Contemporary Conflict Resolution

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Contemporary Conflict Resolution (Fourth Edition)
By Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse & Hugh Miall
Polity – £28.99

I’ve often felt that the more one investigates a certain conflict – the many complex reason(s) for it having kicked off in the first place being a strong premise from which to embark – the less one appears to know. Might this be because of the many, varying, interwoven challenges at stake, that are more often than not, held to some sort of religiously induced ransom?

The Arab Spring for instance, the convulsions of which have affected the lives of more than 350 million people (half under the age of twenty-five might I add, which in and of itself, speaks volumes); which, along with the U.S. led Iraqi War, has unfortunately manifested in the vile formation of the barbaric, Islamic State.

Due to the (continuing) upheavals of 2011-14 – that invariably involved such bordering states as Iran and Turkey – the whole conundrum of unspeakable murder that is Syria, is, to my mind at least, a kaleidoscopic, undecipherable cesspit of a mess.

This partially explains why I’m drawn to such a challenging and compelling read as Contemporary Conflict Resolution, as it’s surely something of a profound necessity to try and at least understand what on earth is going on, outside the television and reported media that is. And it has to be said that this book, by Messrs. Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse and Hugh Miall really does make for eye-opening, extraordinary reading.

In ‘Introduction to Conflict Resolution: Concepts ad Definitions,’ they assimilate through some of the Twentieth Century’s web of modern history and point out that: ”Conflict is a universal feature of human society. It takes its origins in economic differentiation, social change, cultural formation, psychological development and political organization – all of which are inherently conflictual – and becomes overt through the formation of conflict parties, which come to have, or are perceived to have, mutually incompatible goals. The identity of the conflict parties, the levels at which the conflict is contested, and the issues fought over (scarce resources, unequal relations, competing values) may vary over time and may themselves be disputed.”

Herein, the authors tell it as it is from the off; but once again, it could be argued that the more one delves into one aspect, the less one knows of the initial issue, simply as a result of having to delve into a variant number of other, inter-related aspects – ad infinitum. Might I add that this is by no means a reflection of what can only be considered a sublime book, but is quintessentially and directly due to the complexity of the book’s colossal subject matter. A dense subject matter that is inexorable to say the least: ”A wide range of policy options are in principle available for direct prevention […]. they range from official diplomacy (mediation, conciliation, fact-finding, good offices, peace conferences, envoys, conflict prevention centres, hot lines) through non-official diplomacy (private mediation, message-carrying and the creation of back-channels, peace commissions, problem-solving workshops, conflict resolution training, round tables) to peacemaking efforts by local actors (church-affiliated talks, debates between politicians, cross-party discussions). In some cases exploratory talks and trust-building by respected mediators are crucial. In others, positive and negative inducements by relevant states are significant” (‘Preventing Violent Conflict – Direct Prevention’).

Made up of three parts and twenty chapters (which range from ‘Ending Violent Conflict: Peacemaking’ to ‘Reconciliation,’ from ‘Gender and Conflict Resolution’ to ‘Linguistic Intractability: Engaging Radical Disagreement When Conflict Resolution Fails’), Contemporary Conflict Resolution is also made up of a number Figures, Tables, Boxes, Maps, Illustration Acknowledgements and Abbreviations, which ultimately account for it being such an invaluable work.

While not a bedtime read, many will invariably delve into certain sections as a form of invaluable reference. Its 504 pages (excluding Notes, References and Index) are, as John Paul Lederach of the University of Notre Dame, states: ”now updated with current research and new approaches to deeply difficult protracted conflicts, remains the most comprehensive, well-conceptualized and useful introductory text to the wider fields of peace and conflict studies.”

In all, an outstanding and well-researched analysis.

David Marx

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