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.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Legitimizing the Use of Force

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In order for force to be viewed as legitimate, its use must be based upon moral principles which all parties believe in. In other words, force must be more than an excuse for pursuing purely selfish objectives. (This topic is discussed extensively on the section on integrative systems.)  In general, it is more desirable for force to be administered locally by forcing parties with similar cultural traditions which are acting on behalf of the larger community. For example, community policing policies seek police officers who are members of the community that they patrol and not outsiders. (Still, this is not an absolute rule, and there may be cases in which external intervention is the best available option.) When force is used beyond the local level, it generally works better if it is reserved for situations in which most, if not all, parties would recognize that its use is legitimate--for example to enforce the maintenance of international laws or treaties.  

Force is also more likely to be viewed as legitimate if it is only used as a last resort against parties who have violated widely accepted rules of behavior. Such rules would prohibit actions which peers are likely to view as absolutely unacceptable, even within a context which tolerates and embraces diversity and group differences.  For example, use of force against military forces involved an unacceptable behavior is more widely seen as more legitimate than the use of force used against innocent civilians. This is one reason why military forces often try to avoid attacking civilian targets. (There are, unfortunately also cases in which war is waged against civilians and terrible war crimes are committed.)  Concern about harming innocent civilians also limits the legitimacy of economic sanctions in many cases.

The legitimacy of using force is increased when the parties use the least destructive type of force which is also consistent with an effective defense of their interests. For example, an attempt to work within existing laws should precede efforts to change those laws by political or other means. Similarly, diplomatic solutions should be pursued before military solutions.  It is also generally wise to employ a negotiation loopback strategy in which the parties set reasonable conditions under which they would be willing to return to the negotiating table and compromise, after force has made the relative power relationships clear.

Legitimizing the use of force also requires that the parties publicly explain and justify their actions. Without such justifications, it is easy for misunderstandings to arise which threaten legitimacy.

Since force is often used in illegitimate ways, one important key to increasing the constructiveness of conflict processes is to develop increasingly effective, but legitimate, strategies for opposing illegitimate uses of force. Although force used in self-defense is generally considered legitimate, it still tends to escalate conflicts further and prolong their duration.  Consideration should therefore be given to developing stronger and better nonviolent ways of countering force--among these are utilizing external intervention , civilian defense, and/or nonviolent sanctions instead of automatically using force to oppose all other force.


Links to Examples of Legitimizing the Use of Force:

William Perry -- Managing Conflict in the Post-Cold War Era
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry spoke about the prevention and deterrence of military conflicts. One of his topics was when the use of force is legitimate and when it is not.
Is the Gulf War a 'Just' War?
This article examines whether or not the Gulf War was "just" according to the "just war" philosophy.
Alexander George -- United States-Japan Relations Leading to Pearl Harbor
This article illustrates how the use of threats can backfire, causing violence (and war), rather than preventing it.
James Goodby--Can Collective Security Work?, Collective Security in Europe After the Cold War
Collective security relies on the collective use of force.  This article examines its uses and shortcomings.
Saadia Touval -- Case Study: Lessons of Preventative Diplomacy in Yugoslavia
This article examines why preventive diplomacy did not work in Yugoslavia. One of the primary problems, Touval argued, was that the threat of force was not credible.
Alexander George -- The Cuban Missile Crisis
This example illustrates an effective use of force which was seen as legitimate by the parties.

Links to Outside Sources of Information

Police Functions in Peace Operations - United States Institute of Peace
Maintaining or reestablishing the rule of law is a crucial element in the success of peace operation.

U.S. Institute of Peace--Why Peace Agreements Succeed or Fail

U.S. Institute of Peace--Police Are Critical to the Peace Process

Links to Related Approaches

Step-by-Step Application of Force with Negotiation Loop-backs

Types of Power Other than Force

Links to Related Problems

Illegitimate or Excessive Use of Force


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