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

Alternatives to Force

By Paul Wehr

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Force is a form of conflict behavior that should be used cautiously if at all. As competitive action, it moves a conflict away from cooperative resolution. It also tends to be more costly to both users and their opponents. The more costs that participants sink into a conflict, the more difficult it is for them to "sacrifice" those costs in shifting to cooperative resolution.

Force is a threatening type of social action. One makes or promises to make someone do something against their will. Even if force is not actually used by conflict parties, the possibility that they could or will use it is present and will influence the conflict. Potential force is usually more useful for cooperative resolution than applied force. Since less harm is done, less needs to be undone later. We can think of threat as a moderate type of force.

Power Faces

The use of threat (and actual force) can be minimized in conflict if participants remember that it is only one of three forms of social power, and not always the most influential one. Kenneth Boulding (1989) speaks of power as having three faces; threat, exchange, and integration (ranging from love to mere tolerance). Threat has the most intensifying influence in conflict."If you do something bad to me, I will do something as bad or worse to you." Even nonviolent force is threatening; it is intended to make you do something involuntarily.

Contrastingly, exchange occurs when conflictants indicate that, "If you do something nice for me, I will reciprocate." Then, threat is replaced with trade. A power contest characterized by threat and force gives way to, say, negotiation. Further still from threat action is integrative power; "I will treat you nicely simply because you are a fellow human or whatever. Solution 8: Moderating Power Strategies

Each party in a conflict uses a mixture of threatening, trading and integrating power. That mix can be represented graphically as a pie with three sections. The more opposing sides in a conflict can be persuaded to reduce or make nonviolent the the action in the threat section of their power pie, the greater the exchange and integration shares become, and the greater the potential for cooperative conflict resolution. The more people can be trained to design their power strategies in that way, the less violent and costly their conflicts could be.

Students could be taught in school to understand interpersonal and intergroup conflict in terms of power mixes. They could learn how to move conflict away from threat, toward trade and mutual concern for one another's well-being. Learning techniques for reducing threat by disconnecting it from violence would be one approach. Another would develop students' negotiation and mediation skills to encourage trading behavior in conflict. Communication skills-building could increase their capacity for empathy necessary for mutual tolerance. Conflict professionals such as police could benefit from similar training.

Links to Examples of Pursuing Alternatives to Force

Paul Wehr--Power Mixes in the US Civil Rights Conflict
This article and the following one on Nicaragua examine how protest groups have successfully utilized a mix of power strategies, rather than force alone, to pursue their interests and goals in an intractable conflict situation.
Paul Wehr--Power Mixes in the Nicaraguan War
See Wehr, above.


Links to Related Sections

Exchange Treatments

Integrative Treatments

Power Strategy Mix

Legitimizing the Use of Force

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