CONFLICT RESOLUTION

What it is: Just as some universities offer courses in Peace Studies (as part of the search for an end to warfare), so institutions and other organisations have been set up to study how conflicts can be settled or 'resolved' (part of the search for ways to prevent war starting).

What it means: There is plenty to learn about. What are the causes of conflicts among individuals, groups and states? What can be done to remove these causes? What can be done to prevent an existing conflict from turning into war? What patterns do conflicts follow, and how can they be broken? How can conflicts be prevented from starting up again? Answering these questions is not all desk-work. People also study conflicts where they are happening, or starting to happen, and help to put into practice what has been learned. Conflict Resolution is not new: experts in it have for many years been travelling to scenes of conflict to try to calm the situation. Their workload grew in the 1990s, after the Cold War, as they helped to set up peace processes round the world in countries troubled with conflicts between rival groups. There is still much to do - especially as major nations may be led by people who choose to use war for political purposes. Some people have been working on 'Conflict Transformation' as a first step to resolving very deep-rooted conflicts. This means encouraging peoples in conflict to deal with the problem by political methods rather than military ones. Many people, including military leaders, have said that 'there can be no military answer' for such conflicts as the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, or the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Think about it: There's plenty of sensible advice for resolving conflicts between individuals. 'Don't let them wind you up.' 'Cool off.' 'Walk away.' 'Ask yourself why it's happening.' (Not so helpful are remarks like 'You asked for it', even if true.) How can commonsense conflict resolution be done at 'citizenship' level - at school, at work, in the local community and political district? Look for deep-rooted causes as well as the flashpoints. Look for ways to defuse dangerous situations and keep trouble-makers from derailing the process. Find level-headed people who can speak for each side. Search for meeting places that are neutral. Identify things all sides have in common, and start from there.