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

Private Meetings

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As conflicts escalate, leaders often make extremely strong statements to their constituents indicating that they will never negotiate with their enemies and will never compromise their position. Sooner or later it becomes clear that efforts to de-escalate the conflict and develop a more constructive relationship are going to require them to break these promises. This can be extremely hard to do since it makes them vulnerable to attacks from opponents who can claim that they are being "soft on the enemy." They are likely to be especially reluctant to take these political risks if they are not sure that their efforts will lead to a more peaceful relationship. In these cases,  some type of private negotiation process is likely to provide a safer way of exploring options.

There are several ways in which the private meetings can be held. First, they can be conducted by unofficial, non-governmental representatives who do not formally speak for the leadership. (This is often referred to as "track two" or "citizen" diplomacy, as opposed to official "track one" diplomacy.) In these cases leaders can avoid the initial, risky stages of the negotiation process and become formally involve only when success seems probable. There can also be an intermediate phase involving mid-level officials in the negotiations.

There is also widespread recognition of the fact that it is very hard to negotiate when everything that is said is made public. For this reason, people are often support private negotiation sessions, provided that there is future opportunity for meaningful public involvement in the process. Secrecy that is unexpectedly and suddenly imposed is more likely to generate suspicion that unacceptable actions are being "covered up."

Confidentiality rules can also be used to clearly prohibit public disclosure of information about a negotiation. This can, in turn, make it harder for parties to use the media to pressure their opponents to make concessions.

In cases involving small numbers of private parties (instead of large scale public policy conflicts), the parties may decide to negotiate privately and keep their settlements secret. This enables them to avoid telling their friends and associates details about their problems and conflicts, while also avoiding embarrassing admissions and the release of potentially damaging information.  In the United States, alternative dispute resolution processes (such as mediation and arbitration) are popular, in large part because they are private, and allow the parties confidentiality regarding both their problem and the settlement they develop.

Links to Examples

Tony Armstrong -- Principles of Icebreaking
Secret meetings were key to many of these de-escalation efforts.
Krag Unsoeld -- Hawaii's Water Wars: A Pacific paradise settles a hellish dispute over a scarce resource.
This is a story about a successful consensus building effort that depended on confidentiality to succeed.
Herbert C. Kelman -- Contributions if an Unofficial Resolution Effort to the Israeli-Palestinian Breakthrough
The secret, track two, negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian representatives in Oslo led to a ground breaking accord.

Links to Related Approaches

Public Information Strategy
Confidentiality Rules
Citizen Diplomacy

Links to Related Problems

Poor Process or Structure

Scale-Up Problem

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