Fundamentals Seminar 10: Escalation and De-Escalation Processes​

This relates to Conflict Frontiers Massively Parallel Peacebuilding (MPP) Challenge 5.

Guy Burgess asserts that the real enemy in many conflicts is not "the other side," but, rather, escalation, which makes both sides do things they would ordinarily not do which make the conflict much worse.  If parties would reframe the conflict as a joint struggle against their mutual enemy, escalation, much conflict resolution progress could be made.  Unfortunately, this is a rare occurrence. The essays included here describe more common outcomes and what else (besides such reframing) can be done to limit such problems.

  • Escalation and Related Processes -- This introductory essay explains the various types of escalation and related processes with details following in individual essays.
  • Destructive Escalation -- Escalation is an increase in the intensity of a conflict. The number of parties and issues tends to increase, tactics become heavier, malevolence increases, and overall destructiveness generally increases as well.
  • Escalation spirals and positive feedback loops - this currently goes to a one-paragraph intro to the escalation section, but I think we could do much more on it, showing conflict maps and looking at the different kinds of escalation, in addition to the current escalation essay.
  • Constructive Escalation -- Despite the dangers of escalation, disputants often intentionally escalate conflicts. Parties generally do this when they feel their needs are being ignored. This essay examines the risks and benefits of tactical escalation and offers suggestions on how the risks can be minimized.
  • Polarization -- Polarization of a conflict occurs as a conflict rises in intensity (that is, escalates). Often as escalation occurs, more and more people get involved, and take strong positions either on one side or the other. "Polarization" refers to the process in which people move toward extreme positions ("poles"), leaving fewer and fewer people "in the middle."
  • Entrapment -- In intense, intractable conflicts, leaders commonly ask their supporters to make great sacrifices. In the most extreme cases, supporters are asked to sacrifice their lives. Once these sacrifices have been made, it becomes very difficult for leaders to publicly admit that it was all for nothing.
  • Limiting Escalation / De-escalation -- De-escalation tends to proceed slowly and requires a lot of effort. This essay describes some key strategies available for slowing escalation and then de-escalating a conflict.
  • Managing distrust -- Trust has often been praised as the "glue" that holds relationships together and enables individuals to pool their resources with others. Unfortunately, when conflict escalates to a dysfunctional level, trust is often one of the first casualties.
  • Building Trust  -- Trust comes from the understanding that humans are interdependent, that they need each other to survive. Third parties can attempt to use this insight to promote trust between disputing parties.
  • Respect -- Treating people with respect is key to conflict transformation. When they are denied respect, people tend to react negatively, creating conflicts or escalating existing ones.
  • Face -- From the correspondence between Kennedy and Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis, it is clear that they were trying to end the conflict while retaining their honor or "saving face." Understanding the concept of face is vital to resolving intractable conflict.