Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

Read The Latest Post

I heard an amazing interview on the The World radio program today, with a young American Army commander, Captain Michael Kolton,  who decided to reach out and forge a relationship with one of the Taliban commanders that his unit was fighting in Afghanistan. (transcript here) Captain Kolton made a deal with his Taliban counterpart, a man known as Massoud. Kolton told Massoud that as long as he called every week, the Americans would not hunt him down. Massoud made sure to call every week, and the two men continued to meet and get to know each other. Pretty soon, Massoud was giving Kolton the best intelligence he had ever received, and both found they had more to talk about than […]

Joshua Goldstein has an article in Foreign Policy (and apparently a book coming out on this topic) in which he proves that, as President Obama announced in June, and contrary to popular belief, the tide of war in fact is receding, and has been for some time. Compared even to the 1990’s, we are seeing about half the number of deaths worldwide from war. The U.S. has substantially reduced troop levels in places like Korea and Europe, and when withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan are finally complete, will have fewer troops abroad than at any time since the 1930’s. There are far fewer civilian casualties from war than in decades past. Some intractable conflicts (e.g., Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kashmir) have […]

Last night I had the chance to hear Adam Hochschild talking about his new book To End All Wars, which is mainly about the conflicts between pro and anti-war leaders in Great Britain during World War I. The first World War is a particularly hard war to justify or glamorize, since it cost so many millions of lives, in such pointless slaughter. Part of the reason for that was the state of technology of the time. Offensive charges led by cavalry, the formula for success for hundreds of years, were rendered useless by machine guns and barbed wire. Until the invention of the tank, armies could no longer mount an effective offense. But the warring parties persisted in the attempt, […]

Mediators often become evangelists for negotiated resolution of conflict, believing mediation or other forms of diplomacy to be superior to all other forms of conflict resolution in all circumstances, and with the potential of solving all problems. We should probably be more humble. We should understand that some conflicts cannot be resolved at all, and some can only be resolved by other means. President Obama, who most of the time stands for making every effort to achieve consensus, and who even won the Nobel Peace Prize(!), reminded us of that with his announcement last night that he had ordered, and the military had carried out, the killing of Osama Bin Laden. In this case, we were dealing with a character […]

I will admit that I am not entirely comfortable with the idea of the mediator as a neutral. I prefer to think of the mediator as an advocate for each side in turn. Sometimes I feel that my role is to coach each side into negotiating the best deal they can get. Sometimes I try to persuade each side of the strengths of the other side’s position. And sometimes I act as the advocate for agreement as opposed to the drawbacks of continued conflict. In none of these roles do I feel strictly neutral. I also think parties need not choose a mediator who is strictly neutral in the sense of having no connections to either party, or in terms […]