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

Recognizing the Presence or Absence of Violence Limiting Mechanisms

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Force-based (and non-force based) options available to the parties vary considerably depending upon the context of the conflict and dispute. At the broadest level there is an important distinction between conflicts which are carried out within the context of established and broadly accepted political and legal systems and conflicts which occur outside of these systems. In the first case the ultimate source of power is a party's ability to secure political decisions or legal judgments which result in the application of the enforcement powers of the police.   In the second case the ultimate source of  forced-based power is violence.  

There are, however, numerous cases in which exchange or integrative systems are even more powerful.   For example, taboos associated with the integrative system often prevent people from using violence even when they have power  to do so successfully.   Mutually beneficial exchanges are also often negotiated  in situations were no limits exist on the use of violent force by the parties.

Political, Legal and Other Institutional Structures Which Limit Violence

Different countries structure the political and legal systems which limit violence in different ways. There are, for example, important differences between societies organized around parliamentary democracies and those organized around congressional systems like the United States. There are also variations in the individual political and economic rights which different societies afford their citizens and the comparative role played by the public and private sectors (the percentage of the economy which is managed by the government). Litigation processes are also used to varying degrees with different societies with vastly different proportions of the work force engaged in the legal profession.

While political and legal institutions constitute (for most practical purposes) the ultimate source of power within such societies, there are a great many conflicts and disputes which are played out using other institutional mechanisms. In some cases the parties may voluntarily agree to resolve any disputes which arise through a system of binding arbitration. Business opportunities are largely pursued through negotiation process (though the contractual agreements resulting from these processes may be enforced in the civil courts). Interpersonal conflicts are usually played out less formally, without intervention by political and legal institutions.

There are also a great many informal dispute handling institutions which play roles of varying importance depending upon the situation and the society. Differing religious and cultural groups often have often employee traditional but highly effective dispute handling mechanisms involving religious leaders, community elders, and others. Many parts of the world are also making increasing use of alternative dispute resolution processes. In the United States, for example, the courts often require contending parties to try mediation before they can proceed with litigation.

Also of great  importance are social taboos against the use of violence as a conflict strategy.     While there are a few pacifists that morally oppose violence under any circumstances,  there are many more people who consider violence acceptable only as a last resort and only has a defense against violent acts initiated by others

Conflicts Which Occur Without Violence Limiting Structures

There are also numerous conflicts which occur outside of established political systems. In these cases the ultimate source of power is not the police with its monopoly upon overwhelming physical violence. Instead it is the ability of the parties to successfully use physical force against opponents. Such violence-based conflicts can arise in a number of settings. One such setting involves conflicts between nations and, often, international alliances the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the coalition of forces which opposed Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.

Physical force is also the ultimate source of power in situations where the legitimacy of political and legal institutions has collapsed and societies are sliding into anarchy and civil war. This is an especially serious problem for societies which are undergoing revolutionary change. In these cases old and widely discredited conflict resolution institutions are often discarded before broadly supported new institutions are available to replace them. The result may be a situation in which the most violent faction has an advantage.

Violent approaches to conflict are also common in small-scale interpersonal disputes which are often so minor that they are not addressed by political and legal institutions (at least not until violence becomes severe enough to be considered criminal.) This category includes family violence and simple flights.

The section on  force explores both violent and nonviolent types of force while the section on the integrative and exchange (trading) systems discusses other nonviolent sources of power.

Links to Related Sections

Elections / Instituting Democracy

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