For many (and especially the news media), conflict is the main element of “foreign relations”. It is what gets attention. Although the common focus in situations of international conflict tends to be on such factors as resources, power, and/or identity, such conflict can best be viewed as a crisis in human interaction. For this reason, the study of international relations can benefit from greater focus on interactions as they unfold between and among individuals, groups, and/or nation states.
The definition of conflict as “a crisis in human interaction” derives from the work of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation, whose theory of conflict goes beyond a more narrow focus on satisfying competing needs, leveraging power, or exercising legal rights.
According to this theory, two key elements shape and influence the quality of human interaction — empowerment and recognition. Empowerment refers to the extent to which individuals or groups have influence, clarity, resources, or choices available to them. Recognition speaks to the experience of being heard, listened to, understood, and included in the process of change. Where interaction between parties provides opportunities for empowerment and recognition, positive shifts in the interaction can be expected. Where either empowerment or recognition opportunities are limited or denied altogether, a negative shift in the interaction usually results.
The following set of video clips presents specific examples and discussions relating to shifting dynamics of interaction. As your students watch, they should look for situations in which empowerment and recognition have been supported or denied. How is the interaction impacted between and among parties in conflict?
Conflict Analysis is meant to introduce students to the dynamics of empowerment and recognition at work. In his book, Building Peace, John Paul Lederach explains that, “The relational dimension involves the emotional and psychological aspects of conflict and the need to recognize past grievances and explore future interdependence.”
Conflict Analysis Video Links
Change in the Arab World, Marwan Muasher
Empty Promises No More, Marwan Muasher
Failures in Political Transition, Mark Lynch
Roots of Arab Spring, Mark Lynch
Background to Religious Conflict, Joshua Landis
Part 1 – Ethnic Cleansing, Joshua Landis
Part 2 – Ethnic Cleansing, Joshua Landis
Stalemate in Syria, Joshua Landis
Defines the Middle Eastern Cold War, Gregory Gause
Cultural Consideration, Gregory Gause
Arab Spring or Islamic Revolution (Cultural Assessment), Gregory Gause
What is the Debate About, Shai Feldman
Other nations possess nuclear technology but Iran doesn’t, Mousavian
After Iranian revolution, all western nations withdraw from the nuclear commitment made to the shah, Mousavian
Invasion of Iran by Iraq – West supports the invaders for 8 years, Mousavian
Still US responds with language of threats, Mousavian
Proposal for successful US/Iran negotiation, Mousavian
Relationship Building in Libya, Larry Pope
Perceptions of US Among Libyans, Larry Pope
Study Guide Questions for Conflict Analysis
1. What is the nature of conflict?
2. What factors are supportive of reconciliation?
3. To what extent does the US contribute to conciliatory or military solutions?
4. What do we mean by “peace”?
5. How do empowerment and recognition contribute to conflict turning out positively or negatively?
6. What methods or strategies contribute to making outcomes positive or negative?