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

Lack of Viable Military Options

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In many cases, the parties assume that superior military power will lead to resolution of disputes on favorable terms. In some cases, it may result in clear victory on the battlefield, while in other cases the opponents may feel so threatened that they simply submit or even surrender.

In reality, however, military strategies are often much less successful. There are numerous cases in which military options are likely to be unable to advance the parties' objectives.  For example, in many cases, the pursuit of military options forces opponents to develop their own counterforce. Then the result is often a very expensive arms race which gives the parties the ability to inflict enormous damage upon one another, but often, not the ability to accomplish their goals.  The military standoffs which arms races create also tend to be unstable and can easily escalate into all-out confrontation.   Even in situations in which force is used, it is common for neither side to be able to win without incurring much higher costs than they are willing to endure.  This can lead to what is called a "hurting stalemate," in which both sides continue to inflict damage on the other, with neither side able to prevail.

Even when the use of military force is successful, it tends to create such a powerful backlash, causing continuing hatred and hostility to be inevitable. This can make the military option a formula for continuing conflict, rather than a strategy for resolution and reconciliation.

There are also problems with using military force against parties who employ non-violent resistance strategies. In these cases, the use of military force is likely to be widely seen as illegitimate. This means that increases in military power are often accompanied with a corresponding decrease in integrative power and legitimacy.

It is relatively inexpensive to employ military strategies to make threats; however, the loss of life involved in military confrontation can make it very difficult to carry out those threats. Even when expected casualties are minor by military standards, political impact of these casualties can make use of this type of force especially difficult.

Links to Examples:

David Stuart -- United National Involvement in the Peace Process in El Salvador
The U.N. effort in El Salvador was successful, Stuart observes, because both sides had given up on a military victory.
Tony Armstrong -- Principles of Icebreaking
Critical to the initiation of icebreaking is the abandonment of the hope for a military solution, Armstrong found, in all of the cases he examined.
Joan Broder -- Mediation in Ireland: The Impact of Small Beginnings
In 1989 Broder observed that the British military had decided that military force could not bring an end to the Northern Ireland conflict.

Links to Outside Information on this Subject:

U.S. Institute of Peace--Religion, Nationalism, and Peace in Sudan

Links to Possible Treatments for this Problem:

Inventory of Available Force Types (Focus upon nonviolent/non-military force options.)

Integrative Approaches


Links to Related Problems:

Failure to Anticipate Opponent Reactions and the Backlash Effect

Deterrence, Counter-Threats (and Arms Races)




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