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Summary of

International Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: International Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice Edward Azar and John Burton, eds.,Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1986, 159 pp.

International Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice discusses alternative approach to the realist view of international relations. It discusses the problem solving approach to international conflicts in particular.

International Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice will be of interest to those who seek a basic understanding of the problem solving approach to conflict resolution, and to those interested in understanding changing approaches to international conflict in recent history. This work consists of ten essays with a brief introduction by the editors.

Michael Banks argues that political realism, which assumes that violent conflict between states is inevitable, promotes a threat and deterrence approach to international relations. This approach is unsatisfactory because it cannot support positive policies of conflict avoidance nor promote stable peace.

Chapters Three through Five describe alternatives to the realist approach to international relations. Edward Azar describes protracted social conflicts, such as ethnic conflicts. He offers ten general propositions which characterize such conflicts, and closes with general suggestions on how protracted social conflicts might best be resolved. The connection between social conflict and underdevelopment is also explored. John Burton describes the changes in approach to international conflict resolution which have occurred since the founding of the United Nations. He traces the history of international conflict resolution from its early law and order approach to later emphasis on needs theory and problem-solving. Bryant Wedge explores the psychological tendency of conflicting parties to polarize into we-they identification. He argues that "Non-rational human needs, including those especially for recognition and 'justice,' provide a driving force in conflict behavior and need to be taken into greater account in conflict analysis."[61]

Anthony Smith takes a psychological approach to discovering the role of collective identity in conflict. Nations have traditionally been viewed as the most significant basis for collective identities in violent conflicts. Recently ethnicity and class have become significant bases for establishing collective, and adversarial, identities. Smith argues that processes of conflict resolution must pay more attention to communities of historic identity.

A.J.R. Groom provides a general introduction to the problem-solving approach to international conflict resolution. Burton then follows with an essay explaining problem solving procedures in more detail. He distinguishes between conflict resolution and settlement, describes the use of workshops, explores ways to initiate international use of problem solving approaches, and describes the role of third parties in the problem solving process. Finally, Burton contrasts the problem solving approach with the realist approach to international conflict.

Chapters Eight and Nine focus on applying the problem solving model. Together, Burton and Azar discuss the applicability of the problem solving approach to U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War. Azar goes on to present a case study of two workshops on conflict resolution held in Lebanon in 1984.

Ambassador and diplomat John McDonald closes this collection with his essay, "Observations of a Diplomat." Drawing on his experiences in the field, McDonald presents a detailed list of questions which should be addressed in the analysis of case studies dealing with international negotiation. He also discusses the relation between Track I and Track II negotiations.

International Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice offers an introduction to many of the basic concepts in international conflict resolution. While the specific cases discussed are now somewhat dated, this text also provides a useful sense of the origins of contemporary trends in conflict resolution.

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