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

Pursuing Force to the Bitter End

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It is usually time consuming, costly, and often deadly to pursue force-based strategies to the bitter end--the point at which one side emerges as the clear victor and the other is utterly destroyed. In the most extreme example, all out war, bitter-end conflict may be pursued to the point where the loser's property is seized or destroyed and the population enslaved or subjected to physical or cultural genocide. In cases where the balance of power is more equal, the result may be a lengthy stalemate in which the two sides progressively destroy one another with neither side emerging as a clear victor.

In bitter-end conflicts, the parties use all of the powers that they have available in attempt to prevail. This tends to include extreme strategies such as terror and attacks upon civilians, which would normally be considered immoral, but which are accepted because of the seriousness of the situation. The result is a situation in which escalation spins completely out of control. In these conflicts, the parties never reach a point of accommodation in which they recognize and accept their power disparities and agree to cooperate on matters of mutual interest while continuing to struggle with the core issues which divide them.

The nature of bitter end struggles varies depending upon whether or not the conflict is occurring in the context of a stable political system with effective limits on the use of violent strategies, or whether violence is the ultimate option available to the parties.    The earlier violent examples illustrate the type of confrontations which occur when effective violence-limiting mechanisms are absent.  Bitter end confrontation can also arise in non-violent, non-military conflicts such as labor strikes in which management tries to break the union, regardless of the cost or the ill effects this may have upon the company. Political parties can also engage in all out confrontation where every possible tactic will be used to destroy the other side.

The pursuit of conflicts to the bitter-end tends to produce situations in which transaction costs -- the cost of pursuing the conflict (measured in terms of time, money and human lives) -- far exceeds either the benefits of victory (or the all-out defense of a losing cause). The principle alternative to such bitter end confrontation are power contest shortcuts and the use of negotiation loop-back strategies.  The use of these shortcuts and loopbacks seldom changes the outcome of a conflict, though it will reduce the transaction costs.  The earlier such shortcuts are taken, the more costs are likely to be saved.

Links to Examples:

Dean Peachy -- Thoughts on the Failure of Negotiations in the Gulf
In the 1990 Gulf Crisis, Hussein insisted on pursuing force to the bitter end--he was unwilling to negotiate until he was completely defeated on the battle ground.
Claude Rakisits -- The Gulf Crisis: Failure of Preventive Diplomacy
This article also examines the Gulf War, the reasons for its occurrence and its result.

Links to Possible Treatments for this Problem:

Power Contest Shortcuts

Negotiation Loop-backs

Links to Related Problems:


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