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

Power Imbalances

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In most conflict situations, one party has more power than another. When the power differential is substantial, this usually has a significant effect on both the substance and process of the dispute. Generally, it is believed that the power of the parties must be relatively even if a negotiation or mediation process is to be fair. If one side is far more powerful than another, they are likely to simply impose their solution on the other side, who will be forced to accept it, because they have no other choice. (Using Fisher and Ury's term, they have no "BATNA.")

Alternatively, the high power party may simply refuse to enter into a negotiation, because they have no need to. They can get what they want without compromising, or in any way giving in to the other side. So they pursue their alternative(s) to negotiation, which usually involve persuasion and/or force. (Advocates of the low-power side might refer to any effort at persuasion as co-optation or propaganda, however.) A third possibility is that the low-power party will refuse to negotiate, because they fear they will be co-opted or otherwise forced to make compromises they do not want to make. Low power parties often engage in advocacy and violent or nonviolent direct action in an effort to build their power before they are willing to enter into a negotiation process.

Although gross power imbalances are a problem for conflict resolution, so too is equality of power. Quincy Wright, one of the most respected scholars in the field of war defined war as a conflict of feelings, cultures, armed force, and legal institutions "so nearly equal as to lead to the extreme intensification of each." By this Wright meant that the power of the two sides were so closely matched that neither side could quickly prevail, forcing both sides into a highly escalated and protracted struggle that has almost no bounds. Indeed, it is often argued that wars or other deep-rooted international or ethnic conflicts cannot be resolved until they become "ripe." A variety of factors contribute to "ripeness," but one of the most commonly agreed-upon factors is that a conflict has reached a hurting stalemate-a situation in which it has become clear to both sides that neither side can ever win, and the costs of continuing the struggle are far higher than the costs of ending it. While it takes equality of power to reach this point, the losses entailed in so doing are extremely severe. Thus, both power equality and power inequality pose challenges and problems for dispute resolvers.


Links to Examples of Power Imbalances:

Mediating the Oslo Accords on the Middle East
    One of the Norwegian negotiators of the Israeli-Palestinian accords, Jan Egeland, observed that power imbalances can hamper the effectiveness of a mediator.
Jacob Bercovitch -- Understanding Mediation's Role in Preventive Diplomacy
Bercovitch's study of international mediation confirms that power disparities cause problems in mediation.
Jeffery Rubin --Negotiation Timing
Rubin points out the importance of power equality as it effects the sense of "ripeness."
Rudy Friesen -- A Mohawk Confrontation in Canada
This is a story about a failed negotiation in Quebec, Canada in which power disparities played a large role.
Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler -- The Principles of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict
Ackerman and Kruegler point out the utility of nonviolent action in conflicts involving significant power disparities.
William McCarthy--The Role of Power and Principle in Getting to Yes
A critique of Getting to Yes, this article challenges Fisher and Ury's lack of attention to the importance of power and power imbalances in negotiation.


Links to Outside Sources of Information:


Links to Possible Treatments for Power Imbalances:


Transformative Mediation

Power Strategy Mix


Links to Related Problems:

Inexperienced Parties

Refusal to Negotiate

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