Concept of Peace and Conflict

Concept of Peace and Conflict

Proactive peacemaking is crucial to avoid global conflicts. Recognizing signs of destabilization or misunderstanding between nations or communities within a country is important, as peace conditions do not worsen rapidly. Let’s understand the concept of peace and conflict in global politics.

Understanding the Multifaceted Concept of Peace

Peace, like health, covers conceptually a vast territory. General perspectives exist on the conditions for a healthy body, mind, and spirit. One can also reflect on the conditions for a healthy “world body” of people. In the contemporary world, states are keen to advance their national interests, and in doing so, they may conflict.

Transition from International to Global Perspectives in World Politics

But the world is more than an inter-state system. The key factor in world politics is now “global” rather than “international.” The word “international” regards a nation-state as the basic building block of world affairs. The new global era recognizes that other actors are on the world stage, and nation-states must cooperate with them. In short, the world body is a complex entity.

Defining Peace: Positive and Negative Perspectives

The word “peace” has been defined in dictionaries both in positive and negative terms. The positive definition is “a state of harmony,” and the negative is “a state existing during the absence of war.” “Peace is the absence of war,” a definition used largely by military strategists.

Questioning the Negative Definition of Peace

Many questions arise on the negative definition of peace; Is peace the absence of war? If there are no guns and bombs, has peace been achieved? Is it a “utopian state” in which harmony and happiness prevail? How is peace related to social justice?

James H. Laue’s Comprehensive Definition of Peace

Broadly defined, “peace is the least application of violence and coercion to the individual and to the freedom of access of the individual to cherished values.” James H. Laue defines peace not only as a cherished goal sought by all individuals and states but also as “a process of continuous and constructive management of differences toward the goal of more mutually satisfying relations, the prevention of escalation of violence, and the achievement of those conditions that exemplify the universal well-being of human beings and their groups from the family to the culture and the state.”

Social Justice and Positive Peace

What Laue means is that peace includes a situation when everyone in the world lives peacefully. Every single person has an equal opportunity to have access to the world’s resources and opportunities. It questions peace in societies where a minority of privileged people live in comfort while an overwhelming majority of citizens struggle in poverty.

The Interrelation of Negative and Positive Concepts of Peace

Some believe that arguing such a society is “peaceful” because it is not engaged in a war is morally wrong. The proponents of social positive peace argue that the elimination of hunger and poverty and the establishment of social justice are the true conditions of peace. If examined critically, both negative (passive) and positive concepts of peace are interrelated. Human experience demonstrates that the absence of war is a prerequisite for economic development and social justice.

John Kennedy’s Realistic Perspective on Peace

US President John Kennedy looked at the peace concept from a different angle. With his mind on US-Soviet relations in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, he said: “I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and goodwill. Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions…. Peace is a process, a way of solving problems.”

Ideological Overtones of Peace and War During the Cold War

During the Cold War, “peace” and “war” had strong ideological overtones. The Communist Parties in various countries saw the “Soviet Union” as the most powerful force for peace in the world. They defined the 1917 Russian Communist Revolution as the historically decisive change in the struggle for peace. Even now, Cuba, North Korea, China, and Vietnam perceive the concept of peace differently from that of the US or Britain.

Approaches to the Origin of Conflict

All the approaches to the origin of conflict are based on how the theorists looked at the nature of human beings. There are three models of human society – Hobbesian/Realist, Grotian/Rationalist, and Kantian/Idealist.

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) did not think much of the goodness of human nature. Hobbes depicted human life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” He was of the view that prior to the advent of society, men lived in a state of conflict.

The exercise of the right of self-preservation by each and everyone led to a perpetual state of fear for all. Likewise, international politics is a struggle for power, “a war of all against all.” To maintain peace, a state had to be run by a strong King with absolute power and sovereignty.

Dutch lawyer and philosopher Hugo Grotius (1583-1608) had a more positive view of human nature than the one expressed by Hobbes.

He conceived of an international society of a more cooperative nature. German idealist and philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) thought of the goodness or selflessness of human nature. The inherent goodness of human nature leads people to mutual aid and collaboration.

It will appear that realism and idealism are the two extreme views of human behavior in society, while the cooperative view of human nature falls in between them.

Realists rejected Idealists as “utopians” and held that they were far more occupied with the “ought” than with the “is.” Italian statesman, diplomat, and political philosopher Machiavelli (1469-1527) laid the foundation for modern realism and the concept of national security.

In modern times, this theory, advocated by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, came to be known as raison d’etat (realpolitik), the idea that the policies of the state were not justified by moral grounds, only on grounds of national interest.

Meaning of Conflict

The term “conflict” has been described in the English dictionary as “a struggle or clash between opposing forces; battle.” Conflict is a part of human life.

Conflict is a normal product of diversity in beliefs and values, differences in attitudes and perceptions, and competing socio-economic and political interests among individuals, social classes, ethnic groups, and states. Mohammad Rabie argues that “because conflict is about values, beliefs, interests, and perceptions, it occurs at every level of human and state interaction.”

It is important to keep in mind that not all conflicts are bad. In business, competition, which is a form of conflict, may stimulate one to work harder and to produce more or to carry out a project more efficiently or more imaginatively.

Again, not all conflicts need resolution.

The human conflict for survival needs to be resolved, but there is no single formula for universal application. In personal relationships, conflict provided it is not destructive, creates tension that stimulates creativity to find new avenues to deal with problems.

When people with different objectives cannot coexist, there is a case of conflict. According to Robert Lee: “social conflict is a likely guest whenever human beings set up forms of social organization…. The society without conflict is a dead society… like it or not, conflict is a reality of human existence and therefore a means of understanding human behavior.”

On a state level, conflict connotes disputes, and the goals may range from self-preservation to the annihilation of the opponent. States often fight for control over resources or territories. Ideological clashes led to the Cold War for over forty years.

Analysis of Conflict

Conflicts have various manifestations among individuals, groups, and states. Various authors have come up with theories about the causes and dynamics of conflict.

Galtung’s analysis of conflict contains three aspects that can be portrayed as standing at the corners of an equilateral triangle.

At one corner is the “conflict itself” or C, another corner represents “conflict attitude” or A, and the final corner represents “conflict behavior” or B. For Galtung, C represents “incompatibility between goal states or values held by actors.

Analysis of Conflict

Goal states correspond to “consciously desired future outcomes, conditioned or end states, which often have intrinsic (different) value” for actors in any system.

Since the international system is one in which states pursue goals or values that may at times appear incompatible, conflict in the sense of C results.

The next aspect of conflict attitude refers to an “interrelated cluster of emotions, attitudes, prejudices, and perpetual distortions which may accompany most forms of conflict”.

The third aspect of conflict behavior corresponds to actions undertaken by an actor that can be judged to be part of a conflict situation, arising from conflict attitudes.

A conflict can traverse a cycle, moving from C to A to B, back again to C, and onwards to another cycle. Although Galtung believes that “a conflict can start in any corner”, he has a clear preference for a goal situation as the main source of conflict.

The conflict triangle conceived by Galtung and adapted by Mitchell represents a useful tool in analyzing conflict for three reasons. Author Michael Salla argues that conflict can be broken up into three aspects where each may be the original source of a conflict. It demonstrates that each aspect is interrelated, thereby suggesting that conflict is a totality encompassing all three aspects that must be addressed. It leads to the important distinction between “conflict settlement” and “conflict resolution,” whereby “settlement” does not address all aspects of a conflict.

Theories of Conflict

There are at least seven theories on the origin of conflicts. Briefly, they are as follows:

Instinctual Theory

Conflict is innate in all social animals, including human beings.

Coercion Theory

Social Conflict originates in the nature of certain societies and how they are structured.

Consensus or Integration Theory

Conflict is an aberration, a dysfunctional process in social systems.

Realist/National Interests Theory

Conflict between societies occurs because each, as a nation-state, often pursues incompatible national interests.

Functional Theory

Conflict occurs because it is functional for social systems.

Behavioral/Cognitive Theory

Conflict is a consequence of poor communication, misperception, miscalculation, socialization, and other unconscious processes.

Regulatory Theory

Conflict is a natural process common to all societies, with predictable dynamics and amenable to constructing regulation.

Analytical Hierarchy Process

It combines opposed elements in a series of pairwise comparisons arranged hierarchically. All conflicts require trade-offs for their solution. The application of the theory forces the parties in a conflict to distinguish between goals and subgoals, thereby avoiding wasting time-fighting over trivial issues. Parties can agree upon what nature of a subgoal might be in an opponent’s position.

Types of Conflict

The conflict has many faces. Conflict arises when both parties are aware of the incompatibility. Some writers distinguish between “manifest conflict” from the “underlying conflict”. Manifest conflict grows out of underlying conflict or tension.

It may manifest as a Conflict within persons and conflict between persons or groups. An individual may experience conflicts within himself/herself when he/she tries to achieve personal objectives and engage in processes to reconcile desired goals with obligations. Persons undergoing psychotic conflict can quite literally destroy themselves.

Conflict between persons or groups may be called social conflict. People are divided into thousands of ethnic, national, socio-economic, socio-political, and religious groups. Different loyalties, cultural values, and ideologies provide a fertile ground for nurturing conflict among persons or groups.

Inter-state conflicts may arise for control over resources or territories or attainment of supreme power. During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union played regional states off one another, such as India against Pakistan, Iraq against Iran, North Korea versus South Korea, Japan versus China, and Ethiopia versus Somalia. Both Moscow and Washington followed the same doctrine – “divide and rule.”

Conflict may be realistic and non-realistic. Realistic conflict is characterized by opposed means and ends, by incompatibility of values and interests.

Non-realistic conflict arises from the need for tension release, from deflected hostility, from historical tradition, and from ignorance or error.

The two types differ in origin and in the ultimate motivation behind opposed action. In realistic conflict, wants and needs seem to be incompatible.

But non-realistic conflict would continue between nations whose conflicting interests had long since been reconciled. For instance, ideological conflict can continue for a long time and often is more important than economic or political conflicts in straining international relations.

Conflicts may be destructive or productive. A conflict is “destructive” when the parties in it are dissatisfied with outcomes and feel that they have lost due to the conflict. It is “productive” if the parties are satisfied with their outcomes and feel they have gained from the conflict.

Conflict may be divided into interest-related and value-related. Conflicts over trade issues or natural resources or territory are generally considered to be interest-related. Conflicts caused by competition between similar and professional groups and disputes between labor and management fall in this category.

Value-related conflicts include those within and between states caused by matters related to political ideologies, religious beliefs, cultural rights, national sovereignty, and the socio-political status of minorities.

However, there is no clear-cut division between interest-related and value-related conflicts. Most international and ethnic conflicts are both interest-related and value-related at the same time. For instance, ethnic conflicts often have an impact on other states.

Sri Lanka’s Tamil-Sinhalese conflict had an impact on some policies of Tamil Nadu state in India. Gross violation of human rights by Serbian soldiers on Albanian-Kosovars had strained relations between former Yugoslavia and Albania.

Some writers consider that conflicts over interests are easier to resolve peacefully than conflicts over values.

They argue that the international dispute settlement system is reasonably well-equipped to handle disputes over interests. There is more difficulty when conflicts over values occur because values are non-negotiable. Conflicts over values manifest in violence and are often difficult to resolve.

In retributive conflict, people are sometimes concerned only with the “price” paid by opponents, and an element of punishment may be involved in “teaching a lesson” to opponents in a conflict. This leads to development that enables a “price” to be paid by opponents in the resolution of conflicts.

Structure of Conflict

Some authors have attempted to break down the conflict situation into three distinct phases:

  1. Grievance,
  2. Conflict stage, and
  3. Dispute stage.

Grievance is a pre-conflict situation in which an injustice has been caused to one party from the wrongful conduct of the other party.

The pre-conflict stage goes to the second stage, in which the aggrieved party communicates the feelings of injustice to the offending party.

The second stage demonstrates that both parties are aware of a conflictual situation.

Finally, suppose the offending party does not take any action to reduce tension. In that case, conflict enters into the dispute stage when it becomes public, and the aggrieved party takes some remedial action.

Psychological Dimensions of Conflict

In a conflict, parties will have, in general, conflicting desires and goals, and often, it is perceived that there will always be winners and losers. But this is not always true. One must be mentally prepared to search for an outcome that is “win-win” for both parties.

The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Charter asserts: “Wars begin in the minds of men.”

Hobson, a British social scientist, thought that the actual direct, efficient forces in history were human motives and desires.

George Kennan, the distinguished US analyst of foreign policy, stressed the psychological factors underlying American activities and held that subjective factors – factors relating to the state of mind of many of the American leaders – rather than the external environment seemed to have guided some of American policies.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark reportedly said in April 2003 that had Al Gore been elected as President of the US in 2000, the Second Gulf War on Iraq might not have occurred.

The English poet and mystic William Blake (1757-1827), in his poem “The Poison Tree” appears to have summed up a way of resolving conflict in the following words: “I was angry with my friend I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.”

The poet meant that one had to discuss the cause of antagonism with the other party instead of keeping it within oneself. This implies that discussion or opening up of pent-up feelings may resolve the problem. Furthermore, most people will know from personal relations that many conflicts are never solved but recede into the background and are eventually forgotten.

This is also applicable in inter-state disputes. It is desirable that early contact between two parties may clear suspicion, mistrust, and misunderstanding and restore confidence in their relations.

Former US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles believed that the human race craved certainty and precision. What he really meant is that human beings needed a predictable environment within which they could function. In other words, human beings want stability in their environment within which they can anticipate the consequences of behavior.

When the predictable environment is perceived to be unstable, the use of force may occur to restore the balance.

Perception and not reality may lead to an incorrect assessment of a given situation. It can magnify certain information inputs, giving them greater weight. The “evils” of the enemy are exaggerated, and its virtues are ignored.

For example, the US wrongly perceived the underlying causes of war between South and North Vietnam and that the victory of communist North Vietnam would topple other countries in Southeast Asia like dominoes and would be within the communist grasp. History has refuted this perception.

It is argued that mental framework may be variable in individuals or leadership. One may take immediate personal umbrage and react to destroy the opponent.

For example, during 1970-71, the Pakistani military authorities perceived the demands of the Six Points Charter of Bangladeshis as the disintegration of Pakistan. It is argued that had there been a realistic perception of the demand, military action against Bangladeshis would have been avoided.

However, the question is:

  • Why do serious situations sometimes not develop into violent conflict?
  • Why do some conflicts rather quickly run their natural course while others do not?
  • Why do some forms of group identification accompany inter-group conflict while others do not?

They all depend on perceptions. Perceptions are the problems that social psychologists face in devising methods by which realistic perception may enlighten political leaders.

At all levels of human relationships, there could be psychological barriers to a clear understanding of conflicts that plague human society.

During armed conflicts, psychological warfare is a big component of propaganda against an opponent, whether it is an individual group or a state. The American Psychological Association created a committee to study psychology’s place in maintaining peace and during conflict.

Author Mohamed Rabie notes that “perceptions are not based exclusively on facts but also on images, collective memories, and stereotypes. Stereotypes, in turn, may be used to dehumanize others, belittle their feelings, and justify their mistreatment, forcing them to react in ways that engender antagonism and cause conflict…. Due to this, Americans’ ability to develop healthy relationships with most non-Western peoples has been impeded, causing antagonism and conflict to replace friendship.”

Conflict As Gamers Or Debates

Author Anatol Rapoport classifies conflicts as either “fights, games, or debates”. He said: “the essential difference between a fight and a game… is that while in a fight the object (if any) is to harm the opponent, in a game it is to outwit the opponent… a fight can be idealized as devoid of the rationality of the opponents, while a game on the contrary is idealized as a struggle in which the complete “rationality” of the opponent is assumed. (see Chapter 5 of the book for a detailed discussion on game theory).

With regard to “debate”, Rapoport considers three elements in a debate having the objective of convincing the opponent to see the issues in the same light as the other party. The three elements are;

  1. conveying the message to the opponent that its views have been heard,
  2. assuring the opponent of the validity of some of its views, and
  3. inducing the assumption of similarity.

Peace And Conflict Are Inter-Linked

The concepts of peace and conflict, to many writers, are inseparable, interrelated, and interlinked. The old Roman doctrine of qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum (who desires peace prepare for war) implies that peace and conflict are intertwined or are two sides of the same coin. Many writers on the subject hold the same view that peace and conflict are inseparable.

Quincy Wright made this point when he wrote: “The absence of conditions of peace is the cause of war.” Mohamed Rabie argues that peace without conflict is stagnation and conflict without peace is chaos, making peace and conflict two preconditions for continued human progress and organizational rejuvenation.

How To Avoid Global Conflicts: The Importance of Proactive Peacemaking

Peace conditions do not worsen rapidly. It takes time to build up conflicting situations. When there are signs of destabilization or misunderstanding between two or more nations or between two religious or ethnic communities within a country, it is an appropriate time to talk to each other to settle differences or remove misunderstandings so that peace prevails.

Moshe Dayan’s Insight on Peacemaking

On peacemaking, Israeli General and former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) told a basic truth when he said “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” It has been the experience that time and energy are invested to resolve or end conflicts when they flare up, whereas a colossal amount of work needs to be done during peacetime before conflicts begin.

Sabana Azmi on the Need for Preemptive Peace Efforts

This position was driven home by India’s film actress and social welfare activist Sabana Azmi in a media interview in connection with the communal riots in Gujarat state (India) that took place in February 2002.

Azmi said: “The problem with us is that we rush in only after the riots take place whereas the greatest amount of work needs to be done in the times of peace before the riots occur… What you saw in Gujarat and the recent alarming trend of the rise of Hindu nationalism did not happen overnight. It has been a gradual process that took eight years to take this shape. To counter that, we need to better network among ourselves and build more bridges with like-minded people and organizations. We need to work in peacetime to engage more and more people.”

Jimmy Carter’s Role as a Peace Crusader

For instance, the early efforts of former President Jimmy Carter, who re-invented himself as a “crusader” of peace, led to reconciliation among many nations around the globe. It needs to be emphasized that the international community needs to work and organize better during peacetime rather than during conflicts.

Forced Peace: The Concept of Mutually Assured Deterrence During the Cold War

During the Cold War, the possession of nuclear weapons by the US and the Soviet Union led them to believe that nuclear war was certain to destroy each other’s existence. A new theory of deterrence of war, called Mutually Assured Deterrence (MAD), emerged which brought no conflicts between them for more than fifty years.

Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia: Indo-Pakistan Relations

In South Asia, it is argued that nuclear deterrence acts as a firebreak between peace and war. Nuclear weapons cast an existential deterrent shadow over Indo-Pakistan relations. Both are dissuaded from fighting by the simple fact that their nuclear capabilities exist and that war between them could escalate to a nuclear exchange.

The Deterrent Effect of Nuclear “First Strike” Concerns

Another concern is either country’s nuclear “first strike” could be counter-productive given the short distances separating India and Pakistan. The vagaries of winds and the consequent chance that radioactive fallout could drift back over the attacker’s own territory deter them from launching a war.

Deterrence Through Fear of Conventional Attacks on Nuclear Facilities

Furthermore, New Delhi and Islamabad are dissuaded from armed confrontation by the fear that any outbreak of hostility might lead the opponent to attack each other’s nuclear facilities with advanced conventional weapons, thereby raising the possibility of widespread radiation poisoning.

Historical Perspective on Nuclear Deterrence and Peace

One Indian Army General reportedly said that if Pakistan had nuclear weapons, the war in 1971 would not have occurred. Therefore, one may reasonably conclude that possession of nuclear weapons leads to deterrence. That implies peace is maintained by the “balance of terror.”

Multi-lateral Peacemaking: The Founding of the United Nations

The UN was born out of the ashes of the Second World War (1939-45). To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, the primary task of the UN is to maintain international peace and security.

UN’s Commitment to Peaceful Dispute Resolution

Article 33 of the Charter of the UN enjoins a member state not to endanger peace and settle international disputes peacefully. The Security Council shall, when it deems necessary, call upon the parties to settle their dispute by peaceful means.

The Inception of UN Peacekeeping Operations

The UN Peacekeeping operations started in 1948 when the Security Council sent UN observers to monitor a truce between Israel and Arab States, although the UN Charter does not specifically mention peacekeeping operations. (See Chapter 18 of the book for UN peacekeeping operations).

The Secretary-General’s Role in Maintaining Peace

Article 99 of the Charter confers upon the Secretary-General a right to bring matters to the Security Council, and it is argued that right carries with it a broad discretion to conduct inquiries and to engage in informal diplomatic activity in matters that may threaten international peace and security.

Accordingly, the UN Secretary-General appoints UN Representatives in hotspots that might threaten international peace and security. This is generally known as “UN presence” to prevent conflicts between nations.

Challenges to the UN’s Peacekeeping Mission

However, the Security Council, in many cases, cannot implement the noble objective of maintaining peace across the globe for many reasons.

Three of them stand out clearly.

First, the UN is a political organization and “veto”-carrying permanent members of the Security Council look at issues from their national political and economic interests and vote accordingly.

Henry Kissinger, in his book “Diplomacy,” wrote that the French politician Cardinal Richelieu of the 17th century was the first major practitioner of what came to be known as raison d’etat, the idea that the policies of a state are not justified on normal moral grounds, only on the grounds of national interest.

The Predominance of “Hard Power” in World Affairs

Second, “hard power” still rules the world, and the Second Gulf War in 2003 was a glaring instance. In other words, “might is right” appears to be the bottom line even in today’s international affairs.

Between the time the UN was set up in 1945 and 1976, there were 120 armed conflicts on the territories of 71 countries involving 84 countries. 36 of the 120 conflicts were limited to within the territories. Ideally, the Security Council should not have allowed these conflicts to continue in various parts of the world.

The UN’s Difficulty in Addressing Civil Wars

Third, the UN Charter refers to armed conflicts between two or more sovereign states. Most of the wars in developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America were civil wars within the boundaries of a state, and the UN found difficulty in intervening in such situations. In 1993, it was estimated that 42 countries were involved in 52 wars, and most of them were civil wars.

Nature of Conflicts and Theories of Conflict

Conflicts, like diseases, come in many varieties. Is it at all possible or meaningful to develop theories of conflict the same way as it is meaningful to develop a general health theory? Since conflicts deal with human actors, uncertainties will always remain regarding their motives and intentions of conduct and behavior.

Understanding the Urge to Fight

Hans Morgenthau said “Men do not fight because they have arms. They have arms because they deem it necessary to fight.” Why does the urge to fight arise?

Many philosophers believe that human beings have in them two conflicting elements – animality and rationality. The urge to fight appears to be an expression of the “animality” of human beings, and consequently, the other ingredient, “rationality,” takes a back seat during war.

The Role of Rationality and Morality in Avoiding Conflict

Moral values in individuals originate partly in “rationality.” Rational thinking collectively contributes to the moral force in human society, which in turn avoids confrontation and conflict. The moral force is the guiding light to maintain a peaceful environment.

Literary and Philosophical Perspectives on War and Peace

The 16th-century English dramatist and poet Christopher Marlowe (1564-93) echoed the rationalist sentiments when he wrote “Accursed be he that invented war.” Human beings, being an integral part of Nature, the order and harmony in Nature manifest themselves in them and as a result, human beings are pulled by the “natural order” to seek peace. Rousseau’s (1712-78) “Social Contract” theory underscored the presence of an “external force” (Nature) which acted as an arbiter of justice.

Justice as a Path to Peace

Justice, according to Plato and Aristotle, means giving everyone his/her due. From this point of view, justice becomes the master virtue and includes other virtues. If everyone gets his/her due, peace prevails, and conflict is avoided.

Persisting Global Conflicts and Their Historical Context

There seems to be a sad inevitability about the way in which so many pressure points of the last century remain as of today: Kashmir, Afghanistan, North Korea, Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Chechnya, Taiwan, Somalia, and Cyprus are some of the important ones.

Such issues can never be examined in isolation from strategic interests. During the 20th century (1900-1999), there have been more than 150 recorded wars including three wars in South Asia between India and Pakistan in 1948, 1965, and 1971.

Challenge of Resolving Conflicts Peacefully

Often, conflicts are difficult to resolve, although efforts must be made to peacefully settle any conflict. Given the varying goals of the parties involved, one should not be surprised to find out that the subject matter of peace and conflict differs enormously among parties.

Peace is achievable if parties involved may live with a compromise or “imperfect” solution. But if the goal of one party appears to negate the goals of the other party, it is difficult to make peace.

Illustrative Studies of Unresolved Conflicts

For instance, two contemporaneous unresolved conflicts, namely, the Palestine-Israeli conflict and the Indo-Pakistan conflict on the Kashmir dispute, that has been continuing for over 50 years, may present an illustrative study of unresolved conflicts.

It will appear that the incompatibility of objectives of two sides in the dispute is so strong that one set of goals of one party cannot be achieved without extinguishing the goals of the other party. There rests the difficulty to make a peace deal unless they change their approach.

The Failure of High-Level Peace Negotiations

In 2000, former US President Clinton (1992-2000) attempted to make a peace deal between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and despite his intensive closed-door negotiations, President Clinton failed. The question is: Why did the most powerful person in the world fail to achieve peace?

One of the reasons was the insistence on the right of return to Israel of several million Palestinian refugees from Arab countries. Israel could not accept it because in a Jewish nation of about six million, the return of about four million Palestinian refugees would have an adverse demographic balance in Israel.

The Kashmir Dispute and Its Intractability

The Kashmir dispute cannot be resolved for more than five decades because India sticks to a policy that Indian-administered Kashmir is an integral part of India.

On the other hand, Pakistan considers Kashmir a disputed territory in terms of the UN Security Council resolutions of 1948. Such irreconcilable differences are attributed to the continuation of the two conflicts.

The Second Gulf War and the Policy of Regime Change

The war of words between the US and Iraq on the question of mandatory disarmament of weapons of mass destruction led to the launching of the Second Gulf War on 20th March 2003.

Furthermore, the US, under its declared policy of “regime change,” pursues to replace tyrannical regimes of the world with democracies, and Iraq appears to be the first case.

Opposition to the US Policy of Regime Change

The Anglo-American alliance did not wait for the final views of the UN arms inspectors in Iraq. The chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix (former Swedish Foreign Minister) reportedly said he wanted more time to try to disarm Iraq and avert war. France, Germany, and Russia wanted to give more time to the UN inspectors, but the Anglo-American alliance abandoned the UN process and attacked Iraq.

The Complexity of Achieving Peace

In the above-cited cases, peace was not attainable because the views of the two sides were sharply opposed to each other, and acceptance of one side’s view nullified the other’s interests.

It will be seen that the common denominator in the above-cited disputes appears to be

  • Psychological barriers
  • Religious dogmas
  • Ideological extremism
  • Territorial imperatives
  • Power asymmetries
  • Differing images of reality
  • National interests
  • Security concerns
  • Myopic policies

The Role of Populist Views in Sustaining Conflicts

Furthermore, empirical evidence suggests views on a dispute often get hardened as time passes by because a whole new generation of people gets used to a situation and national leaders find it politically difficult to reverse the entrenched position held by people.

Kashmir and Cyprus disputes are instances in point. Populist views have been likened to a bushfire. It is easily started, spreads quickly, and is somewhat indiscriminate about who or what it damages. Similarly, once a populist attitude is adopted towards disputes, no peaceful solution is possible.

Peacebuilding Mechanism: The Essential Aim of Peace in a Contradictory World

The plight of the world today is tormented by the contradictions of interests of states, and in such an environment, peace must be the fundamental aim of the world community for prospects of both survival and the betterment of life.

The Helsinki Final Act and Peacebuilding Measures

In Europe during the Cold War, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act focused on political, military, and economic cooperation and stressed the importance of peacebuilding measures to build trust and confidence among nations. The measures include the adherence to the following principles, namely,

  • mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,
  • mutual non-aggression,
  • mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,
  • equality and mutual benefit, and
  • peaceful co-existence.

Advancing Peace through Confidence and Security Building Measures

These principles can be further advanced through mutual cooperative efforts to eliminate suspicion or misunderstanding of the motives of each other’s state. One of the methods used is known as “Confidence and Security Building Measures,” which are described below.

Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBM)

Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBM) are steps taken by states to reduce or remove mutual misperceptions, uncertainties, and fears by making intentions more explicit and transparent.

By increasing openness and predictability in military matters, CSBM aims to deflate explosive situations, to avert pre-emptive attacks, and to avoid the use of force against a state. These measures can foster growing mutual confidence between states.

Types of Confidence and Security Building Measures

There are three types of measures identified with CSBM, namely,

A. Declaratory Measures are those in which states make a declaration of intent. An example is the joint declaration between India and Pakistan in which they undertook not to attack each other’s nuclear facilities. The problem with these measures is that they rely on mutual trust. They can, however, be useful in clearing the air, removing misunderstandings, and providing a basis on which more complex measures might be built.

B. Transparency Measures are those that reveal information about the activity, nature, and capability of a state’s military forces. An example is the advance notification of military exercises or their observation by on-site inspectors. India and Pakistan notify in advance of military exercises near each other’s borders.

C. Constraint Measures are those which actually constrain the activities of the armed forces. An example is a restriction on the size of armed personnel in military exercises.

Historical Applications of CSBM

All these measures had been employed in Europe between the Western powers and the Soviet Union under the 1975 Helsinki Accord. Another confidence-building initiative that was taken by the Western powers and Russia in 1990 was the convening of seminars on military doctrine.

In February 1990, there were presentations by 35 member states’ chief of army staff, including General Colin Powell and his counterpart Russia’s General Akromeyev, on each country’s force structure, training and exercises, and defense budgets. NATO members questioned Russia’s alleged new doctrine of “defense sufficiency,” while Russia raised questions about NATO’s “forward defense strategy.”

Conditions for the Effectiveness of CSBM

However, many writers have suggested that CSBM can only work under certain conditions.

CSBM cannot work in the absence of a desire to cooperate; CSBM must be viewed in “win-win,” not “win-lose” terms; CSBM are most effective if they build upon regional/global norms; CSBM are stepping stones or building blocks, not institutions; CSBM should have realistic, pragmatic, and defined goals; CSBM should not be hurried process but a gradual, methodical, and incremental approach.

The Role of NGOs and Civil Societies in Conflict Resolution

Since conflicts affect the lives of everyone, it seems imperative that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil societies have become vocal to diffuse conflicts.

Pressure of opinions is built to ensure that governments listen to their views of peaceful settlement of a conflict. Peace protest marches occurred in Western countries in 2003 against the war on Iraq.

One of the most respected NGOs is the Stockholm-based International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which dedicates its activities to world peace and publishes its highly respected Yearly Book of World Disarmament. Another NGO, Greenpeace, is totally opposed to nuclear weapons.

However, the reaction to the most serious security threats will remain the prerogative of the permanent members of the Security Council, continuing a long-standing tradition of the UN under its Charter.

Regional Inter-Governmental Organizations in Peacemaking

Regional inter-governmental organizations, such as the Arab League, the African Union (formerly Organization of African Unity), the Organization of American States, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), may take the initiative in peacemaking between states in the region.

For instance, in conflict zones in Africa, African states organized peacekeeping forces and sent them to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. In Europe, the European Union, in cooperation with OSCE, played a key role in avoiding conflicts in Macedonia and Montenegro.

ASEAN was believed to be instrumental in the release of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from detention in 2002. The Arab League decided on intra-Arab issues and adopted a single Arab stance on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Cooperation Between Regional Organizations and the United Nations

Cooperation between regional organizations and the UN is a case in point. The appointment of a joint UN/AU Special Representative for the Great Lakes region in East Africa, whose mandate and activities had been extended to other countries in Central Africa, is a manifestation of that cooperation. Elsewhere, the Organization of American States worked closely with the UN in Haiti. The same was true in the case of Europe by OSCE in areas of human rights and peacemaking in the Balkan region.

Advancements in Peace and Conflict Studies

Peace and conflict studies have made enormous strides since the mid-1970s. The studies have led to a better understanding of peace and conflict in different forms. Although peace studies and peace education are interconnected, it is useful to know the distinction between them.

The Distinction Between Peace Studies and Peace Education

While peace studies help people understand peace’s value, peace education focuses on creating the conditions for peace. The subject of peace and conflict is an important interdisciplinary study. It deals with the primordial desire of human beings to live in peace and work in an environment of freedom and security.

The Eternal Desire for Freedom and Independence

As President Kennedy, as Senator in 1957, said in the US Congressional debate: “The most powerful single force in the world today is neither communism nor capitalism, neither the H-bomb nor the guided missiles. It is man’s eternal desire to be free and independent.”

The objective of peace and conflict studies is to educate, which means to put the various issues fairly and squarely in order that a reader is better informed, more sensitive to the issues, and perhaps more motivated to do something about them.

The Challenge of Peace and Conflict Studies

The problem with subjects like peace and conflict studies is that, unlike mathematics, the issues do not always add up to a solution. Another aspect that merits attention is that peace and conflict studies should be rigorous, fair, critical, and responsive.

Given the complications, many experts believe that peace and conflict studies are a minefield, and the task of an author on the subject is confronted with various factors, including the human element in the study.

The Unpredictability of Human Behavior in Peace Studies

Since human beings are unpredictable creatures, peace and conflict studies present an enormous challenge.

The study will identify conditions of peace and causes of war and other forms of violence, both internal and external. In other words, it examines the ingredients of conflict, causes of armament and power play among nations, and how nations may avoid conflict and maintain or restore peace so that people may live in an environment of peace and harmony.

The Importance of Peaceful International Relations

Such study is vital because conflict brings untold miseries to survivors for years together, besides the loss of lives of millions of people. It is argued that friendly relations with another country are not an end in itself but a means to enhance the chances of international peace and security.

Peacemaking cannot be divorced from current developments in international relations that have an impact on such larger issues as global and regional power balances and the future architecture of the international community.

The Changing Character of International Society Post-Cold War

The character of the international society is influenced by the distribution of power among nations in the world. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the US has been the lone superpower.

This means that the US calls all the shots in the world, and other nations, including Europe and Russia, have been sidelined. It is the US that determines the shape of the international society. Washington has been a central player in many hot spots in the world and has kept almost one million soldiers in more than 100 countries.

The Dominance of the US in Global Affairs

It spends more on defense than the world’s other nations. In economic terms, the US economy is more than twice the size of that of number two (Japan).

The market value of large companies such as Microsoft and General Electric is larger than the national economies of many countries. It quietly exercises a dominating influence over decisions of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

The Fragility of US Security and the Need for International Cooperation

Despite being the lone superpower, the September 2001 attacks on the US demonstrated the fragile nature of its security, and it had to rely on other nations to combat international terrorism. The US realized that it could not alone fight the menacing danger of global terrorism.

The Impact of the Bush Administration’s Unilateral Approach

Another follow-on effect of the September attack appears to be that the US policy under the Bush administration has been a go-it-alone approach (unilateralism) and suspicion towards a multilateral approach. The most glaring illustration was the pre-emptive attack on Iraq on 20 March 2003 by the US-led coalition without UN authority.

The Unilateral Policy of the US and International Reactions

Professor Gabriel Kolko of York University, Toronto (Canada), a pre-eminent historian of modern warfare, is reported to have stated that “The war with Iraq is only the first step in the United State’s astonishingly ambitious project to recast the world.” The unilateralist policy of the US led to the split of the Atlantic Alliance.

The Call for a Multi-polar World

France and Germany opposed the war without UN approval and defied US policy in the UN Security Council. On 12 April 2003, after he had a meeting with German and Russian leaders, French President Jacques Chirac made it clear that the UN must have “the leading role” in the post-war reconstruction in Iraq, and he made a significant statement as to the role of the US in world affairs in the following words: “We want this world to be multi-polar and to make it sure that each pole of it makes well-balanced decisions; that is why we believe in the important role the UN should play.”

The Future of US Supremacy and the International Order

US author Charles A. Kupchan predicted the end of America’s supremacy and a new political map in the world.

He writes: “Combine the rise of Europe and Asia with a declining and prickly internationalism in the United States, and it becomes clear that America’s unipolar moment is not long for this world. America’s dominance and its political appetite for projecting its power globally have peaked and both will be dissipating over the course of the coming decade.”

The Erosion of Non-proliferation Foundations and Emerging Challenges

Another consequence of the 2003 Second Gulf War on Iraq appears to be the erosion of the foundation on which non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is based. North Korea’s resumption of its reprocessing plant at the Yongbyon Atomic Energy Research Centre threatened security in the Far East.

The World Confronted by Extremism, Unilateralism, and an Arms Race

It appears that the world in the 21st century is confronted with a dangerous mix of extremism (fundamentalism), unilateralism, and arms race. It seems that countries are being threatened by a new world order in which might is right.

The Need for Emphasis on Soft Power and International Law

Many political observers believe that the world faces an uncharted future. They believe big powers should not depend on “hard power” and should give emphasis on “soft power” (winning hearts and minds of people). Such policies may contribute to the understanding of a world more willing to abide by rules and norms as expressed in international law.

Causes of Armed Conflict

The causes of conflict or wars are numerous. They have been the subjects of investigation by several disciplines. Kenneth Waltz analyzed the causes of war, and John Stoessinger in his book “Why Nations Go to War” examined seven wars and developed a series of themes concerning their causes.

Traditional Motivations for Conflict

Traditionally, wars or armed conflicts occur either to defend national interests from an encroaching power or to acquire territory for resources or to attain supreme power over others. Robert Art has observed that “there are four categories that exhaust the functions that force can serve”: defense, deterrence, compellence, and swaggering (shows of force).

The Role of Military Power

It is important to note that military power is generally not used in isolation. There are non-military instruments of power that can be employed in conjunction with military power, such as diplomatic bargaining, propaganda, economic sanctions, or coercion, and intelligence activities.

Diplomacy and Force

Once Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan voiced almost a similar sentiment when he said: “You can do a lot with diplomacy but, of course, you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up by fairness and force.”

Persistent Nature of Conflict

Another aspect that merits attention is that conflict cannot be totally eliminated by war if causes were not removed.

Quincy Wright said: “Even total defeat in war may not remove the causes of conflict, and after a time, the defeated may revive and renew the conflict.” For instance, Germany was defeated in the First World War but again chose to wage the Second World War under Hitler because the conflict over political supremacy in Europe remained.

Living with Conflict

Morton Deutch considered it from another angle and wrote: “Conflict can neither be eliminated nor even suppressed for long. The social and scientific issue is not how to eliminate or prevent conflict, but rather how to live with lively controversy instead of deadly quarrels.” In other words, a conflict can be resolved when both parties give up, changing or amending the situation. Both parties live and coexist with a new situation.

Cyclical Nature of Global War

Sometimes conflicts lead to global war. Many war experts have examined the question whether global war is cyclical. The answer adopted by many authors is that it is indeed cyclical, that the governing cycle has a period of between 40 to 60 years.

Predictions and Realities

Should the ordinary war cycle continue, experts believe that the likelihood for the next war would be greatest around 2005 to 2010. In fact, the Second Gulf War broke out in 2003, two years ahead of the predicted timeline.

Consequences of Armed Conflicts and Wars

One of the consequences of war has been the emergence of a new map of states. The First World War created new states in Europe (Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia from the Russian Empire) and Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and other Gulf States in the Middle East out of the Ottoman Empire.

The Second World War divided Europe into two ideological regions: Capitalist Western Europe with the US as its leader and Communist Eastern Europe with the Soviet Union.

Displacement, loss, and death are human costs of armed conflict. 32nd US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), who was a forceful leader during the Second World War, had the following moving words engraved on the wall of his cemetery: “I have seen war I have seen war on land and sea I have seen blood running out from the wounded I have seen the dead in the mud I have seen cities destroyed I have seen children suffering I have seen the agony of mothers and wives I hate war.”

The deaths of military personnel during the First World War were estimated to be around 12.5 million, while deaths of civilians were 3.5 million, and during the Second World War, around 45 million lives, half of them were civilians.

During the Vietnam War (1954-1975), 3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American soldiers were killed. The new millennium started with the Second Gulf War in 2003, in which casualties were not as large as in previous wars.

However, it is estimated that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq resulted in the following: US soldiers 101 dead, 30 dead, 11 US soldiers missing, more than 1,00,000 dead, and tens of thousands were injured.

Furthermore, many war experts pointed out that during wars, the main casualties were civilians, not soldiers. Current estimates are “that about 75 percent of those killed in war are civilians.

If the numbers of displaced and wounded are added to the estimated death figure, the total proportion of casualties who are civilians may be as high as 90 percent.”

The proportion of deaths among civilians has risen steadily from around 10-15 percent at the beginning of the last century to currently 75 percent. Even the most technologically advanced countries use weapons of indiscriminate destruction, as was illustrated in the Second Gulf War on Iraq in 2003.

Moreover, an increasing number of people, mostly women and children, are driven out of their homes, and in 1994, of the estimated 46 million refugees and internally displaced persons scattered around the world, as many as 40 million may have fled conflict or its consequences. If the numbers of displaced and wounded are added to the estimated death figure, the total proportion of war casualties who are civilians may be as high as 90 percent.

Armed conflict or war destroys infrastructure, development prospects, and families’ ability to live a normal life for years together.

It diverts resources to war efforts instead of utilizing them in social sectors. Militarism eventually leads to a decadent society in which transparency of governmental actions is rare, and denial of basic human rights to people is the order of the day.

The most damaging aspect of war is the economic and social costs that can run for generations.

As the proportion of civilian casualties has increased in armed conflicts, women and children are principal victims. War distorts and disrupts families, and more than 80 percent of the displaced persons are women and children.

A female war victim from Lebanon said: “The real experience of war is not the shelling and so on; those are just moments, though they are the ones you see on TV. War is what happens afterward, the years of suffering hopelessly with a disabled husband and no money or struggling to rebuild when all your property has been destroyed.”

The survivors carry deep psychological wounds that may remain for years together.

Another dehumanizing aspect of armed conflicts is the traumatic experience of women who became pregnant by their violators. They either cannot face bringing up the child or are forced by family or community to abort or give away the child.

One Bosnian Croat female said: “I will never accept that baby. If we had to live together, he would be an eternal, living witness in front of my eyes and a reminder of what I had to live through.”

Morality In The Use of Force

There has always been a discussion about whether there is any connection between war and morality. Aristotle explicitly sought to maintain a nexus between politics and principles.

In this connection, a question arises as to what extent values and morality were taken into consideration in the use of the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945, waging the Korean War in 1950, the Vietnam War in the 60s and early 70s, bombing Tripoli (Libya) in 1986, the removal of Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, and the Second Gulf War in 2003.

George Kennan, a noted postwar American foreign policy analyst, had changed his earlier views and put morality to center stage.

In his essay in Foreign Affairs entitled “Morality and Foreign Affairs,” Kennan set a rigorous standard for the relationship between morality, foreign policy, and the use of force.

In 2003, British Prime Minister Tony Blair advocated reasons of morality to use force against the Iraqi Saddam regime to disarm weapons of mass destruction.

However, his position was contradicted by the head of the Church in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and by Pope John Paul II.

Edward Azar wanted to provide another dimension of conflicts when he said: “One of the most devastating predicaments in the world today is the simultaneous occurrence of conflict and under-development.

Groups that seek to satisfy their security and identity needs through conflict are, in effect, seeking change in the structure of their society.”

In addition to using force to defend national interests, there are situations that pose no direct threat to national interests and yet are so horrible that it seems impossible to ignore them because of moral or humanitarian considerations.

The 1999 NATO attack against Yugoslavia was based primarily on humanitarian considerations so as to halt the “ethnic cleansing” of Albanian Muslims in Kosovo by Serbian soldiers under former Yugoslav President Milosevic.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, the use of force has been used in nontraditional missions or peace operations. Compared with the traditional functions of military power, peace operations by the UN broaden the activities of military use for peace.


To avoid global conflicts, proactive peacemaking is crucial. It takes time to build up conflicting situations, and we must recognize signs of destabilization or misunderstanding between two or more nations or between two religious or ethnic communities within a country. Peace conditions do not worsen rapidly.