Conflicts That Can’t Be Resolved

"Conflicts That Can't Be Resolved," Wall Street Journal, September 5, 1997.


Peace processes are proliferating all over the world, along with the violence that gave birth to them. There is the Middle East peace process, of course, but peace processes are also at work in the Cyprus conflict between Greeks and Turks, the Northern Ireland conflict between Catholics and Protestants, the Korean conflict between Communists and non-Communists, the Bosnian conflict between just about everyone, and in many other conflicts around the globe. Nor are they limited to international conflicts. In the California Legislature a bill has been proposed authorizing a Peace Process Task Force to oversee truces in gang warfare.

So many “peace processes” and so little peace! What’s going on?

Well, what’s going on is the familiar story of a social science theory being promoted to politicians who find it an attractive and easy option. The theory in question is “conflict resolution,” by now a venerable department of social psychology with some thousands of “experts” who are happy to sell their services to foundations, government agencies or troubled nations. Our State Department is thoroughly under the sway of this theory — aren’t diplomats by training experts at conflict resolution? — and so is the United States Institute of Peace, whose latest bulletin features a summary of a speech by Joseph Duffy, director of the U.S. information Agency. It reads: “The new information technologies are transforming international relations, opening up new possibilities for conflict prevention, management and resolution.”