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

Identify Sources of Power / Power Strategy Mix

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Identifying Power Options

After one assesses the basic components of a conflict -- who the parties are, what their interests are, and what the fundamental nature of the problem is -- the next step is to identify each side's sources of power–the ways they can get what they want. Often, disputants only consider a limited number of sources of power–sometimes only one. If they are members of the military, they are likely to think about military strategies. If they are lawyers, they are likely to think about legal strategies. If they are diplomats, they are likely to consider diplomatic strategies. Yet power options are usually much broader than those initially perceived. Thus a fundamental step in constructive confrontation is determining what sources of power you have, what sources of power your opponent(s) have and how you can best utilize your power to get what you want and need. Although "power" is generally thought of as force, as we discussed in the introductory material on power, it is much more than that. It also includes exchange and integrative elements, or what Kenneth Boulding called the "three faces of power." (Boulding identified the three faces of power as threats, exchange, and love. By "love" he meant integrative strategies--strategies that bring people together through mutual respect). Although these three forms of power are separable in theory, in practice, they often get combined. Indeed, the most effective confrontation strategies often use a combination of these forms, the precise level of each varying from one situation to the next. The optimal mix of threat, exchange, and integrative approaches is what we call the optimal power strategy mix.

Power Strategy Mix

In order to determine the most advantageous power mix, it is useful to divide one’s opponents into four groups: persuadables (that is, people who can be persuaded), reluctant persuadables, traders, and extremists. Persuadables are people who can fairly easily be persuaded that you are right. With a little bit of reason or a moral or emotional appeal, they are likely to join your side or support you in the conflict. Reluctant persuadables are people who also might be persuaded that you are right, but it will take more effort. You will have to work harder to convince them of your views, describing those views, as much as possible, in a way that is consistent with their belief systems, which may well be different from yours. Traders are people to may not be persuaded that you are right, but they are willing to negotiate with you anyway. If you can give them something they want, they are likely to give you what you want, even if they do not necessarily believe in your reasons for wanting it. Extremists are people who are not going to change their beliefs or behavior, no matter what. Persuasion won’t work, nor will exchange, as they refuse to negotiate regardless of what you offer.

Different strategies are usually best for each of these kinds of opponents. Persuadables should be approached with logical arguments and other forms of friendly persuasion, combined with negotiation, when possible and necessary. Force should be avoided, as it is likely to generate more opposition than acceptance of your points of view. Reluctant persuadables might need a small bit of force to get them thinking about the problem, but they too should be approached with a much larger amount of persuasion and negotiation than hostility and threat. Negotiation works well with traders, though the results can be further improved with negotiation strategies based on cooperation (in other words, integrative strategies) than they can be with adversarial negotiation techniques. A large dose of force should be reserved for the extremists, as they are not going to be influenced in any other way.

Exactly what this means in terms of strategy will differ from case to case. Sometimes several approaches will be used simultaneously; other times, it helps to start with a small amount of force (to get the opponent's attention or to prove you are serious), and then move to persuasion or negotiation or both. This is the essence of what Ury, Brett, and Goldberg refer to as "negotiation loopbacks," when power contests are pursued just long enough to test who is more powerful and who less, and then the parties switch to negotiation to resolve the conflict at much less cost than would be necessary were the power contest pursued to the final end.


More information and examples about power options and the power strategy mix:

Kenneth Boulding--Ecodynamics: A New Theory of Societal Evolution
    This is a summary of the second book (in addition to The Three Faces of Power, linked above) in which Boulding discusses the various forms of power and influence.
Ann Marie Clark and James A. McCann --  Enforcing International Standards of Justice: Amnesty International's Constructive Conflict Expansion
The authors of this article describe the theoretical principles underlying Amnesty International's success in defending international human rights.   Although most of their strategy is based on the integrative system, they use other forms of power--especially what the authors call "constructive conflict expansion" or escalation to force compliance with their demands.
Louis Kriesberg -- Starting Negotiations
This is an essay that describes ways negotiations can be started.  Inducements, Kriesberg suggests, include coercion, positive sanctions, and persuasion--essentially threat, exchange, and the integrative system.  This essay describes the use of each of these in detail.
Louis Kriesberg -- The Negotiation of Agreements
This is a continuation of the earlier essay in which Kriesberg discusses the negotiation process.  As above, he finds that positive sanctions and gestures of conciliation play a significant role in successful negotiation.  However, coercive inducements, he found can undermine the effectiveness of positive inducements. 
Hendrik W. van der Merwe et al. -- Principles of Communication Between Adversaries in South Africa
The authors describe a number of principles governing negotiation, mediation, and legitimacy in South Africa. In this context all three forms of power interacted to create an environment conducive to successful negotiations.
Chester Crocker -- Lessons on Intervention
This article on intervention in the post Cold War world emphasizes how different forms of power can be used to reinforce each other, making intervention more effective.
Alexander George -- The Role of Force in Diplomacy: A Continuing Dilemma for U.S. Foreign Policy
This article describes the simultaneous use of force, exchange, and integrative strategies in effective foreign policy.
Alexander George -- The Cuban Missile Crisis
This description of the Cuban Missile Crisis examines how U.S. President Kennedy employed a mix of power strategies to end the crisis peacefully.
Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler -- The Principles of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict
This article suggests twelve principles of strategic nonviolent action.  Although they do not use the term "power strategy mix," several of the principles suggest the use of a variety of power strategies simultaneously, as well as the ability to switch quickly from one strategy to another as "vulnerabilities" appear.
Homer Page - Constructive Demonstration Strategies
Page has been involved in advocacy activities for over 30 years. In this paper he discusses the importance of clearly defining the goals of one's activities,  how tactical escalation of a conflict can work to one's advantage, and how demonstrations relate to negotiation efforts.
Paul Wehr--Civil Disobedience
Effective civil disobedience usually involves several forms of power being used simultaneously, as this example illustrates.
Aspen Institute--Conflict Prevention: Strategies to Sustain Peace in the Post-Cold War World
This article discusses how Czechoslovakia used different power strategies to avoid ethnic bloodshed at the end of the Cold War.
Paul Wehr--Moderating Power Strategies / Power Mix
This short essay shows how a power mix can be used to moderate the negative effects of force, while supplementing the power of exchange and integrative approaches when those are used alone.
Paul Wehr--Power Mixes in the US Civil Rights Conflict
This and the following  essay gives concrete examples of the ideas Paul Wehr presented in his theoretical essay (above).
Paul Wehr--Power Mixes in the Nicaraguan War
This and the previous essay gives concrete examples of the ideas Paul Wehr presented in his theoretical essay (above).
Paul Wehr--Power Resources Inventory
Here Paul describes how to do an inventory of one's power resources.
Timothy D. Sisk--The Violence-Negotiation Nexus: South Africa in Transition and the Politics of Uncertainty
In this article, Sisk discusses how violence often accompanies negotiation processes and what can be done to limit this effect.


Links to Related Approaches


Transformative Mediation

Constructive Confrontation

Coercive Diplomacy

Conflict Transformation


Links to Related Problems

Failing to Identify Available Options for Dealing with the Situation

Failure of the Disputants to Recognize Their Own Force-Based Options

Failure of the Parties to Recognize the Force-Based Options of Opponent

Refusal to Negotiate

All or Nothing Approach

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