Recently, I ran into an interesting debate about the field of conflict analysis & resolution. On one hand, we as peace practitioners are concerned with understanding the underlying issues of the conflict, examining them from unbiased perspectives, breaking them down to their core so we can expose all possible avenues of the conflict to those involved, and if we are lucky, we will take the information and provide multiple avenues of management or resolution. Safety and security are the number one priorities in any conflict analysis situation. However, there seems to be a stigma in our field that everything in conflict analysis and resolution must be based on the best practices of preserving peace and tranquility, the pictures of the 1969’s Woodstock, NY concerts come to many peoples mind. In my opinion, this undermines the true meaning of conflict analysis and the hard work many people in our field deal with everyday.
While many institutions preach the value of creating and sustaining peace, they fall short by not equally discussing that violence is necessary in some cases or at the very least, these institutions should provide a realist perspective to conflict. I am not condoning or suggesting any type of violence in the workplace, relationships, or any other forum to resolve conflict. I am saying there are people who must be eliminated for the common good. More specifically, extremist such as: Hitler and Osama Bin Laden. The reality is war and violence is sometimes necessary to ensure the safety and security of all stakeholders. This does NOT include or encourage any civil violence or civil disturbances, nor does it condone to take action into your on hands. Nor does it condone the violence against one another in developed worlds or in the United States like the violence we are seeing against police officers. This is murder, it does not solve problems, and it is ignorant for anyone to think other wise. However, from an international perspective, violence becomes a necessary extension of conflict management or resolution, i.e. against ISIL and ISIS. While violence is usually considered to be the last option, there are times when it is the only option. It must be noted, violence alone does not solve problems, but when it is combined with other techniques it can be very useful. What would the United States look like today if we did not get involved during Word War II?
There are social and political issues that most governments are unable to meet, and these are the most basic human needs of the population, not to mention the psychological aspects that have long lasting effects, directly effecting the future actions of those involved if not addressed early. This is why many people turn to extremist because they have the ability to provide goods and services the government cannot provide. In his research, On Peace in Times of War: Resolving Violent Conflicts by Peaceful Means, written by Juergen Dedring, he discusses the problems associated with the use of modern day techniques. The problem lies not with our ability to resolve conflict, but it is the method by which we try to resolve or mange conflict. The modern problem solving approach is based on rational actors. When conflict has escalated to the point of the use of violence, it is involving non-rational actors. The modern approach utilizes a theory based approach without the practical application needed to fully understand the importance of the stakeholders.
As practitioners, we must be able to think outside the box, and form solutions based on what the stakeholders deem most important, not the practitioner. A theory is only as good as the application. There is no cookbook approach to conflict resolution, especially in regards to the use of violence. We must go further than trying to understand the conflict, its background, its roots, culture, and people. We must approach it from every angle possible to facilitate a solution. Remember it is not your conflict. The stakeholders want to be ones who come up with the solution, because they are the ones who understand its nuances best. They may have multiple resolution or management solutions, but they lack the ability to implement or understand how to best implement the solutions. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans in the 90’s, violence is necessary in order to gain security and safety in order to start peaceful negotiations.
Academic institutions and practitioners should be honest when discussing conflict management and conflict resolution to their students. Regardless of the best intentions, peaceful negotiations may not always be in the best interest of those involved. While most programs believe firmly in the ability to resolve any conflict by non-violent means, it is not realistic, and it is not the world we live in. However, from an educational standpoint, it is important to discuss why violence should and should not be used. Weather or not you agree with war, if it were not for the men and women who put their lives in harms way everyday, you would not be enjoying the freedoms you take for granted.