By Louis Kreisberg
This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Kreisberg, Louis, "Taking Initiatives," Chapter in International Conflict, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), pp. 34-57.
De-escalation of international conflicts usually begins when someone takes the initiative and makes a conciliatory gesture or propose negotiations. Kreisberg examines the various factors which may prompt governments to make de-escalation initiatives.
Domestic pressures can prompt governments to initiate conflict de-escalation. Domestic pressure can come directly from peace movements or popular opposition to a government policy. De-escalation pressure may come indirectly from popular demands for a better standard of living. Domestic opposition may also be taken as a sign of weakness by the opponent, and so an opportunity to press their claims more forcefully. This would tend to block de-escalation. Changes in a nation's leadership sometimes involve changes in government policy, and create opportunities for de-escalation. Popular views of the adversary can also influence a governments willingness to make de-escalation initiatives. De-escalation initiatives are less likely when the adversary is seen as being cruel or unreasonable.
The presence and relative importance of other concurrent conflicts can influence de- escalation initiatives. Increasing tensions in one conflict can make other conflicts seem less important and so prompt de-escalation initiatives. Allies may feel threatened by a conflict and pressure the disputing nations to de-escalate. Conversely allies may feel they also have vital interests at stake in a conflict, and so resist de-escalation moves.
Intermediaries can play an important role in facilitating de-escalation initiatives. Third party intervention may be needed to break an institutionalized cycle of conflict. Skilled intermediaries may be able to reframe the issues, making a mutually satisfactory agreement possible. Intermediaries can also help to enhance parity between the adversarial parties.
The relative power of the adversaries and the degree to which they accept each other as legitimate parties are important factors influencing de-escalation initiatives. The parties must be approximately equal in power for de-escalation to be initiated. This may occur when both parties are roughly equally strong, or when both parties are equally powerless to improve conditions on their own. Negotiations also require that each party recognize the legitimacy of the other's existence. De-escalation negotiations cannot proceed where one (or each) party seeks the destruction of the other. Parties are better able to acknowledge each other's legitimacy when they have a common view of the nature of their conflict. Kreisberg also points out that "when a shared view of the issue in contention emerges, the parties can envision a mutually acceptable outcome."[p. 40]