OTPIC Officially Retired
As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.
The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.
International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict
Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA
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Escalation is the increase in intensity of a conflict. Perhaps the most destructive conflict dynamic, the cycle of provocation and counter-provocation eventually results in the replacement of substantive debate with increasingly hateful and sometimes violent confrontations directed more at hurting opponents than at advancing interests. This process plays a crucial role in the long slide toward war and the crossing of taboo lines which normally restrain our most inhuman impulses. It can also lead people to take ever more extreme and unjustifiable positions. Escalation alone is sufficiently powerful to transform what should be a tractable dispute into one that is virtually impossible to resolve.
Conflict theorists Dean Pruitt and Jeffrey Rubin list five changes that occur as a conflict escalates. First, parties move from light tactics to heavy tactics. Light tactics include such things as persuasive arguments, promises, efforts to please the other side, while heavy tactics include threats, power plays, even violence. Second, the number of issues in contention grows as parties bring up more and more things that are making them annoyed or angry. Third, issues move from specific to general, and the relationship between the parties deteriorates. "What starts out as a small, concrete concern tends, over the painful history of an escalating exchange, to be supplanted by grandiose and all-encompassing positions and by a general intolerance of the other party." (Pruitt and Rubin, 1986, p. 64.) Fourth, the number of parties grows from one to many, as more and more people and groups are drawn into the conflict. Fifth, the goal of the parties changes from "doing well" to winning, and finally, to hurting the other.
The result of escalation is that a conflict can grow out of control very quickly. Escalated conflicts cease to be focused on the parties' original problems or goals, nor do they provide a way for those goals to be realized. Rather, they provide only costs and continued conflict, with little benefit for anybody.
Yet, escalated conflicts are very hard to reverse. Once relationships have been broken, once distrust, fear, and hatred grow, and especially, once violence has occurred, it is very difficult to back away from an escalated conflict and resolve it constructively. Rather, people tend to continue the fight, if possible, even escalating it further, as this usually seems less risky than "showing that you are weak" by trying to initiate de-escalation.
Despite the dangers of escalation, advocates frequently escalate a conflict intentionally--thinking that they can harness to power of escalation to mobilize support for their side. While this strategy may appear to work well, it is also likely to build support for the opposition. Thus the common result is the intensification of the conflict, not victory.
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