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.

usiplogo.gif (1499 bytes)

International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Dealing with Extremists

Opening Page | Glossary | Menu Shortcut Page


Extremists are people who take views that are stronger and firmer than most of the people involved in a conflict.  These are the people who insist on winning outright without compromising anything.  They are fixed in their ideas and positions, and are unlikely to be moved by any persuasive effort.  Often they advocate more extreme or provocative confrontation strategies than others involved in the dispute.  To the extent that they control decisions--or act on their own--they can have a profound influence on a conflict, contributing greatly to its escalation and polarization.

Limiting the damaging effects of extremists is possible, but difficult.  It often helps to marginalize extremists as much as possible.  This means that they should not be given media attention (which is hard, since the media tends to be attracted to extreme stories) and should not be given leadership positions within an organization or opposition group.  They should be treated with respect (just as opponents should be treated with respect), but their statements and actions should be considered suspect.  When extremists do something particularly escalatory and harmful (for example, engaging in a terrorist act), if the act is condemned by the moderates on the same side, it is likely to do less damage to the intergroup relationship than it would if the moderates stayed quiet, or worse, defended the extremist's act.

One of the key questions about extremists is whether or not they should be included in any negotiation or consensus-building process.  Often they refuse to participate, because they are unwilling to compromise.  Does this mean that the more moderate parties should not undertake negotiations?  This question has no firm answer.  Often negotiations are more successful if extremists are not included, and then they can be brought into the process later on, when it is apparent that their needs are going to be overlooked if they do not participate.  However, they may still refuse to join the negotiations, choosing rather to try to derail any agreement that results.  (This can be seen clearly in both Bosnia and the Middle East where extremists are trying to derail the Dayton and Oslo Accords.) 

Other negotiation experts feel that all parties should be at the table from the beginning.  Sometimes extremists can become more reasonable if they are simply given a forum to talk and be heard.  Extremism it can be argued, is created by the absence of one or more fundamental human needs--for example, the denial of a person's or group's identity, security, or recognition.  If they can have their identity confirmed, their ideas recognized, and be given an offer of security as a result of participating in a negotiation or peacebuilding process, sometimes extremists will become moderates who can then bring other of their extreme compatriots around to a more moderate and cooperative approach to the conflict.

 

Links to More Information About Dealing with Extremists

Louis Kriesberg -- Starting Negotiations
This article summarizes Kriesberg's research on the negotiation of agreements in international conflicts.  It is sometimes helpful to exclude extremists from the negotiating process at the beginning Kriesberg observes, but this may inhibit the chances of reaching a fair and lasting settlement over the long run. 
 

Links to Related Approaches

Treating Escalation Problems

 

Links to Related Problems

Escalation Problems

Extremists

Illegitimate/Excessive Use of Force                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

 


Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu