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

Confusing Material Interests with Fundamental Human Needs

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One common framing problem is the assumption that a conflict is caused by a conflict of interests, when it is really a conflict of fundamental needs (or a conflict of interests and needs together). While some conflict theorists (most notably Fisher and Ury, authors of Getting to Yes) blend the concepts of interests and needs together, human needs theorists point out an important distinction. They say that interests are tangible things, such as land, money, or jobs that can be traded and compromised, while needs are intangible things, such as identity, security, and recognition, that are not for trading.

Since needs are intangible, they are often hidden underneath the more visible conflict over interests. But when human needs are in conflict too, resolving the conflict of interest will not make the conflict go away. Sometimes, attempts to deal with the conflict of interest will actually make the situation worse, as people get angry at the thought of having to compromise, as is usually done with interest-based conflicts. Similarly, the fundamental rule of "separating the people from the problem"--one of the four fundamental rules of principled negotiation described in Getting to Yes--can also make matters worse as the identity of the person is the problem.

Conflicts between ethnic groups, for example, are almost always needs-based conflicts as one group feels that its identity, security, its fair place in the social, political, or economic system, or the recognition of the value of its culture is being denied. This is particularly apparent, perhaps, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians feel they are being denied their legitimate national identity, while the Israelis feel a need to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state because they see such a state as a threat to Israeli security. However, much of the effort to resolve that conflict has been based on compromises over tangible things--land, most notably. Yet the greatest progress has come when key people in the conflict have acknowledged the underlying fundamental human needs and taken steps to deal with those: Yasir Arafat's recognition of Israel's right to exist, for instance, and Rabin's recognition of the legitimacy of the Palestinian identity.


Links to Examples of this Problem:

Saadia Touval --  Case Study: Lessons of Preventive diplomacy in Yugoslavia
This article describes the failure of diplomacy in preventing the war in Yugoslavia. Although Touval cites many reasons for this failure, one is assuming the primary issues concerned material interests, when fundamental human needs of security and identity were actually seen as more important.
Tim Cooper  -- Keeping the Peace or Making Peace? A Mediation
This is a short summary of an article about the mediation of gang conflicts in the United States. Cooper points out the fundamental human needs that are served by gang membership, and argues that those needs must be addressed if gang violence is to be diminished.
Kevin Clements - Toward a Sociology of Security
This paper explores the nature of security and its role in conflict production and resolution.

Links to Possible Treatments for this Problem:

Needs-Based Framing

Analytical Problem Solving


Links to Related Problems:

Confusing interests (what you really want) with positions (what you say you want)

Incompatible frames

Differing Definitions of "Justice"

The Denial of Identity

The Denial of Other Human Needs

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