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

The Denial of Other Human Needs

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Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, wrote that all people are driven to fulfill their fundamental human needs for safety, security, love, a sense of belonging to a group, self-esteem, and the ability to attain one's goals. A group of conflict theorists--among them Herbert Kelman and John Burton--have adopted Maslow's ideas to conflict theory, suggesting that these needs underlie many deep-rooted and intractable conflicts. When social conflicts are caused by the denial of one or more of these essential needs, the victims will fight indefinitely for their achievement and will not give up until that goal is attained.

If this is true, it easily explains why needs conflicts tend to be so intractable. However, unlike many interest-based conflicts, needs conflicts do not have to be win-lose. The reasons they seem to be, argues conflict theorist Jay Rothman, is that they are confused with interest conflicts. Yet unlike land or water or money, which are often in short supply, needs do not run out. The provision of security to one group does not deny security to another. Rather, needs tend to be mutually-reinforcing. If one group stops threatening the other, the first will, most likely, stop threatening them.

Problems develop when conflict becomes so ingrained in the culture that certain people or groups are unwilling to change their attitudes towards their opponents, or are unwilling to forgive, even when their opponent's attitudes and behaviors have changed. But slow reductions in tensions--see the entry on GRIT, for example--can begin a process which will lead to conflict reduction and eventually, resolution. However, reconciliation of needs conflicts cannot even begin before the legitimate needs of all people and groups are recognized and steps started, at least, to meet them.


Links to Examples of Denial of Human Needs:

Andrea Williams -- Resolving Conflict in a Multicultural Environment
This article tells a story about a conflict over a local celebration that, when first planned, overlooked the Native Americans in Alaska, and ended up being a year-long celebration of their culture. This is one example of a conflict about identity and recognition which was resolved in a very positive way.
Mohamed Sahnoun -- Managing Conflicts in the Post-Cold War Era
In this article, Sahnoun explores issues surrounding military and humanitarian interventions in civil and ethnic conflicts. The common root of these conflicts, he observes, is insecurity. This may result in ethnic conflict, religious conflict, socio-economic, or justice conflicts. But underneath all of these, he argues, is the sense of insecurity. The solution to these conflicts, therefore, is the provision of security to the threatened group(s).
Harold Saunders -- Prenegotiation and Circum-negotiation: Arenas of the Peace Process
This article reviews various situations in which peace-building is necessary, focusing on the processes that take place before (pre-) and during (circum-) the official negotiations. These arenas are especially important, he argues, because many modern conflicts are not amenable to negotiation. Here he is referring to need-based conflicts involving issues of identity, justice, security, and dignity.
Kevin Clements - Toward a Sociology of Security
This paper explores the nature of security and its role in conflict production and resolution.
Paul Wehr - Toward Common Security in Central America
This paper explains the history, theory, and implementation of common security as an alternative to deterrence and other competitive or aggressive approaches to security.

Links to Related Solutions

Most intractable conflicts involve the denial of human needs, at least to some extent, so that all of the solutions presented here are useful in dealing with this kind of problem. Entries of special interest, however, include:

Needs-Based Framing

Dialogue Projects

Analytical Problem Solving


Links to Related Problems

All of the problems here relate to this problem in some way. Those that are most directly related include:

Confusing Material Interests With Fundamental Human Needs

Incompatible Frames

Attempting to Negotiate Non-negotiable Issues

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