Conflict transformation – seeks to transform the root causes of conflict?

TransConflict is pleased to present additional contributions to the third Peacebuilders’ Panel, which is designed to stimulate debate about peacebuilding and conflict transformation.

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The third debate focuses on the principle that:

“3. Conflict transformation goes beyond merely seeking to contain and manage conflict, instead seeking to transform the root causes themselves – or the perceptions of the root causes – of a particular conflict;”

To read initial contributions to the debate, please click here!

Mike Lowe, Discover the Other

“Peace is not an absence of war,” observed the Dutch/Jewish philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, in 1670, “it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” To people caught up in destructive or violent conflict, Spinoza’s words may seem naively utopian. Of Spinoza’s listed virtues, justice (or injustice) is often one of the reasons for taking up the struggle; confidence (in a victory of sorts) is a reason for continuing in it; while “a disposition for benevolence” seems crazy in the face of an intransigent foe.

It can be helpful to look at a conflict through the lens of cost/benefit analysis. The path of seeking to harm your opponent, through violence or other means, always exacts a price on both sides. But for those who take up this path, the desired outcomes appear to make it worthwhile. The goal may be material benefits. But psychological benefits – such as a desire for respect or revenge – also play an important part. As a destructive conflict progresses, the cost – both physically and emotionally – gets higher. And for at least one party, the confidence in an easy victory diminishes. At some point, the cost/benefit ratio doesn’t look as good as it once did, and there is a willingness to stop the struggle – to put an end to the pain of war. The point at which the fighting stops may present itself as a victory/defeat or as a cease-fire. Either way, it is still far from peace. The original causes of the conflict may remain unchanged. Now, in addition, there is an even bigger list of perceived injustices and wounds arising from the conflict itself. Research has shown that countries which have been at war with each other are much more likely to go to war again in the future.

The work of conflict transformation is to address the root causes of the conflict through non-destructive strategies – often involving both formal diplomacy and informal “citizen” diplomacy. Physical and psychological causes both need to be addressed. This is where Spinoza’s three virtues are important. There must be justice, recognising the legitimate needs and claims of all. There must be confidence in the peace process and the integrity of those helping broker the peace. And the desire for revenge must be put aside through a “disposition for benevolence”. Citizen diplomacy is particularly important in this last area: individuals and groups who are willing to apologize or forgive can play a vital role.

To follow Mike on Twitter, please click here!

Graham M. Day, Alternative Dispute Resolution Consultant and Professional

Transforming root causes is often easier said than done. However, there are some exciting new possibilities on the horizon.

One of the key issues in transformation has always been “who’s truth?”. Short answer – everyone’s truth. With the advent of almost universal cell phone coverage and new narrative analysis software, there is now the possibility to get almost real time readings of truth as perceived in the many corners of any conflict situation. Previous techniques for sampling opinions could be either safe and painfully slow, or open to serious spin from interested parties. This can now be avoided and some form of a more reliable “Vox Populi” established.

How often have local elites hi-jacked a transformation process for their own venal/political ends? If we take this “vox populi” and share it openly with decision makers and the public, then an informed debate can start to emerge. This process would mimic a “peoples history” process. We are no longer hostage to the assertion that “my people will never put up with that…” if the voice tells us otherwise.

Industry is starting to use these techniques more and more for exactly the same reasons. Better ground truth. Not absolute truth -but at least truth which has come from the coal face and is not spun. Finding the “voice” is an essential part of a new conflict transformation model, but so also is a new theory for management of these situations.

Finally, to transform the roots of conflict we need to break the current supply driven model of intervention. Currently we tend to approach all root causes as being linear. Sadly they inevitably turn out to be complex. We need to start managing complexity and stop implementing linear reform programs (whose unintended consequences simply raise more issues) and start using complexity theory and its management as our primary tool. Again business is embracing the use of complexity theory quite quickly – the agile office being one simple manifestation of that.

This idea will cause a howl of outrage from the traditionalists, but ask yourself one question – how well has the traditional approach fared in addressing and transforming the root causes of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how much did that traditional approach cost in terms of life and treasure?

Anyone else for trying a new model of conflict transformation?

John E. LaMuth

A newly-devised master hierarchy of traditional virtues and values formally based upon behavioral principles emphasizes the moral commonalties across all religious traditions, encouraging a new era in religious cooperation.

This new ethical system eminently qualifies as the long anticipated foundation for a global system of planetary ethics serving a secular constituency, where such moral issues have typically been downplayed due to well-meaning attempts to avoid religious favoritism.

This same system further serves as a crucial adjunct to the major religions of the world without favoring any one of them, promoting a new era in peaceful religious coexistence in that it does not preclude the existence of a top-down pattern of influence of a supernatural nature as well.

Consequently, this new ethical innovation potentially amounts to the best of all possible worlds: promoting an ethical revival in the secular world, as well as the potential for an even greater degree of spiritual cooperation and religious tolerance across all of the established religions of the world.

This new ethical technology is based upon a master moral hierarchy comprising the traditional groupings of virtues, values and vices that specify an elementary foundation for the ethical system. Aristotle traditionally viewed the virtuous realm as a continuum of mean-values (or norms) interposed between the vices of defect and excess, an aspect favouring moderation insofar as favouring a middle ground. When further expanded to include extra-virtuous themes, this unprecedented terminology offers the potential for advancing radical solutions for maintaining global peace and harmony.

Far from remaining a purely academic exercise, this timely innovation addresses many issues of critical import towards preserving global peace and harmony, as in issues of hyperviolence in relation to international terrorism.

To follow John on Twitter, please click here!

If you would like to respond to any of these contributions, then please use the comment function below or write to us by clicking here!

Should you have any questions – or require further information – about the Peacebuilders’ Panel, then please do not hesitate to send us an email by clicking here.




1 Response

  1. Pingback : The fourth Peacebuilders’ Panel | TransConflict

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