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

Failing To Identify Available Options

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One of the most common causes of destructive confrontation strategies is the inadequate identification of available options for dealing with the situation. Often this is due to the parties' limited skills. Most often, parties only consider options they are familiar with and good at. Lawyers tend to litigate, mediators tend to mediate, warriors tend to wage war. While this rule is violated on occasion, people usually stick with the approaches that they are most comfortable with and experienced in using.

Unfortunately, at least in the U.S., there seem to be many more people who are skilled in force-based approaches to conflict than there are with skills in transformative, constructive alternatives. This results in an excessive reliance on force-based strategies involving interpersonal threat, hard-ball politics, no-holds-barred litigation, and, all too often, violence. Not until many more people are exposed to and trained in unconventional and more constructive power options--such as effective persuasion, nonviolent action, coalition-building, and constructive political activism--will force-based strategies recede from their current dominance in intractable conflict confrontations.

While force-based strategies have problems, too much reliance on softer strategies also can cause problems. For instance, mediators and negotiators often overlook limitations to negotiated agreements. One such limit is the "BATNA limit," (referring to Fisher and Ury's term BATNA, or "best alternative to a negotiated agreement.") The BATNA limit refers to the problem that parties will not negotiate a settlement to a conflict that is highly important--as intractable conflicts usually are--if they believe that they have an alternative that will yield a better outcome than the negotiated settlement. They will also not negotiate fundamental values, rights, or identity issues. These are inherently non-negotiable. Negotiation also does not work if one side has little to offer the other side, or when the power differential between the parties is high.

Likewise, integrative strategies have limits too. The most important is time.   Integrative approaches are usually very slow. They take months, even years to accomplish, while force based strategies may be much quicker. For this reason, it is important to assess all the strategies available, and the costs and benefits of each before one strategy or set of strategies is chosen.


Links to Examples of This Problem:

Claude Rakisits -- The Gulf Crisis: Failure of Preventive Diplomacy
This article examines reasons for the Gulf War. Rakisits believes that the full range of possible responses to this crisis was not adequately considered or attempted.
Rudy Friesen -- Reflections on Oka: The Mohawk Confrontation
This is another example in which negotiation was not seriously considered.
Ruth Heimburg -- Extremists versus Police -- A Tragedy for All
In this story about a stand-off between police and an extremist group in the United States, the failure to consider alternative options is apparent.

Links to Possible Approaches to this Problem:

Conflict Mapping

Analysis of Similar Conflicts

Identify Sources of Power / Power Strategy Mix


Links to Related Problems:

Overly Competitive Approaches to a Conflict

Assuming Force is the Only Possible Response

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