Contributions of Training to International Conflict Resolution
By Eileen F. Babbitt
This Article Summary written by: Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: Eileen F. Babbitt, "Contributions of Training to International Conflict Resolution" in Peacemaking in International Conflict: Methods and Techniques, eds. I. William Zartman and J. Lewis Rasmussen, Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997, pp. 365-387.
Babbitt observes that "when the participants in a conflict resolution training program are members of communities in conflict, the training becomes an intervention in that conflict."(p. 365) Training changes the way that participants view their conflict situation, and changes the way they understand their own and the other's sides. Training also gives the participants better skills in communication, negotiation and problem-solving, and a safe forum for trying out new approaches to conflict resolution.
Conflict resolution training rests on several basic assumptions. First, there are skills that allow parties to manage conflicts in a constructive fashion. Second, those skills can be taught and learned. Third, all parties can benefit by making their practice more conscious and reflective. Finally, training can empower participants, making them less susceptible to manipulation and more able to work out their differences without resorting to violence.
Training interventions do not address the particular substantive issues in a conflict. Training is an educational approach intended to help the parties develop and apply skills. Training programs use interactive learning modes, such as case studies, simulations, and discussion. These modes reinforce the interactive nature of the subjects being taught, and give the students concrete experience of resolution processes. Trainers also try to relate new materials to students' previous experience. This reinforces the relevance of the material, and increases students' use and retention of the material. Programs are often structured so that students can learn from each other.
Training makes educational and political contributions to international conflict resolution. Its educational contributions come from both the content of the training program, and its format. Program content varies according to the needs of the participants and the background of the trainer. Typical forms of content include theoretical models of conflict dynamics, communication and negotiation skills, and approaches to reconciliation and healing. Programs generally favor some type of experiential learning format although they differ in the degree to which they are prescriptive or elicitive. Prescriptive trainers try to give their students an established set of basic skills, while elicitive trainer focus on drawing out and developing the students' own needs and skills.
A conflict resolution training program can affect the political settlement of a conflict through its program format, training goals, and theme. Possible training goals include supporting existing resolution processes, preparing the parties to transform their conflict relationship, empowering parties to instigate constructive actions, restoring agency and initiative to oppressed peoples, creating support networks for people seeking cooperative and nonviolent alternatives, and supporting the moderates in an extremist conflict. Joint training formats can be a first step in bringing together adversarial parties, or in defusing growing tensions. Program participants may be trained as trainers themselves, returning to spread conflict resolution skills within their own communities. Another format integrates training and problem-solving. When difficult moments occur the substantive problem-solving process, facilitators stop the discussion and offer a training intervention. Programs may be organized around a variety of themes, such as, preventative diplomacy, post-conflict reconstruction, interagency coordination, or managing humanitarian crises.
Trainer must be aware of the ethical concerns regarding their practice. Training is a form of intervention, and so should follow the basic principle to do no harm. Trainers should be aware of the potential for cultural bias in their methods and materials. They must also be wary of fostering dependence in their students. Another ethical concern is that transformed training participants may be excluded from their communities. "Participants may emerge from a training session to encounter suspicion or even hostility from family and friends, find that their jobs are in jeopardy, and in very polarized situations may even be in physical danger."(p. 382) To date, there has been very little evaluation of the impact of resolution training on the dynamics of conflict. Evaluations do show a generally positive response by participants, however.
U.S. foreign affairs professionals generally receive their training in university graduate programs. Early graduate training gives future-policymakers the opportunity to develop a solid theoretical base, and is also an excellent opportunity to develop conflict resolution skills. Graduate schools have developed three models for teaching conflict resolution skills in professional schools. Dedicated programs offer international conflict resolution as a distinct area of study. Integrated programs incorporate conflict resolution issues into existing courses in development, trade and security. Course-designated programs offer specific courses in conflict resolution, which students may elect to take. Existing graduate programs could be improved by the addition of more interactive and experiential teaching methods, more emphasis on skills-building, more interdisciplinary training for faculty, and more attention to ethical and cross-cultural issues.
As NGOs have assumed larger roles in addressing international conflicts, training interventions have become more common. "Training is often the entry point through which NGOs establish their credibility with disputants without presuming to take on mediation or other third-party roles."(p. 385) Current challenges include supporting participants' efforts to pass on their new skills and understanding, and transmitting local training impacts to the level of state decision-making.