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.

usiplogo.gif (1499 bytes)

International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Good Timing--Identifying "Ripe" Times for Negotiations

Opening Page | Glossary | Menu Shortcut Page

The timing of negotiations is often critical to their success. Conflict scholars and negotiators often use the concept of "ripeness," comparing negotiation to fruit. If a fruit is picked too early, it will not be ready for eating; however, if it is picked to late, it will be inedible as well. Negotiation works the same way. Conflicts must develop to a point before negotiation is possible, yet, if that "ripe moment" is missed, the conflict may not be open for negotiation again for quite a while.

Conflicts become ripe for negotiation in a variety of ways. Generally, the relative power of the two sides must be clearly understood. If both sides think that they are more powerful than the other, and that they can prevail in a power struggle without incurring excessive costs, they are likely to pursue that struggle, rather than negotiate. If negotiation is suggested at such a time, it is likely to be refused, or if it is tried, it is likely to fail, unless it results in an agreement that is better than the one any side could attain otherwise.

If the parties know who is more powerful (and they generally agree), then they can usually negotiate a settlement that corresponds to the relative power structure at less cost than it would take to obtain a settlement using a power-based approach. (Power-based approaches might include military contests, nonviolent action, political action, or litigation.) Conflicts also often become ripe when both sides come to realize that they cannot prevail through a power struggle--when they have reached a stalemate, which is costing a lot and gaining little or nothing. Then they will usually be willing to sit down and negotiate a settlement, though they were not willing to do so before.

Sometimes a change of negotiators will make a conflict ripe for negotiation, as new people often come in with fresh ideas and lack the negative stereotypes and emotions of earlier negotiators. A change in external circumstances which affects one or both parties' ability to wage the battle can change the situation, as can an approaching deadline. (Labor contract negotiations can drag on for a long time, until the contract is about to expire and a strike deadline looms just ahead. The threat of an imminent strike can make the dispute ripe for resolution when it was not before.)

Disputants and potential third party mediators should assess a dispute's ripeness for negotiating before beginning such a process. Questions to ask would include:

1) Are all the parties interested in negotiating?

2) If not, why is one or more of the parties reluctant?

3) Can anything be done to make negotiation more attractive to them?

4) Do the parties all know their alternatives to a negotiated settlement?

5) Do they feel those alternatives are good?

6) Do the parties have a legitimate leader or representative who could effectively negotiate for them?

7) Is a forum available for negotiations?

8) Is a credible mediator available to assist in the negotiations?

9) Do the parties agree on the credibility of this mediator?


Links to Examples of This Approach:

Saadia Touval -- Case Study: Lessons of Preventative Diplomacy in Yugoslavia

Touval describes the failure of diplomatic attempts to prevent war in the former Yugoslavia.  Ethnic conflicts, Touval argues, are especially difficult to deal with because the parties generally become highly committed to their incompatible goals long before the conflict reaches a hurting stalemate.
Tony Armstrong -- "Introduction" from Principles of Icebreaking
This book discusses three cases of conflict transformation or "rapprochement" through which seemingly intractable conflicts were transformed into new, more productive relationships. Identifying and taking advantage of ripeness was key in all of the cases examined in this book.
Chester Crocker -- Lessons on Intervention
This essay examines when and how nations can intervene to prevent or limit internal, ethnic conflicts. Ripeness is seen as a key factor in the decision.
William Zartman and Saadia Touval -- International Mediation in the Post- Cold War Era
This examination of international mediation examines ripeness and its importance in mediation timing.
Clem McCarthy -- Conflict Resolution In Northern Ireland: Reconciling Form and Substance
This article describes the Anglo-Irish declaration of December 15, 1993, which, though it had some flaws, was timed better than previous efforts.
Learnings from the Nicaraguan/YATAMA Negotiations
This is a very short anecdote in which John Paul Lederach explains the importance of ripeness in the Nicaraguan negotiations he was involved in.
Jane Madden -- Namibia: A Lesson for Success
Madden sees timing as one of the key factors leading to successful conflict resolution in Namibia.
Timothy Sisk -- Power Sharing and International Mediation in Ethnic Conflicts
Sisk also seems good timing as critical to the success of negotiating power sharing arrangements for minority ethnic or religious groups.

Links to Outside Examples

US Institute of Peace -- "Ripe for Resolution?" in Sudan: Ending the War, Moving Talks Forward


Links to Related Solutions:

Getting People to the Table

Negotiation Loopbacks

Identifying and Pursuing Negotiable Sub-Issues

Provide Forum



Related Problems:

Timing Problems

Overlooking Ripe Moments for Negotiation

Limits to Agreement: Better Alternatives

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