Conflict Resolution and Other Peace Processes

Ron Fisher

Professor of International Peace and Conflict Resolution, School of International Service, American University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

...There has been so much profusion and diffusion of conflict resolution, peace building, development, and human rights activities going on. It is really hard to get your mind around what is happening out there. What is effective work? What isn't? How is conflict resolution being adapted and applied as we in the field understand it?

I am really quite concerned that there is a danger of losing the integrity and the focus of conflict resolution work in all of this activity, in much of what sounds good and is designed to do good work, get funding, interest donors, to help clients and so on. We may be losing what is really important around intractable conflict, which is to help parties with moving out of the conflict. You see a capacity building, good governance, peace building, all kinds of things going on as projects. There is a little slice of conflict resolution and you are saying well that is good work that could be done in any society any time. What is actually really relevant to de-escalating the conflict, to healing the wounds, to reconciliation, to getting peace on track? What is the focus here? What is the integrity of what we have to offer? I am a little bit concerned with that.

I think what we need to do is redouble our efforts to identify what conflict resolution practice involves whether it is dialogue, analysis, training, or problem solving where it seems to fit with some of these other domains. It is interesting to look at what we as practitioners in the field can and should do, and what we can and shouldn't do. I make the comment and I think it is accurate. A lot of what is called peace building is really community development in somebody else's country. It is now going international but we will call it peace building because it is in an area where conflict was, but it may or may not really help in resolving that conflict in that country, which is what needs to happen for it to get back on the track to development. There is a lot of confusion out there and people are becoming aware of this and some people are starting to trying to address a conceptual way, its really a complex morass, because there is so much going on in what are already very complex situations. It kind of boggles the mind. It is a big issue.

Q: So what is your view of what conflict resolution does bring?

A: I think it brings some of those elements I just mentioned. I think it brings dialogue, which is in other fields as well. I don't want to get proprietary here and take over things. Also it certainly brings conflict analysis and problem solving. It was at the beginning of the field, especially when it shifted internationally, if you want to deal with a conflict situation you don't just bash into negotiation, you need some diagnosis. We have developed a whole array of concepts and tools in the field that can be used by parties and hopefully mutually with some facilitation to analyze the mess that they are in. That is step one, so that you can then think what kind of competency building or problem solving processes can help move us out of that so then we have training in conflict resolution, capacity building. It is an integral part of democracy, as is consensus building.

We know about these processes, we have principles for effectiveness in these different areas. We know about third party stuff. We know about mediation, what I call consultation. We have a sense of that as a theory of practice, a body of knowledge that helps us be more effective rather than somebody who says I think I should fly to Sri Lanka and try to help people out. There is a fair amount of what I call social technology, based first of all on theories of understanding conflict, but also theories of practice and how you operate that's what the field has to offer. It would be a shame to see it diffused, spread all over, and retranslated. In a sense it would lose it's theory, practice, and integrity.