Summary of "International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War"

Summary of

International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War

By Paul C. Stern and Daniel Druckman

Summary written by Brett Reeder, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Stern, Paul C. and Daniel Druckman. International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.


International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War was complied by the Committee on International Conflict Resolution (CICR). In an effort to advance the practice and theory of conflict resolution, the committee invited both scholars and practitioners to contribute chapter-length studies to what later became this book. The authors "...presume that conflict between social groups is an inevitably recurring fact of life" but that violence as a result of this conflict "can be prevented or mitigated" through the use of conflict resolution theory and practice (CICR p. 2).

They go on to argue that changes in the geopolitical context since the end of the Cold War calls "modification and refinement" of past conflict resolution knowledge, since "international conflict" is no longer restricted to interstate conflict. Many conflicts now take place between states and non-state groups and internal conflicts are increasingly viewed as threats to global security as well. Further, the international community is beginning to intervene in internal conflicts in which one or more parties are violating the "universal norms" of self-determination, human rights, and democratic governance.

This book attempts to understand how these new situations affect conflict resolution theory and practice. It does this by compiling "generic knowledge" on contemporary conflict resolution from various sources. While much of the knowledge necessary to successful conflict resolution is context specific (political forces and trends, personalities of leaders, contested terrain and so on) some knowledge is considered "generic," in that it holds up across cultures and geography. "Generic knowledge" includes general conceptual models, which identify critical variables and the "general logic" which guides analysis, conditional generalizations or the general conditions under which a strategy is successful, and an understanding of the causal processes of conflict resolution practice.

Conflict Resolution after the Cold War attempts to compile such "generic knowledge" on conflict resolution, which applies to the contemporary geopolitical context. This knowledge is divided into four conceptual models: power politics, conflict transformation, structural prevention and normative change, each of which is addressed separately below. Though treated as distinctly separate categories, they are highly interconnected and their boundaries are indistinct and blurry.

Power Politics

The first six chapters deal with power politics, which is also referred to as "traditional diplomacy." Traditional diplomacy is generally undertaken by state systems such as those that dominated world politics during the Cold War. Power politics is designed to treat international conflict as occurring between nation states that act "in a unitary fashion on the basis of stable and discrete national interests rooted in geopolitics, national resources, and other enduring features of countries"(CICR p 3). The tools of power politics include threats of force, defensive alliances, interest-based bargaining, power mediation, military action and economic sanctions. Since the Cold War, such tools have been increasingly employed by non-state actors as well (such as a multi-national cooperation boycotting a specific country or market, or paramilitary groups utilizing negotiation, threats of and actual violence, albeit, not the traditional military campaign). In general, the authors argue, power politics is more effective at deterrence than at coercing compliance.

The success of military coercion is thought to depend on how extensive the demands are (more extensive demands are less likely to be complied with), whether positive enforcement is used (positive enforcement increases success), and the level of domestic public support (public support is necessary to sustain successful military action). According to Blechman and Wittes, these conclusions imply that states should pick their fights carefully, make realistic demands, and act decisively when military action is taken.

According to Jentleson, since the Cold War, groups are more vulnerable to economic sanctions, but it also increasingly difficult to employ them. He refers to this as the "vulnerability-viability paradox" and argues that it is the result of the end of Cold War bipolarity, economic globalization, and greater global democratization. States are thought to be more vulnerable to economic sanctions because they are no longer protected by super-powers, there is greater economic openness, and elites hurt by sanctions have more influence on political policy. On the other hand, it is thought to be more difficult to employ economic sanctions because coalitions are harder to build, innocents hurt by sanctions pose an ethical dilemma that is increasingly difficult to ignore, and domestic politics are increasingly likely to resist sanctions. Due to this shift in the way in which sanctions are employed and received, Jentleson suggests less frequent but more concerted use of sanctions.

According to the CICR "...the basic principles of power politics...operate as well in the present era as in the past. What may have the ability of states to exercise these tools" (p 33). It suggests that the tools of power politics be used more selectively and when they are employed, that they are employed more decisively.

Conflict Transformation

Conflict transformation " the effort to reach accommodation between parties in conflict through interactive processes that lead to reconciling tensions, redefining interests, or finding common ground" (CICR p 5). It is based on the presumption that "...interests and conflicts of interest are to some degree socially constructed and malleable and that it is possible for groups to redefine their interests and reduce inter-group tension and suspicion..." (CICR p 5) Thus conflict transformation attempts to change the relationship between parties to conflict, as well as their perceptions of themselves, others, and what is at stake. Its techniques include interactive conflict resolution, problem solving workshops, and official truth seeking commissions.

Interactive conflict resolution " a well-defined and systematic approach used in small unofficial meetings of groups in tension..." (Saunders et all p 255). It seeks to help to define and diagnose the "problem," establish a strategic and operational framework, and design a tactical framework or possible course of action. To be successful, it should create "visions of peace" before the official processes begin. It can also be used as an aid to help overcome obstacles during negotiation and to produce dynamics that sustain peaceful relations after negotiations end. The contribution of interactive conflict resolution is thought to increase as the capacities of government diminish. In particular, interactive conflict resolution is most useful when subjects are too taboo for official agendas or when formal contacts between representatives are politically impossible.

Official truth seeking commissions probe into the past to literally seek the "truth." They can help conflict resolution by demonstrating and establishing a mutual commitment to peace, defusing conflicts through reconciliation (a process which includes redefining the past and its implications), and by leading to structural prevention. Truth seeking commissions will make their strongest contributions when civilian authorities are willing and able to implement the commission's conclusions, perpetrators are "weak" and have incentives to apologize, civil society is strong and supports the commission, the international community supports the commission, the commission has a strong mandate and adequate resources, and the old regime is not longer supported or feared.

Structural Prevention

Structural prevention "...involves creating organizations or institutionalized systems of laws and rules that establish and strengthen nonviolent channels for adjudicating inter-group disputes, accommodating conflicting interests, and transforming conflicts by finding common ground" (CICR p 6) As such, these institutions provide the capacity for non-violent resolution. Among such institutions are the electoral system, autonomy arrangements, and language policy.

In the context of this book, preferred electoral systems are representative democracies of different forms. According to Reilly and Reynolds, the specific type of democratic political system "...can have a marked influence..." but they "...must be selected to suit the society" (CICR p 28.) Unfortunately, most systems are chosen by "historical accident" as the system mirrors ex-colonial powers, or near by systems. Reilly and Reynolds suggest that rather than blindly adopting a system, a system should be tailored to the specific cultural contexts of the society in which it is being implemented. This requires significant input form local actors.

Autonomy arrangements "...allow ethnic or other groups claiming a distinct identity to exercise direct control over affairs of special concern to them, while allowing a larger entity to exercise those powers which cover common interests." (Ghai p 484) They are used to acknowledge a group's identity, facilitate harmonious relations with other communities and the central government, to end a dispute or to maintain the integrity of the state. Though they can be implemented at any time, they are most likely to arise when the areas asking for autonomy are small and perceived to be unimportant, when sovereignty is not an issue, when there are more than two ethnic groups, when grounds for autonomy are not explicitly ethnic, immediately after a regime change, and when the international community is highly involved. These arrangements are thought to be more successful when negotiations are pursued in a "participatory manner," when the arrangement provides room for consultation and negotiation, when flexibility is built in and when there are independent dispute resolution mechanisms (such as an independent judiciary).

Language policy refers to the laws and rules that govern language. Surprisingly, Latin found that there is no clear benefit to one policy over another (even between policies considered fair and unfair). However, political bargaining over language grievances was found to reduce the threat of violence regardless of language policy. It seems that it is the refusal to bargain which negatively affects relationships, rather than the policy outcome.

Whatever the institution ,it is imperative that a "spectrum of local actors" take part in their design. Without local input, cultural nuances will likely be overlooked and a sustainable and successful institution is unlikely. Further, success will depend on the flexibility built into these systems, as the best system to end violence is not necessarily the best system to maintain the peace. Finally, the creation of successful institutions requires parties to have a willingness to continue bargaining, even when an agreement seems out of reach.

Normative Change

Normative change involves "...developing and institutionalizing formal principals and informal expectations that are intended to create a new context for the management of conflict" (CICR p. 7). These norms are thought to establish a global "way to do conflict" which is less destructive and violent. They include the "universal values" of human rights, democratic control, and self-determination. Though far from being universally accepted, these values have become quite widespread since the end of the Cold War. Such norms seek to place "what is good for humanity" ahead of individual states' interests.


International Conflict Resolution after the Cold War is a compilation of conflict resolution knowledge which seeks to determine the proper course for theory and practice since the Cold War. It suggests that much of what "we know" about conflict is still germane, but that our "old" knowledge requires some modification and "new" approaches are becoming increasingly relevant. It argues that the "traditional diplomacy" of power politics should be used more selectively and decisively than is currently the case. Further, the "new" approaches of conflict transformation, structural prevention and normative change should be added to the tools employed by parties in conflict.

Additionally, the Committee on International Conflict Resolution explicitly identifies several recurring themes. Virtually every contributor to the book identified an increasing need for international coordination and for strong internal institutions for non-violent dispute settlement. However, the committee is also quick to point out that "We do not know enough yet to say that these recurring themes reflect enduring features of the emerging world system or that the lessons they may suggest are the right ones to draw from recent history" (CICR p 34). With this in mind, International Conflict Resolution after the Cold War should be viewed as an early and extensive, but incomplete, analysis of the necessary changes to conflict resolution theory and practice as a result of the changing geopolitical context since the cold war.