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

Disempowerment Problem / Tyranny of the Powerful

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Conflicts are resolved in ways which favor the most powerful. Here power is determined by what people have to trade, what types of force they are able to use, and the degree to which their goals are viewed as legitimate. There are, unfortunately, cases in which unjustly treated groups may lack the power that they need to correct the situation. They may not have items to trade in exchange relationships and they may not have the ability to force others to address their grievances. They may also lack legitimacy because they belong to minority groups which are discriminated against by the larger society. This is especially likely to occur in cases where the parties have competing and contradictory moral beliefs and the minority group refuses to recognize the wisdom of the majority's moral principles. The result may be that there is no short-term remedy for the injustice is being suffered by these groups.

In some cases such power differences are appropriate and just. For example, governments, police and military forces in broadly supported, democratic political systems should be more powerful than small paramilitary hate groups that are focused on a racist agenda. People who are trying to assemble a broad-based coalition that advances the interests of all citizens should be more powerful than those who are pursuing narrow, selfish, and greedy objectives.

Unfortunately, sometimes the distribution of power favors narrow selfish interests, at the expense of the interests of the broader society. In these cases individuals, small groups, or even small communities are subjected to overwhelming and often physical force which they are powerless to resist, yet which is being used to pursue  objectives which would be deemed by the outside world to be illegitimate and unjust. In the most extreme cases, this involves individuals who are subjected to imprisonment, torture, "disappearance," or killing for political reasons.  This kind of  persecution is often associated with the persecution of racial and ethnic groups.

In these cases, victims are likely to feel that they do not have an effective strategy for defending their interests and resisting injustice. As a result, they give up and   decide to accept the injustice. They may also abandon nonviolent approaches in the belief that violent resistance offers their only hope. The result may be a series of highly destructive confrontations in which the disempowered parties make little progress in protecting their interests or rights.

What makes this outcome so tragic is that the parties often do have viable options for defending their rights, even in seemingly hopeless situations. In general these options require the parties to frame the conflict in terms of the collective pursuit of universal principles of justice which all sides have a stake in supporting. (Purely selfish appeals are much less likely to be successful.)  In addition, while there is, unfortunately, no quick and easy strategy for correcting the "tyranny of the powerful" problem, over the long-term, the key is to find some way for less powerful parties to build their power base. This tends to involve empowerment, coalition building, collective security, legitimacy building (see treatments below).

Links to Examples:

Steven McIntosh -- Sanctions
This article argues that sanctions tend to be less effective against autocratic regimes because the leaders are able to divert the effects away from themselves onto their relatively powerless population.

Links to Possible Treatments for this Problem:


Long Term Struggle

Collective Security

Non-Violent Struggle

Human and Civil Rights Organizations

Coalition Building

Links to Related Problems:

Human Rights/War Crime Problem

Illegitimate Uses of Force

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