What Forces Conflicting Parties to the Negotiation Table?
By: Ethio-Researchers Hub
Violent conflict erupts when a conflict is not resolved peacefully. Conflict emerges when there are incompatible or contradictory goals among (at least two) individuals or groups. Depending on how the conflicting parties communicate and try to resolve the conflict, a conflict could be either constructive or distractive. An incompatible goal does not necessarily lead to violence and destruction unless the conflicting parties start to block each other from achieving the desired goal/s and imposing unilateral solutions. This creates tension and frustration among the parties. When there is frustration, it is easy to establish group polarization, leading to dehumanizing the ‘other’ group. Dehumanization helps to escalate the conflict by forcing frustration into hatred and violence. Group polarization does not always lead to violence unless there is a deep culture of violence that makes violence a normal response to a conflict.[i] The question of a group’s “physical, territorial, cultural, and economic survival become the justifications for every expression of conflict behavior.”[ii]
A violent conflict could end either through victory or negotiated settlement. In order to invite the conflicting parties to the negotiation table, the conflict must be ripe for negotiations i.e., the conflicting parties must realize that they cannot achieve their goal through violent conflict. The ripeness of conflicts refers to a specific period in violent conflict when circumstances are most conducive to conflict management (e.g., negotiation).[iii] Zartman calls this “mutually hurting stalemate”. When the conflict is ripe, it implies that hurting stalemate is present. Hurting stalemate refers to
“a recent or impending catastrophe (a situation of deadlock and deadline); the efforts of both parties to impose unilateral solutions are blocked and bilateral solutions become conceivable, leading antagonists to perceive that there is a workable alternative to combat; and power relations have changed in a way that a party that previously had the upper hand in the conflict starts slipping and the underdog starts rising (e.g. before settlement can be achieved, a rough power parity between the disputants needs to exist)”.[iv]
In short, when the conflicting parties are trapped in a “conflict from which they cannot escalate to victory and when this deadlock is painful to both of them,” then the conflict is ripe, then the conflicting parties are ready to sit at the negotiation table.[v] Third parties may assist the conflicting parties by initiating contact with one another, facilitating meetings, building their trust and confidence, setting agenda, formulating agreements, or guiding the conflicting parties to alternative solutions to resolve the conflict. “Good settlement should not only bridge the opposing interests, but also represent norms and values that are public goods for the wider community in which the conflict is situated.”[vi] But one should also note that “negotiation may be a tactic interlude, a breather for rest and rearmament, a sop to external pressure, without any intent of opening a sincere search for a join outcome.”[vii]
[i] Galtung, J. (2007). Introduction: Peace by peaceful conflict transformation – the TRANSCEND approach. In C. Webel, J. Galtung, C. Webel, & J. Galtung (Eds.), Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies (pp. 14-32). Abingdon: Routledge.
[ii] Jeong, H.-W. (2008). Understanding Conflict and Conflict Analysis. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore: SAGE Publications Ltd. (p.12)
[iii] See Zartman, I. William. (1983). ‘The Strategy of Preventive Diplomacy in Third World Conflicts’, pp. 341-363 in Alexander L. George, ed., Managing US-Soviet Rivalry: Problems of Crisis Prevention. Boulder, CO: West- view.
Zartman, I. William. (1986). ‘Ripening Conflict, Ripe Moment, Formula, and Mediation’, pp. 205-227 in Diane B. Bendahmane & John W. McDonald, eds, Perspectives on Negotiation. Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service Institute, US Department of State.
Zartman, I. William. (1989). Ripe for resolution: conflict and intervention in Africa.
Haass, Richard N., 1988. ‘Ripeness and the Settlement of International Disputes’, Survival, vol. 30, no. 3, May/ June, pp. 232-251.
[v] Zartman, I. William. (2001). ‘The timing of peace initiatives: Hurting stalemates and ripe moments’. Global Review of Ethnopolitics, vol 1 (1), pp. 8-18. (p.8)
See also Zartman, I. William. (2000). Ripeness: The hurting stalemate and beyond. In: International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War. Eds. Stern, P. & Druckman, D., Washington: National Academy Press. Pp. 225-250.
[vi] Ramsbotham, O., Woodhouse, T., & Miall, H. (2005). Contemporary Conflict Resolution (2nd ed.). Cambridge; Malden,MA: Polity Press. (p.175).
[vii] Zartman, I. William. (2000). (p.227)