01 February 2013

Danish research to strengthen conflict resolution in global hotspots

CONFLICT RESEARCH New research on conflict theory can make Denmark better at preventing the escalation of conflicts throughout unstable regions of the world. Ole Wæver, Professor of International Relations at University of Copenhagen has received a large grant from the Danish Council for Strategic Research in order to gather researchers across national universities in the ‘Centre for Resolution of International Conflicts’ (CRIC).Demonstrations in Syria. Foto: Colourbox

Since the Arab Spring have many nations been added to the list of global hotspots – each in their own way: from deaths on a daily basis during demonstrations in Egypt, to a violent civil war in Syria as well as the aftermath surrounding the conflict in Libya in which a military 'solution' more recently has manifested itself as a war in Mali.

More than one solution

In a country like Denmark an impulse is often the demand to ”do something” and in the last couple of decades this ”something” has more often than not resulted in military intervention. Non-military approaches have lacked clarity and thus received little focus.

The furthering of conflict research can both emphasise the options for non-military solutions – as well as it can help to avoid badly executed measures. Regardless of a participant’s self-perceived role in a conflict whether as mediator, development aid sponsor, monitor of rights, or as part of peacekeeping troops, - any such participant will inevitably become part of the conflict. This is the case for NGO’s like the Red Cross, individual persons, a state or an international organisation.

- It is crucial for the results that we fully understand the local forces behind the conflict and its patterns, and moreover how external actors choose to involve themselves in the conflict. What are the consequences of our contribution to the conflict and how will it influence the conflict in the future? These are examples of questions which research in the newly established centre will seek to answer, says director and professor Ole Wæver.

Focus on both long and quick conflicts

The centre is named ’Centre for Resolution of International Conflicts’ (CRIC), and has been established through a grant from the Danish Council for Strategic Research for 15.5 million kroner. The centre will gather leading national researchers and will be collaborating with outstanding international networks in their respective fields.

The focus of the centre will be on the significance of the historical memories in protracted conflicts i.e. Israel-Palestine, and on the particular phase of conflicts, that of escalation during which the extent of the violence and the nature of the conflict will be determined, i.e. Syria in 2011. Moreover, researchers will investigate the role of experts (conflict expertise) and the interaction with other actors playing a part in the conflict such as the media, the actual sides of the conflict as well as Western politicians. The centre will collaborate with both governmental and non-governmental practitioners in order to develop new ways to make scientific knowledge of conflicts more useful.

Need for better solutions

The aim of the centre, long-term, is to create better capacity for action for Danish actors who are trying to de-code ”old” conflicts, or those involved in the phase of conflict escalation by working towards preventing a violent outcome.

- The work of CRIC will provide Danish practitioners with access to all of the latest research, says Ole Wæver, and he adds that conflict research in Denmark for a number of years has been neglected which only highlights the importance of playing an active role as part of the international network and thus communicating the overall field of research to Denmark.

Ole Wæver goes on to explain why the new centre should also be of interest to international partners:

- We are first and foremost able to draw upon strong research communities from various Danish universities for each of our sub-projects. Second, CRIC is rooted within the ”core team” of the so-called ‘Copenhagen School’ theory of securitisation which receives great international attention. Finally, CRIC will be able to offer new and original angles on conflict theory.

Violence as an overlooked phenomenon

After a period of optimistic confidence in the Western world’s ability to solve conflicts by long-term measures such as export of democracy and development aid, (and by military means for “those who got away”), - there is now an urgent need for knowledge of how conflicts arise, and how the international community can avoid the escalation of conflicts and prevent possible massacres.

- It would be preferable to reach a point where we are capable of influencing the course of the conflict before it becomes violent, says Ole Wæver.

One of the new elements which the centre will incorporate within conflict research is sociology of emotions. This can be used to gain a more precise understanding of the violence threshold within conflicts. If you understand the anger of a demonstration, and the internal dynamics of those in power having to choose whether to give in or to crush a protest, it can explain the nature and outcome of a perhaps decisive moment of the conflict. Such episodes are often turning points determining the development of a conflict in its entirety:

- Violence is a complex and surprisingly overlooked element within conflict theory. This is due to the widespread assumption that violence is ”easy”, - the assumption being that if a conflict intensifies with no outer control, then violence will occur by default. Research shows however that violence for most people in fact is “difficult” which in turn explains why violence often manifests itself in the most horrifying ways, explains Ole Wæver and he adds that by securing greater insight into the paradoxical nature of violence we can hopefully become better at preventing conflicts turning violent.