Conflict Prevention


Conflict Prevention is the object of a wide range of policies and initiatives; its aim is to avoid the violent escalation of a dispute. Conflict Prevention includes:
  • Monitoring and/or intervening to stabilize a potentially violent conflict before its outbreak by initiating activities that address the root causes as well as the triggers of a dispute.
  • Establishing mechanisms that detect early warning signs and record specific indicators that may help to predict impending violence.
  • Using planned coordination to prevent the creation of conflict when delivering humanitarian aid and in the process of development.
  • Institutionalizing the idea of preventing conflict at the local, regional, and international levels.

The concept and practice of Conflict Prevention evolved from being focused almost exclusively on Preventive Diplomacy, to a new more comprehensive approach that can be defined as Structural Prevention. This new approach includes long-term initiatives targeting the root causes of conflict. The evolution of Conflict Prevention as a practice will depend on the necessary resources being committed to Conflict Prevention initiatives in the future. Conflict Prevention faces serious problems in this respect because it is extremely difficult to evaluate whether conflict prevention initiatives have been responsible for a conflict not having happened.
  • It is possible to distinguish three sets of elements that compose the process of Conflict Prevention:
  • The definition of the context with reference to the nature of a conflict, its causes, and its cyclical phases;
  • The use of mechanisms to monitor indicators and signs to forewarn impending violence; and
  • The selection of the specific initiatives to be taken.


The concept of Conflict Prevention emerged in the theoretical literature of the early 1990s, but initially without significant practical application. The idea of Conflict Prevention was presented as an official policy of the UN by Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali in 1992 in his An Agenda for Peace. He emphasized "fact-finding and analysis-to identify at the earliest possible stage the circumstances that could produce serious conflict-and the need for Preventive Diplomacy to resolve the most immediate problems with attention to underlying causes of conflict." The focus was on punctual preventive interventions. The end of the Cold War gave the impression that the international community could intervene more flexibly and effectively to prevent the explosion of conflicts. This impression was reinvigorated by the negative experiences of Yugoslavia and Rwanda. A different behavior of neighboring countries, in the case of Yugoslavia, and a limited but robust military intervention in Rwanda, was commonly believed, could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. A successful UN deployment in Macedonia confirmed this idea.

Since then, the concept of Conflict Prevention has developed further and moved its focus from "Preventive Diplomacy," including a limited set of diplomatic or military initiatives, to more structural interventions. Academics and practitioners have since stretched the concept to include, in addition to diplomacy and military operations, institution building, economic development, and grass roots community building. In the 2001 Report of the Secretary General on Prevention of Armed Conflict, "an effective preventive strategy" is said to require "a comprehensive approach that encompasses both short-term and long-term political, diplomatic, humanitarian, human rights, developmental, institutional, and other measures taken by the international community, in cooperation with national and regional actors".

Structural Prevention lays its conceptual roots in part of International Relations Theory. Concepts of Security Community, and Johan Galtung’s "Warm Peace," as well as theories of integration and international regimes, identify the structural foundations of a peaceful international community. The structure of these communities, it must be noticed, is composed not of elements of pure power but rather of norms, values and shared interests. Similarly, the peaceful interaction among different groups inside a state can be fostered through structural initiatives of constitutional engineering, economic development, institution building, and education.

Steven Burg divides interventions of Structural Prevention into two different approaches. These approaches refer specifically to the prevention of inter-communal conflicts:

  • The Consociational or Power-Sharing approach focuses on the creation of institutions that recognize the existing cleavages and guarantee an equitable access to power and political structures to different autonomous groups. The contact between the groups is limited at the mass level and it is instead encouraged at the level of elites through common institutions.
  • The Pluralist or Integrationist approach emphasizes the importance of cooperation across communal identities. Intervention on institutions is considered insufficient and more attention is given to social and economic structures, to ensure the creation of crosscutting links at the mass level.

Some authors do not agree with the inclusion of Structural Prevention as part of Conflict Prevention. Michael Lund, for example, focuses his attention on prompt, short-term, interventions to avoid the potential escalation of a dispute to violent conflict. His definition is more focused on Preventive Diplomacy, and considers what we define as Structural Prevention as too broad of a concept, difficult to distinguish from more general processes of democratization or economic development, eventually closer to the concept of Peacebuilding.

In Michael Lund’s Preventing Violent Conflict, the distinction between different types of preventive intervention is based on the scope and duration of the actions, and on the stage of the conflict at which the action occurs. If violence is occurring, then “damage-control” initiatives must be taken. If violence is impending, then preemptive measures must be implemented to reduce the tension between parties. If violence has not yet taken place, but there are tensions in the society, peacebuilding measures should be put into place.

Subtypes within Preventive Diplomacy

  Crisis Prevention Preemptive Engagement Preconflict Peacebuilding
Primary Objectives Block violent acts, reduce tensions Address specific disputes, channel grievances into negotiations, engage parties Create channels for dispute resolution, build political institutions, define norms, change attitudes, reduce sources of conflict
Techniques Economic sanctions, coercive diplomacy, deterrence Special envoys, mediation, arbitration Problem-solving workshops, arms control regimes, CBMs, conflict resolution training, human rights standards, collective security
Examples North Korea negotiations, Macedonia peacekeeping OSCE High Commissioner of Refugees on National Minorities Observers NPT, OSCE standards
Intensity of Conflict Near crisis, low-level violent acts, taking up of arms, threats, violence probable Low-level conflict over particular issues, tensions, polarization, violence possible Unstable peace, diffuse political instability, uncertainty, distrust, anomy, violence possible
Time Frame Short Term Short to medium term Short to medium term


An analysis of the context is necessary to guide the choice of the most effective strategies of intervention to prevent violence. Given a specific context, appropriate early warning signs and indicators can be selected and the suitable tools for intervention can be identified. The context is here defined in terms of the causes of the conflict and the different phases of the cycle of conflict.

Causes of Conflict
Knowledge of the originating factors of a conflict is fundamental in choosing the right tools for prevention and the right targets for intervention. The Conflict Management approach implies looking at the causes while thinking about the solutions. For this reason it is important to identify elements on which it is possible to act, in order to influence the evolution of the conflict. General theories of war that point to structural elements such as anarchy (see Kenneth Waltz) or the security dilemma (see Barry Posen) are not sufficient. Some authors suggest looking for causal chains, as the interconnected factors and events that led to the development of a dispute and then to the ignition of a conflict. Hidemi Suganami recommends asking the question: "How did this particular war come about?" The answer would lead, in the words of John Vasquez, to the definition of "statistically dominant patterns […] each leading to a specific kind of conflict". This kind of analysis helps define different categories of causes, each influencing in a different way the evolution of the conflict. The field of social psychology has also furthered our understanding of the causes of conflict by focusing upon the attitudes and behaviours of individuals and their collectivities. Preventive intervention is more effective when addressing some factors rather than others, each entailing different policy implications. We consider the following categories of causal factors.
Michael Brown distinguishes between:

  • Underlying Causes or Permissive Conditions
  • Proximate Causes, or Triggers

Underlying causes create the conditions that are necessary for a conflict to develop. Permissive conditions can be of different kinds: structural; political; socio-economic; and cultural or perceptual. While the presence of these preconditions determines whether or not a society is conflict-prone, it does not tell anything about when and how the conflict is going to escalate to violence. Conflicts are often an integral part of social dynamics and the engine of social and political development. Only conflicts that turn violent are disruptive and harmful.
Triggers and Proximate causes fuel escalation and determine if and when a conflict will turn violent. These are the variables that must be known to control escalation and that must be targeted in a preventive action. Proximate causes can generally be defined as rapid and unexpected changes in any of the underlying causes. Change acts as a catalytic factor causing the ignition of violent conflict. Brown introduces a further distinction between Mass-factors and Elite-factors. Mass-factors refer to structural, economic, and cultural forces that influence shared perceptions and diffused hostility. Elite-factors refer to the behavior of specific leaders, assigning precise political responsibilities to the promoters of policies that deliberately fuel conflict. These last factors constitute the category of triggers that are more easily recognized, and on which Preventive Diplomacy can focus for effective, punctual interventions. Permissive conditions, conversely, would be the target of initiatives of Structural Prevention.
In a similar way, Michael Lund classifies different factors as:

  • Structural Factors
  • Dynamic Factors

Structural factors produce acts of violence only "remotely and indirectly;" dynamic factors are more "direct and immediate." In every conflict it is possible to define the sources of incompatibilities between different groups, and the "swing factors" that determine whether the dispute will be settled peacefully or will escalate to violence. Lund notices that the definition of the relevant structural factors is not always helpful to policymakers and practitioners that must act with limited resources, in a limited amount of time.
Dynamic factors that influence the evolution of the conflict must be spotted in order to "identify strategic points at which interventions can have real results."
On the basis of this distinction, three categories of causes are listed:

  • Received legacies and socioeconomic conditions - These are factors that are inherited from the past and cannot be changed in the short term.
  • Institutions and political process - Norms and institutions that can be acted upon and changed in the medium term, influencing the behavior of the conflicting parties.
  • Actions of protagonists - Show how groups and their leaders perceive the situation, and how they react to it. These behaviors could be influenced and changed in the short term.

Phases of Conflict
Many authors describe conflict as a cyclical repetition of different phases, with recurring processes of escalation and de-escalation. Distinguishing between these different phases is useful to guide Conflict Prevention. Once the targets of the preventive actions have been defined, the knowledge of the phase of conflict in which we decide to act also has important policy implications. In a conflict there are no clear trajectories, in which distinct phases follow one another in precise order. Nevertheless, it is possible to distinguish more acute and complex moments from more open and flexible ones in which it is easier and less costly to intervene. Given the resources and the tools available, it is possible to decide if and when they can be used effectively. Intervention in the first phases is less costly and more effective, but third parties often lack the information and the incentives to act sooner than later.
Some models of conflict cycles are presented in the ; here we adopt the division of conflict into five phases suggested by Donald Rothchild and Chandra Lekha Sriram. The five phases are: The Potential conflict Phase; The Gestation Phase; The Triggering and Escalation Phase; and the Post-Conflict Phase, which includes a Security-building Phase and an Institution-building Phase.

  • Potential Conflict Phase - In this phase the conflict is present but at a very low level of intensity. Structural factors and underlying causes fuel division among groups along socio-economic, cultural, and political lines. Elites start mobilizing collective discontent, but without catalyzing it into organized groups. Preventive action at this point is not risky and has high potential payoffs.
  • Gestation Phase - In the gestation phase contended issues and conflicting groups are more defined. Inter-group relations are politicized and popular mobilization is such that even elites that were not manipulating incompatibilities must react and address popular discontent. As polarization between groups increases, the possibility of violence is higher and small-scale incidents can occur. Crosscutting ties and inter-elite linkages are still present, and issues are still negotiable. The costs of preventive actions are increasing but the potential payoffs are still positive.
  • Triggering and Escalation Phase - A real or perceived change in the groups’ economic, social, or political conditions can trigger the escalation. The start of mass violence constitutes a fundamental threshold in conflict. Inter-elite ties break down, social interactions focus on organized violence as political exchanges fade. Violence increases; adversaries loose confidence in each other and feel they cannot compromise. Violence makes intervention risky and costly. Even at this point it is possible to act in order to prevent violence to escalate further and eventually spillover to other regions or groups.
  • Post-Conflict Phase - After the de-escalation of violence, preventive interventions aim at re-establishing peaceful ties and communication channels between the conflicting groups, in order to avoid a new round of violence. The phase can be divided into two separate parts: 1) A short-term Military/Security-Building Phase in which processes of disarmament and demobilization promote new confidence in peace; 2) A long-term Institution Building Phase in which social, political and economic reconstruction contributes to redrawing intergroup relations. Institution building and democratization should lay the foundations of a sustainable peace.

Social Psychology of Conflict Escalation
The field of social psychology offers important insights into the escalation phase of conflicts. For instance, according to Rubin, Pruitt and Kim, escalation occurs when a group is faced with aggression, or when one side perceives the other as the cause for loss or unfulfilled aspirations. Whether conflicts are internal or external, responses to such situations most often lead to actions which exacerbate tensions and result in violence.

Escalation of violence is often described as a security dilemma, the situation that occurs when both sides attempt to pre-empt aggression by the other. Information failures, in which neither side is precisely sure of the plans or intentions of the other, lead defensive actions by one side to be perceived as offensive by the other. Leaders believe that they have no other choice than to match or surpass actions taken by the other, leading to a cycle that can quickly spin out of control.

Identity can also play a key role in the escalation of conflict, when individuals or leadership feel threatened. When threatened, individuals in groups tend to cleave to factors of identity in order to establish a sense of security. According to Lederach (1997), perceived threats encourage people to seek their security in increasingly narrow identity groups. Leadership whose legitimacy is threatened, either by their own actions or by an immediate crisis, can manipulate the identity of its population. Rothchild (Forthcoming) terms the "rallying cry" to be the call of leadership to mobilize along nationalistic terms for collective action.

The evolution of conflict can be attributed to:

The role of public opinion and collective moods
  When conflict has a protracted history, it is easier to mobilize public opinion towards escalation rather than de-escalation. Long experience of distrust or conflict means violence can be easily re-ignited.

Group Loyalty
  In order to successfully affect their actions, leaders need to mobilize the support of the population. In crises of legitimacy, such mobilization is often completed through the manipulation of identities through nationalistic appeals.

Threats to Decision-Making
  Threats from opposition groups or other threats to power often discourage steps towards peace and compromise, as compromise is often perceived as a weakness.

Negotiation and Bargaining
  Negotiations are only ever entered into when parties perceive that gains from joining the negotiation are greater than those that would ensue by a continuation of conflict.

- Herbert Kelman (1997)

Indicators & Signs

Lack of political will or urgency are often presented as the main reasons why countries fail to act decisively to reverse incipient conflicts around the world. However, while admitting that these factors may play a role, Michael Lund claims that they are not of primary importance. Rather, the most fundamental factor, he explains, is that politicians and middle-level elites in the US and elsewhere, have very little knowledge and understanding of the nature of post-Cold war conflict, as well as the mechanisms that can be used to reduce them. In order to promote effective preventive diplomacy, policy makers need to know a number of things about the potential real cost of conflict, the risks and effectiveness of preventive action, and the mechanisms and ways by which prevention can be implemented.

Developing frameworks that can predict conflict and devise the most effective operating procedures on the basis of the nature of the conflict, its context, and dynamics, is therefore vital for policymakers to feel confident enough to support preventive initiatives. Further, organizing and synthesizing pre-conflict information into meaningful categories that clearly indicate threat levels in each unique case, will be needed in order for such initiatives to be implemented.

In order for third parties and the international community to better be able to predict and prevent violent conflict, we have to know the warning signs that precede it. The earlier the reaction to an incipient conflict, the greater the opportunity of reversing a deteriorating situation. We can be forewarned of impending crises through early warning indicators or signs:

  • Indicators are certain figures or groups of figures that, when monitored over time, tell about changes in political and economic conditions of a country or group. They are long-term in perspective and include issues such as crime rates among certain groups, trends in unemployment, negative attitudes, forms of expression, and political association.
  • Signs are more short-term indices that do not necessarily appear regularly but whose appearance signals fundamental changes in a country?s situation or the deterioration of inter-group relations. They are, for example: sharp increases in violent crime, vandalism, protest, threats and/or rhetoric, as well as increases in ethnically or religiously motivated attacks.

There are numerous early-warning systems at work in conflict-prone regions around the world. The Clingendael Institute of International Relations in the Netherlands, has made an effort to track these systems in their report "Conflict Prognostication: Toward a tentative framework for Conflict." In contrast to early warning systems in other fields (such as agriculture or meteorology) early warning models on conflict differ in that the phenomenon to be warned about involves human decisions, thoughts and behaviors. The report creates a three-fold typology of Conflict Prevention models: the correlation model, the sequential model, and the response model.

Whereas the correlation model focuses on structural indicators and causality and how these will help us understand why conflicts occur, the sequential model focuses on shorter-term early warning by studying the sequence by which events that can trigger conflicts have occurred in the past. The response model is different in that it is "policy-driven? or "consumer-driven." Rather than trying to understand the causes of conflict, it identifies the points in a conflict process in which strategic interventions are likely to make a difference in outcomes.

Early-warning models differ in terms of their objective, structure, manner in which data is collected, and mandate of the monitoring authorities. When choosing a methodology each system has to determine whether to use short-term or long-term indicators, take a qualitative or quantitative approach, or collect generic vs. specific information. Most of these choices have to be adapted to the specific context of the region where the data is collected, as well as to the availability and reliability of information. In addition, the task of setting up an early warning structure is far from simple: it requires a comprehensive and exhaustive strategy for the employment of the mechanisms. Early warning projects should prioritize putting in place short-term systems that can provide information on the most immediate threats of the escalation of violence.

Types of Indicators and Signs
Monitoring programs have to be formulated so as to provide us with the knowledge needed to tackle the issues that eventually lead to violent conflict. General indicators-- such as economic, social, legal or environmental-- are monitored by most governments (and often by international organizations) in most areas of the world. However, information-collection requires resources and coordination, two aspects that are often missing in poorer countries, or in countries plagued by violence or conflict. Some indicators may be harder to track than others and in many cases governments even make an intentional effort to disguise certain conditions that could put them in a bad light or give credit to a political opposition. Political or security-related indicators are typical in this regard.

There is no consensus over what type of indicators most accurately predict the emergence of a conflict, and in some cases findings are contradictory. Studies done by the Clingendael Institute show that whereas military/political conditions serve as triggers for the outbreak of violent conflict, economic and social indicators are important for the structural background conditions within societies that provide a potential breeding ground for discontent and political mobilization. Some examples of typical signs and indicators:


  • Sudden demographic changes and displacement/movements of people
  • Increasing "territoriality" of groups/peoples


  • Short-term and long term changes in economic performance of a country or a region
  • Increase in poverty or inequality
  • Rise of unemployment rate
  • Economic shocks or financial crises


  • Deliberate acts of governments against a specific group or region
  • Destruction or desecration of religious sites
  • Active discrimination or legislation favoring one group over another
  • Potentially destabilizing referendums or elections
  • Government "clamp-downs"

Public Opinion or "Social Factors"

  • A rise in "societal" intolerance and prejudice
  • An increase in numbers of demonstrations or rallies


  • Intervention or support on behalf of one of the parties/groups by an external actor
  • "Diffusion" or "contagion" of ideologies or conflicts in neighboring regions
  • An influx of refugees from a conflict in a neighboring country

Along with typical indicators or signs to be monitored by different systems, there should also be room for creative ways to pinpoint problems that may be specific to the local society/culture in question. Some examples may be the increase in the sales of spray paint (political graffiti), rising copying or printing costs (used for creating pamphlets), children?s art (can show levels of exposure to street violence or domestic violence), or gun-holsters (mobilization of arms).

The Minorities at Risk Project is a quantitative system that analyses and monitors the state of minority groups around the world, in order to determine whether or not they are ?at risk.? Once developed and functioning, a project like this may serve as an effective way to predict and prevent the onset of genocide and rising inter-group tension. The following summation of the Minorities at Risk project is taken from Gurr?s book, People versus States:

Ethnic violence happens when the group forms a basis for political mobilization and action in defense or promotion of its self-defined interests. Within this group there is an entity or association that claims to act on behalf of the group. The groups included in the MAR study had to meet one of various sets of operational criteria, such as:

  • A group had to be in a country where the population in 1995 numbered at least 500,000.
  • A group had to number 100,000 or, if fewer, exceed 1 percent of the population of at least one country in which they resided.

According to the MAR dataset, there are 275 minorities at risk in the world, constituting about 17.4 percent of the world?s population. There are two categories in which minorities are divided:

  • Ethnic Groups - people who share a distinctive and enduring collective identity based on a belief in common descent and on shared experiences and cultural traits. Sometimes also referred to as communal and identity groups.
  • Ethnopolitical Groups - identity groups, whose ethnicity has political consequences, resulting in differential treatment of group members or in political action on behalf of group interests.

Considered as National Peoples are three subheadings:

  • Ethnonationalists - regionally concentrated peoples with a history of organized political autonomy with their own state, traditional ruler, or regional government who have supported political movements for autonomy at some time since 1945. (Out of Gurr's 275 groups, 41 classify as ethnonationalists.)
  • National Minorities - segments of a trans-state people with a history of organized political autonomy whose kindred control an adjacent state, but, who now, constitute a minority in the state in which they reside.
  • Indigenous Peoples - conquered descendants of earlier inhabitants of a region who live mainly in conformity with traditional social, economic and cultural customs, different from those of the dominant ethnic groups. Some indigenous people, due to their past political experiences are classified as ethnonationalists.

Considered as Minority Peoples are the following:

  • Ethnoclasses - ethnically or culturally distinct peoples usually descended from slaves or immigrants, most of whom occupy a distinct social and economic stratum or niche. If an ethnoclass is a politically organized contender for a share in state power, it is classified a communal contender.
  • Communal Contenders - culturally distinct peoples, tribes, or clans in heterogeneous societies who hold or seek a share in state power. They can be advantaged, disadvantaged or dominant.

The Effectiveness of Early Warning Systems
Many practitioners and academics question the relevance and the efficacy of early warning systems due to the problems inherent in the development of mechanisms for information collection, and the implementation of such systems. Local networks of civil groups or associations, educational institutions or non-governmental organizations can be effective in monitoring day-to-day changes in a society, since they are familiar with the context that they are working in. International Non-governmental Organizations or International Organizations are often essential both in monitoring activities and providing resources for local activities. In order for early warning systems to function properly, they must be integrated into the international framework and preferably the UN system. However, even more importantly they have to be visible for local politicians and elites in order for them to access the information and address the situation themselves.

After gathering data, a number of additional problems may arise: where does the information go once it has been collected? Who has the mandate, willingness or resources to act in those cases where the risks of impending conflict are unambiguous? Even if systems of early warning are in place there is still often a general absence of political capabilities, resources and willingness to get involved on the part of international actors. Any Conflict Prevention system therefore has to be designed and institutionalized in such a way as to commit politicians and governments to certain responses that become part of a routine. There also has to be a clear method of distinguishing between ?noise? and real indicators, as well as a way to avoid reactions to false incomplete information.

The long-term has to be weighed against the short-term: the question is whether preventing violent conflict with all its repercussions is worth a few mistakes? More importantly, is preventing violent conflict a political priority? The answers to these questions will determine if the risks and costs outweigh the benefits.


Initiatives are actions taken by third parties or participants in a conflict, to prevent the development of a destructive conflict, to reverse an escalation or worsening spiral of violence, or to ease tensions that may exist in conflict prone regions. The nature of a specific initiative should be determined by the cultural and contextual factors specific to each case, and adapted to address early warning signs and indicators where such systems are in place. There are a number of questions that should be considered before any preventive steps are taken. These are summarized as follows:

Questions to Consider Before Taking Action
At what stage is the conflict should the intervention occur?
Is intervention appropriate?
What kind of initiative should be taken?
What degree of involvement should take place and how does the intervener avoid entrapment?
Who should take the initiative?
What are the interests of the third party intervener?
What are the goals of an intervention?

  • Suppressing violence
  • Removing the weapons through which violence may be carried out
  • Addressing the issues in dispute by engaging the parties in dialogue or negotiations
  • Creating or strengthening the procedures and institutions through which such negotiations can be regularized in permanent institutions such as governments
  • Alleviating the egregious socioeconomic conditions that provide tempting occasions for incitement to violence
  • Modifying perceptions and feelings of mistrust and suspicion among the parties

How can an initiative be sustained?
What are the costs of an initiative and its chances for success?
Is there a plan B if an initiative fails?
What are the advantages of doing nothing?
Does an initiative have political backing?

Third Party Incentives
Some of these questions are answered by Rothchild in a forthcoming paper about the Incentives available to third parties in relation to the different Phases of Conflict. Third party incentives are defined as "structural arrangements or distributive or symbolic rewards or punishments used by third parties to encourage a target state or movement to shift its priorities in a desired direction."

Rothchild sees conflict as moving through a dynamic process of five Phases in terms of levels of conflict activity in relations between groups. The following list identifies problems that need to be addressed at each phase of the conflict and suggests initiatives that third parties could take to prevent further escalation:

  • Potential Conflict Phase: Presence of structural and symbolic aspects conflict under surface; increased elite expression of grievances; real of imagined memories of past suffering. Incentives:
  1. Facilitate communication between parties to prevent information failures.
  2. Build confidence in a common future; facilitate inter-elite reciprocity & exchange.
  3. Finance development among economically disadvantaged groups.
  4. Push for more inclusive resource allocation and a representational political system.
  • Gestation Phase: increased politicization of conflict, rising tensions and military mobilization, struggle over control of resources or state, ethnic or group scapegoating, changes in balance of power and narrowing space for compromise. Incentives:
  1. Exhort parties to change behavior through persuasion.
  2. Provide reliable information through early warning systems.
  3. Use diplomatic incentives - good offices & fact-finding commissions, side payments.
  4. Facilitate of negotiation process: Conciliation, mediation, arbitration, aid cutoffs, and exclusion from international organizations.
  5. Sanctions or humanitarian aid.
  • Triggering and Escalation Phase: Triggering of mass violence and major shifts in conflict relations, increased polarization and outbreaks of organized violence, rise in rhetoric communicated by elites; group demands increasingly non-negotiable. Incentives:
  1. Influence parties by exerting pressure to desist from further provocative acts.
  2. Take a traditional role as peacekeepers.
  3. Prevent future escalations of conflict by promoting negotiations.
  4. Act as strong third party mediator.
  • Post Conflict Phase: Major violence has ended but societal and inter-group relations are missing; Uncertainty over commitment and a breakdown in communications; polarization, communal fears and predatory behavior; self-interested and ambitious elites. Incentives:
  1. Increase communication and reduce uncertainties.
  2. Assist in the rebuilding of institutions.
  3. Halt emergence of new rounds of violence.
  4. Design strategies that induces cooperation and future inter-ethnic relations.
  5. Create "Iterative" bargaining environment.
  • Military/Security Phase: Vulnerabilities in cease-fires and de-mobilization phase; need for the implementation of promises and commitments, lack of economic or institutional resources; Inter-group fears and misperceptions. Incentives:
  1. Finance and oversee disarmament & demobilization.
  2. Retrain police and army and reformulate role.
  3. Reduce vulnerabilities by providing information to reduce misperceptions and by manipulating pressures to alter pay-off structures.
  4. Generate economic opportunities.
  5. Assist in post-conflict elections.
  6. Prevent future conflicts by promoting democratic institutions.

Coercive or Non-Coercive Initiatives
As the list above indicates, third party incentives can be coercive or non-coercive and their aim is to raise the opportunity costs of continuing on a destructive path through changing parties’ calculation of costs and benefits. Sometimes “packages” of coercive and non-coercive incentives can be applied, with coercive ones becoming more dominant as the costs of altering preferences and the intensity of conflict rises. Rothchild in Wermester & Sriram indicates that non-coercive incentives are more likely to result in a durable peace and if coercive methods are applied it is important to follow up with aid and political reforms in order to prevent a relapse of violence.

There are four main types of non-coercive incentives:

  • Purchase - Side payments that alter pay-off structures.
  • Insurance - Promises or guarantees to uphold agreements, especially in relation to the participation of weaker parties.
  • Legitimation - Incentives that stabilize commitment to democratization in post-conflict phase.
  • Economic Support - Promises of financing that can alleviate competition over scarce resources or compensate the "loser." New findings show that high levels of poverty has proved to increase the occurrence of civil war.

There are three main types of coercive incentives used by third parties:

  • Diplomatic Pressure - Partially coercive but still a "cooperation incentive" Includes political, economic, strategic, and military policy approaches.
  • Sanctions - A punitive strategy designed to alter behavior.
  • Military Intervention - Used by third party especially to strengthen political initiative; can decisively alter the balance of forces

Examples of Initiatives
In targeting specific problems in a society, Conflict Prevention initiatives are similar in many cases to post-conflict peacebuilding. However, while peacebuilding is challenged by the task of rebuilding a society after it has been more or less completely destroyed, Conflict Prevention has to target problem areas within a working (and often adversarial) political system or structure, with the aim of changing the structure in order to prevent future problems. Conflict Prevention and peacebuilding are therefore faced with similar problems and tasks, but different contexts and political environments in which they operate. Below are eight types of initiatives that may be taken to improve a situation in a country:

  1. Community Building: Developing a sense of coherence among parties that have had conflict in the past in order to promote a sense of community within a local geographic entity (such as village, town, city…). These kinds of pre-conflict initiatives often fall under the rubric of civil society building, and can include simple activities such as building a gym, designing a park, or other cultural activities that allow people to congregate and interact (regardless of ethnicity or religion), hence improving the sense of community. It could also be efforts by different communities to work together to fill common needs such as repairing religious, historic or cultural sites, building schools or orphanages, industries, farms or other cooperative endeavors. These activities could help to develop a sense of common responsibility and to share the effort of meeting mutual needs. They are also important to reconciliation)
  2. Economic Development: Dealing with economic disparities through development programs can help both disadvantaged and advantaged parties, by reducing inequalities, increasing earning power and creating a sense of self-worth. On the individual or group levels this can include legislation that equalizes the playing field for businesses and entrepreneurs regardless of size, the socio-economic development of disadvantaged communities, the creation of employment opportunities or vocational training, as well as the distribution of aid in order to alleviate the feeling of alienation.
  3. Demobilization: When a situation is clearly drifting towards an outbreak of violence, demobilization programs have to be based on strong incentives or force in order for combatants to give up their hopes of future victory. Paul Collier in Berdal and Malone writes that individuals often enlist in armies that fight civil wars because it provides an easy source of income, but as they become part of the group, their cause becomes more collective. Armies could run out of recruits if a source of income were provided for unemployed young men in such societies. Demobilization can also be applied as part of a peace accord or cease-fire agreement, as a preventive measure to reduce the risk of further violence.
  4. The Rule of Law: The legal system in a society may or may not contribute to the conflict, depending whether it is open and fair to all groups or particularly biased in favor of one. When the rule of law is ineffective in mitigating conflict, the process/system may have to be altered. The legal system, through legislation, judicial process or executive order, can be used to diffuse/defuse tension between conflicting parties.
  5.  Preventive Deployment: If there are clear signals of impending violence or a worsening conflict, troops, police or security forces of third parties may be sent into a region to safeguard the population against violence. Preventive Deployment is usually a proactive measure designed to facilitate a political solution by avoiding or limiting violent conflict. It underscores international willingness and commitment to react to a situation, and a concern for civilian populations.
  6. Preventive Diplomacy: We refer to preventive diplomacy as efforts exerted at the most formal levels of government, between officials representing one of the parties. This process is often called Track One diplomacy. There is also a growing awareness of the importance of Track Two diplomacy, referring to talks or negotiations that take place between middle-level government officials, as well as between cultural or intellectual leaders or NGOs. In contrast to “Track One” diplomacy, this lower-level process does not possess rule-making or decision-making capacities, but can facilitate relations between states, without depending only on the elite.
  7. Education: Education is one of the means by which the message of peaceful coexistence can be conveyed to the grassroots. This is not an easy task-for most people it means that they have to re-evaluate and re-examine the knowledge that has been part of their reality. One of the most important areas is history, where two groups can have completely separate narratives for the same historic event. Changing the education therefore also requires rewriting books, and re-educating the teachers. A new “Peace curriculum”can also give students tools by which they can resolve conflict by reframing issues in a more manageable, neutral and perhaps a less emotional way. In order to do so it has to deal with the deconstruction of the given basic, and often negative, information about the “other” and provide opportunities for cultural exchanges and dialogues between groups.
  8. Regime Building: Regimes are ideas or institutions that transcend international boundaries and often manage shared resources and common processes between groups, states or organizations. Regimes can be formal or informal and can facilitate cooperation between parties as well as bind them to certain obligations and tenets that can prevent or limit the resort to violence or other destructive behavior.


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