Challenges for Resolving Complex Conflicts

by Robert J. Burrowes / April 22nd, 2018

While conflict theories and resolution processes advanced dramatically during the second half of the 20th century, particularly thanks to the important work of several key scholars such as Professor Johan Galtung significant gaps remain in the conflict literature on how to deal with particular conflict configurations. Notably, these include the following four.

First, existing conflict theory does not adequately explain, emphasize and teach how to respond in those circumstances in which parties cannot be brought to the table to deeply consider a conflict and the measures necessary to resolve it. This particularly applies in cases where one or more parties is violently defending (often using a combination of direct and structural violence) substantial interrelated (material and non-material) interests. The conflict between China and Tibet over the Chinese-occupied Tibetan plateau, the many conflicts between western corporations and indigenous peoples over exploitation of the natural environment, and the conflict between the global elite and ‘ordinary’ people over resource allocation in the global economy are obvious examples of a vast number of conflicts in this category. As one of the rare conflict theorists who addresses this question, Galtung notes that structural violence ‘is not only evil, it is obstinate and must be fought’, and his preferred strategy is nonviolent revolution. But how?

Second, existing conflict…

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