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

Failure to Anticipate Opponent Reactions and the Backlash Effect

Opening Page | Glossary | Menu Shortcut Page

Parties in conflict, especially parties with considerable power, tend to assume that they can prevail quickly and easily by using threats and/or force.  They assume that the opposing party will simply submit and the problem will be resolved.   Unfortunately, the use of force is seldom this simple.  Since people hate to be forced to do things against their will, the threatened party will usually resist if they can. If the party that initiates the force does not first consider the likely response of their opponent, they can easily be faced with defeat instead of victory.

Even if the target group submits to the threat or use of force, they are likely to become resentful, and will work to build up their power so they can resist or challenge their opponents at a later time. This is what we refer to as the "backlash effect"--the tendency of the victim to turn against the threatening party covertly, or later when their power is stronger.  This resentment and resulting backlash is likely to be especially strong when it is felt that the force is being used in illegitimate or immoral ways.  While the threatened party may do what is required of them over the short term, they are likely to initiate an intense search for effective resistance strategies. In some cases they may pretend that they are submitting to the demands of the threatening party, while in reality they are employing a clever deceptive strategy which allows them to do most of what they want to do anyway, while simply appearing to comply with their opponents' demands. .

The backlash effect can also lead the threatened party to pursue a long-term effort to expand its power base to the point where it can make a credible counterthreats. This can   lead to a protracted judicial, political, or military, or even an all-out, highly destructive confrontation. Even without such confrontations, backlash can lead to costly and rapidly escalating arms races, in which both sides devote an ever-greater proportion of their resources to a desperate effort to make sure that they have the power needed to defend themselves or at least deter the threatening actions of opponents. In all of these situations, the result is continuing conflict and not resolution.

Links to Examples of The Backlash Effect:

Gareth Evans -- Iraq's Invasion of Kuwait in 1990: A Failure to use Preventive Diplomacy
Iraq clearly misestimated the U.S. and other coalition members' willingness to use force to remove Iraq from Kuwait, and the coalition may well have misestimated Iraq's unwillingness to budge without massive force.
Dean Peachy -- Thoughts on the Failure of Negotiations in the Gulf
This is another analysis of the Gulf War and the misinterpretations of the perseverance of both sides.
Claude Rakisits -- The Gulf Crisis: Failure of Preventive Diplomacy
This is a third analysis of what went wrong in the Gulf War.
Alexander George -- United States-Japan Relations Leading to Pearl Harbor
This is an example where threats did not work.  They led to a serious escalation of the conflict, not a resolution, as was intended.
Roger Fischer, Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Schneider -- Understand the Message as They Hear it
This is a story that illustrates that one party's interpretation of a threat can differ from another's and lead to an outcome far from the one desired.
Hugh Wyndham -- The Falklands: Failure of a Mission
This analysis suggests that Argentina did not correctly estimate Britain's likely response to their invasion of the Falklands.
Steven McIntosh -- Sanctions
This article argues that backlash against sanctions can work against their effectiveness.
Peter M. Sandman--Explaining Environmental Risk
In a very different context, this article discusses the difference in the ways the public and scientific experts assess uncertainty and risk.  When people feel that they are left out of the risk assessment process they  tend to become very rigid in their assessments of acceptable risks, whereas when they are involved, they are more likely to make the necessary effort to really understand the situation and to make careful assessments and decisions. "When coerced," the authors observe, "people become stubborn." Thus they resist doing what is wanted because force, rather than persuasion was used.
Towards Conflict Resolution in the Third World [The Punjab Situation]
This is another example of the backlash effect.

Links to Related Entries:

Short-Term and Long-Term Conflicts

Illegitimate Uses of Force

Legitimizing the Use of Force

Potential Threat/Force Reactions





Coalition Building

Deterrence, Counter-Threats (and Arms Races)

Flight (Refugees)

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