Identifying the players is usually the first order of business when you are trying to assess a conflict. Knowing who is involved in the conflict can go a long toward explaining what the conflict is about. I have written before that it is easy to analyze a two-sided conflict. However, some conflicts have more than two sides; many conflicts involve multiple parties with varying and conflicting goals.
Sometimes assessment is a simple, and possibly dangerous, task of identifying which side the highly visible combatants belong to. Depending on the scale of the conflict, this can be the effort of one person working in a small area or a team deployed across many miles and numerous regions. In these cases one only needs to identify how the adversaries align themselves, exhausting the variations of answers. Basically, you keep asking the adversaries who they are and why they are fighting until you stop getting new answers.
Sometimes the players are difficult to discern. The players can use proxies; that is, hired guns. These hired guns can take the form of actual mercenaries in a combat level conflict. More often you will be dealing with some representative who refuses to name an employer or their interests. This makes identifying the reasons behind the conflict difficult.
The big players in any conflict are usually the primary stakeholders. They will typically have much to lose or much to gain in the conflict. Once you know who these people are, their interest in the conflict tends to be obvious.
However, the primary stakeholders are not the only stakeholders. In a large, multi-party conflict there are always secondary stakeholders. Secondary stakeholders are people with no direct interest in the conflict. They are typically involved in the conflict because their proximity drew them into it. Though these people have no desire to involve themselves, they are directly affected by the conflict.
There is another set of stakeholders who are indirectly affected by a conflict. These are called tertiary stakeholders. They will not be directly affected by the conflict. In fact, their interests in the conflict will be obscure and probably hidden from the primary and secondary stakeholders, but the conflict affects their lives nonetheless. This is the unintended consequences part of the conflict.
You may have noticed that the concept of interest plays a major part in determining why people are participating in a conflict. In my next post I will explore the concept of interest and how interest pulls people into conflict.