Conflict Resolution Expertise

Guy Burgess

Co-Director of the University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium and the Beyond Intractability Project

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

The problem of dealing with conflict on a large, sort of society-wide scale, is a bit analogous to building a complex aircraft. You need a whole lot of different parts. You can't fly an airplane with just a jet engine, you need wings, you needs control surfaces, you need avionics, you need a seat for the pilot, fuel tanks, all sorts of stuff. Mediation is just one of the pieces, a whole range of humanitarian relief things are just one of the pieces. Policing, there are a whole range of techniques used to limit the use of violent force. You take all of the conflict-related institutions, then you start thinking of conflict as not just mediation, but a whole range of things. Maybe like Bill Ury's "Third Siders" but more diversified than that. You've got to have all of those pieces. Just like an airplane, you can have designs for all of the pieces of the airplane and a couple of each one. If you don't have enough of each piece the plane won't fly. If you wind of having 90% of the pieces, it won't fly.

What the whole sort of large peace-related field has been doing over the last however many decades is developing a number of different pieces. We know a lot more about peacekeeping operations, we know a lot more about negotiation, we know about restorative justice, but they are all just pieces. Now the folks that fund them seem to believe that by just funding one of the pieces, you can make the whole airplane fly. And partly, they get that idea because it's so hard to get the money, that the people that make the pieces oversell how important they are. But if we're going to really deal with the problem of conflict, in a sense we have to grow up and make all these pieces, and we have to come up with a plan for the whole airplane. And we've got to make sure there are people picking up each piece. Once you figure it out, you acquire each piece in enough quantities. If you go into a country that needs 100,000 peacekeepers and you have 1,000, it isn't going to work, no matter how good your plan. So in other words, you have to start to think big and we're a field that doesn't like to think big. It isn't just like building a big airplane because this goes back to the complexity and chaos, because we don't really know how to do all the pieces, but you can do enough and deal with enough of the pathologies that you can have a major qualitative improvement in the way that conflict is carried out.