Knowing what is keeping people away from the negotiation table is a crucial part of conflict assessment. Multi-party conflict often involves circumstances that will prevent you, the conflict assessor, from bringing all parties to the negotiation table. It is your job to figure out what these impediments are, in order to bring as many parties as possible to the negotiating table. However, before any negotiations can begin, the impediments that exist need to be mitigated to the extent possible.
Many impediments are linked to affective conflicts (which we discussed a while back). Affective conflict is a disagreement wherein the parties involved get emotional with each other and start using ad hominem attacks, effectively losing the reasons that started the conflict to begin with. Affective conflict leads to several different impediments.
Animosity, historical grievance, and mistrust are all impediments to conflict resolution that are rooted in affective conflict. Animosity is simple enough to explain; get involved in a conflict long enough and things start getting personal. Animosity can be fed by historical grievances; that is, remembered situations or events that one can view as a wrong or a slight. A historical grievance need not have happened to the parties in a given conflict, the parties only need to be reminded of these grievances in order to fuel the fire. Animosity and historical grievance breed mistrust between parties; though mistrust often develops on its own within any affective conflict.
None of these impediments (animosity, historical grievance, mistrust) is necessary for or a precursor to any other impediment; they all exist individually and in support of each other within affective conflict.
Not all impediments are based on the emotional content of a conflict. Structural violence can play a role in impeding conflict resolution. Structural violence refers to the systemic tools of a society meant to enforce existing power relationships and keep people in their proper places. Another way of looking at structural violence is to describe it as the imbalances, inequities, and inequalities that allow one set of people to hold power over another set of people.
A thorough understanding of the social, political, and economic implications of conflict resolution is of paramount importance in conflict assessment. Alliances and power structures can be upset if a conflict is resolved. In trying to bring all parties to a negotiating table, one must absolutely keep in mind that not all parties will benefit from negotiation.
I have spent the last several posts just discussing the outline of conflict assessment. In the next post I will start discussing how all of this information is put together in order to provide a tool that will allow conflicting parties to work on solving problems rather than attacking each other.