Cutting Losses: Reflections on Appropriate Timing




Mitchell, Christopher

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School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution


“The field of conflict resolution has reached a point in its evolution where hunches and intuitive guesses are being transformed into testable theoretical propositions. Nowhere is this more important than in the debate about when conflicts are ‘ripe for resolution.’ The conventional wisdom is that early intervention is preferable to late intervention since conflicts are more tractable when there is cognitive flexibility, when the structural conditions are conducive to settlement and the issues are clear and unclouded, and when the protagonists have not lapsed into a malignant spiral of violent hostility. If this wisdom is correct, and there is much evidence that it is so, then conflict revolutionaries should direct most attention to the prevention of violent conflicts. If conflict resolvers fail to prevent the occurrence of violence, however, the question of when it is timely and appropriate for third parties (or the antagonists themselves) to initiate peace processes remains. This is a vital issue, since premature or tardy interventions may impede rather than advance positive peace processes.”