Hurting Stalemate Stage

Eric Brahm

September 2003

Once conflicts escalate for awhile, they often reach a stalemate: a situation in which neither side can win, but neither side wants to back down or accept loss either. Stalemates emerge for a number of reasons: failed tactics, depletion of available resources to fuel the conflict, a reduction in support of the conflict by group members or allies, or costs becoming too high to continue.[1]

Additional insights into Hurting Stalemate Stage are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

Despite realizing that the conflict is going nowhere, it is often difficult for parties to transform the nature of the conflict and consider a settlement. For long-term conflicts, individuals have been socialized to the polarized view of self and other. They are afraid of the other side and do not want to reconcile with them or meet their demands.

What is more, many individuals on both sides build up a vested interest (see also conflict profiteers) in the perpetuation of the conflict. If the conflict is bringing them political power or economic opportunities, they may want to keep it going, rather than working towards de-escalation or settlement. Leaders also fear the loss of face that would ensue if they had to admit that pursuing the conflict was a mistake. (That is why face-saving measures are especially important for settlement.)

Eventually, conflicts reach a point at which a sort of equilibrium sets in, in which neither side is getting any closer to achieving its goals and which no one is happy with the situation. They come to realize that the costs of continuing the struggle exceed (oftentimes greatly exceed) the benefits to be gained. This is the situation known as the "mutually hurting stalemate" which is often ripe for the introduction of proposals for settlement.[2]

[1] Jeffrey Rubin, Dean Pruitt, and Sung Hee Kim, Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement, 2nd edition. (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994), 152-5.

[2] I. William Zartman and Maureen Berman, The Practical Negotiator (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), 66-78; I William Zartman, "The Strategy of Preventive Diplomacy in Third World Conflicts," in Managing US-Soviet Rivalry, ed. Alexander George (Westview, 1983); Saadia Touval and I. William Zartman, eds., International Mediation in Theory and Practice (Westview, 1985), ll, 258-60; I. William Zartman, Ripe for Resolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Use the following to cite this article:
Brahm, Eric. "Hurting Stalemate Stage." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <>.

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