the gap in providing conceptual frameworks that are needed for putting forward our questions about key international events. A list of complex issues is explored to investigate a conflict system as a dynamic phenomenon.

    A single volume cannot cover every aspect of conflict analysis and resolution, since it is a vast field of study. This manuscript does not specifically examine conflict resolution practice in domestic settings nor does it cover a long list of conflict management techniques unless they are relevant to the regulation of antagonistic relations. In addition, it does not touch upon other thematic issues such as globalization, development, peacekeeping, environmental degradation, and so forth, in great detail, as a few textbooks in conflict studies do. Although they may be helpful in understanding broad social or international trends, this book's desire is to provide a more tightly integrated body of academic knowledge about conflict.

    By better comprehending the sources, situation, context, and process of a conflict, we can develop informed policy options. Frictions in the current world order have created complex pictures of international decision making processes. On the international scene, diverse actors emerge and play different roles, either destructive or constructive, in the maintenance of international peace and security.

    Two decades ago, the IR field did not pay much attention to disenchanted ethnic groups, warlords, and terrorist networks. Over the last decade, the IR field has evolved to include analysis of internal conflicts, as they spill over to international arenas. The US entrapment in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrates the importance of factional, regional politics and agendas. The topics covered in this project are relevant to illuminating the behavior of international actors, both state and non-state.

    Although I am solely responsible for any content of this book, I am intellectually indebted to Chadwick F. Alger, John W. Burton, J. David Singer, Johan Galtung, Christopher Mitchell, Jurgen Dedring, Marc Ross, Daniel Lieberfeld, Charles Lerche, Denise Williams, Nadim Rouhana, Richard Rubenstein, Sean Byrne, Charles Snare, Daniel Druckman, Ronald Fisher, Dennis Sandole, Dean Pruitt, Kevin Avruch, Peter Black, Johannes Botes, Tamra Pearson d'Estrée, Janie Leatherman, John Darby, Luc Reychler, Jim Whitman, Jeff Pickering, Jacob Bercovitch, Marty Rochester, Christos Kyrou, Abdul Aziz Said, Anthony Wanis-St.John, Kent Kille, Anne Snyder, and Earl Conteh-Morgan. I also benefited from work done by my colleagues at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, including Andrea Bartoli, Marc Gopin, Wallace Warfield, Joe Scimecca, Hazel McFerson, Mark Katz, Terrence Lyons, Agnieszka Pacynzka, Susan Allen Nan, Susan Hirsch, Mara Schoeny, Solon Simmons, Mark Goodale, and other faculty members and associates.

    In particular, Christopher Mitchell, Charles Leche, Daniel Lieberfeld, Mara Schoney and Mark Stover have reviewed different chapters of this book and offered valuable comments. In addition, Kate Romanov, Sylvia Susnjic, Eleftherios Michael, Joshua Ruebek and other graduate students supported the various stages of this project with their intellectual skills. Mary and Nimmy provided the most valuable support for stimulating my thoughts. Finally, I would like to express great appreciation for the encouragement of the Sage editor David Mainwaring who brought my work to fruition.

    Centreville, Virginia, August 2007


    For my mother

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