Thursday, December 20, 2012

Conflict Modeling: Predicting and Resolving International Conflict

Flaming Swords: The Meeting Between Leo the Great and Attila
Conflict models are often used successfully in the workplace, labor relations, and on an international scale to understand conflict. Such models focus on the prediction and resolution of conflict in order to reduce its devastating impact. In international affairs these models help to frame a greater understanding of the components that influence the decisions which lead to conflict and war. The following article will discuss current and possible future models of conflict prediction.

Modeling conflict often takes a theoretical and a mathematical approach. Once the theoretical components have been found they are written into mathematical models. Such models use regression analysis and other statistical approaches to predict when and where conflicts will occur. The more accurate the model is the more likely it will be able to validly predict potential conflict before eruption.

Conflict Models:

Pondy Conflict Model: The Pondy Conflict Model attempted to synthesize the relationship between the personality and structural components through understanding competition over scare resources, an attempt to achieve autonomy, and divergence of goals (Pondy, 1967). According to Deutsch & Leweiki the Pondy Conflict Model is able to see the following elements (1970):
A.) antecedents conditions
B.) latent conflict
C.) perceived conflict; leading to
D.) manifest conflict
C.) conflict aftermath
A criticism of the model is based on the resource considerations being a root cause of conflict and ignores values, religion, or social stress as factors.

Ecosystemic Complexity Theory of Conflict (ECTC): Assumptions of ECTC include 1.) conflict exists in a nonlinear fashion; 2.) conflict exists in a multi-layered social arena; 3). human behavior is unpredictable and difficult to control; 4.) patterns emerge for conflict improvement; and 5.) avoidance of control mechanisms and encouragement of adaption and change (Brack, Lassiter, Hill, & Moore, 2011). The theory has some strength because it is possible to break apart the components and allow for higher levels of analysis. Such a theory has been applied successfully to explaining the patterns to the Cuban Missile Crisis and its back channel communication. It further highlights the concepts that adaptation and change help to reduce conflict as patterns and behaviors change to conflicting conditions. The theory can be criticized for placing too little emphasis on the beneficial aspects of control mechanisms that can influence decision-making and behavior.

Spatial Models: Close proximity, in addition to other factors, increases the likelihood that conflict will arise (Ward & Kirby, 1987). This model helps to predict how conflict (i.e. WWII) spread throughout the region. With appropriate distance the potential for future conflict can be reduced. However, this model works well with unsophisticated groups but does not consider the significant improvement in logistics and telecommunications over the past few decades. Such models spread based upon communication and transference of ideas. Likewise, economic conditions and governmental factors may impact local regions.

Game-Theoretical Models: Commonly called Game Theory each player pursues a course of action in order to maximize their opportunities and advantages in pursuit of a particular goal (Glenn, Johnson, Kimmel & Wedge, 1970). Under this model the more information, research, and knowledge the players have the better the choices and decisions. The conflict ends when one side is limited in choices and has considerable risk of loss if another move is made.

Neurological-Conflict Models: Neurological models bring forward the concept that conflict is rooted in the social, neurological, and psychological factors of understanding and decision making. Through such decision-making analysis it is possible to predict and resolve international conflict (Kerman, 1965). Conflict becomes minimized when both parties have similar vantage points and shared understandings or interests.

Critical Race Theory of Conflict (CRT):  The theory makes two assumptions which include 1.) race is the cause of conflict and is embedded in society's fabric; and 2.) law and racial power are tied together (Gotanda, 1995). Criticism of the theory lies in its over emphasis in all aspects racial as the cause of conflict while using little evidence. Such a theory would be useless in such societies that do not have diversity and would be inappropriate in a post racial society where democratic principles maintain inclusiveness. Certainly conflict has many more causes than skin color as can be seen during civil wars where the same race engages in inter-conflict.


Each model has some advantages and disadvantages when used in predicting potential conflict or finding appropriate resolutions. Such models often help to explain interpersonal conflict between two persons, organizations, or nations. As long as there is imperfection and inaccuracy in the process there is a benefit in proposing new models.

Morton Deutsch (1973) indicates that conflict is a result of opposing goals, claims, beliefs, values, wishes, actions, feelings, etc... Under such conflicts it is the difference in values that further causes problems and issues between two entities. Such conflict is often derived from a person's assumptions about "how things should be".  These assumptions can lead to forcing one's "reality" on the other. As we know forcing one's will can be an expensive and costly proposition and therefore should be used as a last resort in cases of extreme importance.

Conflict can also be seen in a relational context of history, actions, and beliefs that eventual lead to clash (Coleman, et. al. 2012). Thus, conflict is a psycho-social event that results from a continuum of activity between the entities involved. The motivation of conflict arises over time as the parts interact and socialize but maintain their separate identities. Historical self-identities of the entities involved can also lead to a level of conflict if their root perceptions and self-perceptions are wrong.

Reviewing literature for the development of Me-conomics Theory it is possible that basic concepts from other sources can be applied to an explanatory model of predicting and preventing conflict. Me-conomics is the study of the socialized self within an economic system. This vantage point includes understanding the values and perspectives of employees as it relates to their cognitive processes, socialized root value systems, and their motivation to achieve rewards.


Like Clark Hull's Theory of Motivation, which sees employee motivation as a function of drive and habit B=f(DxH), the Me-conomic model of conflict sees the motivation for conflict from the relationship of the differences of values between two entities, the economic value of the gain or loss resulting from the conflict, and the amount of antagonistic discourse between the two entities.

The potential for economic clash can be seen as a function of the difference in values related to methods of needs attainment, the economic value of the transaction(s) and the anxiety level of the relationship. This could be denoted as EC=Function (DV x  EV x AL) using the factors of Economic Conflict (EC), Difference of Values (DV), Economic Value (EV) and  Anxiety Level (AL). It is possible to represent this relationship as the following mathematical equation.

 EC=f(DVxEVxAL)
Difference of Values (DV): These are the root assumptions and values that people have about themselves or the society they live within. When two entities have dramatically different self-perceptions and root value systems they are unlikely to come to the same conclusions about certain events. Therefore, this difference creates whole new patterns of thought that are radically different and begin the highlight the differences of the entities involved.

Economic Value (EV): This is the value of the commodity or social worth of having a conflict. Two entities engaged in a conflict might be fighting about relationships, jobs, money, land, resources or anything else. The value must have high importance to engage in the conflict. Few would engage in costly and risky conflicts for items that have little to no value. 

Anxiety Level (AL): Anxiety levels are those personal and social anxieties that are a result of maintaining either self-image or ensuring that social parties are satisfied. As the public discourse rises the anxiety levels are likely to rise with it. This is one of the reasons why the media will be flooded with news about the atrocities of the actions of a nation or two school age boys will shout back and forth before a conflict results. The more the parties invest in the act the more pressure to engage in it.

This can be highlighted in the examples below:

Example 1: Two nations have a disagreement over an important and rare commodity which could be worth billions of dollars in the short-run and hundreds of billions of dollars in economic value in the future. The type of commodity isn't as important as its perceived value. Both countries adhere to different religious and social systems and see the other nation as intrusive, an outsider, and ethnocentric (i.e. culture clash). The anxiety level between the two nations has been rising for years through political rhetoric, media reporting, and ideological grandstanding. The high levels of different value systems, the potential for loss or gain of the commodity, and the anxiety level greatly raises the potential for such a conflict. In this case anxiety can be seen as that social and personal anxiety that pressures the subject to act. Sometimes this can be experienced through the media, financial supporters, or societal pressure.
To reduce the potential for conflict in such a situation would mean negotiating a mutually agreeable contract of the commodity, listening to and sharing perspectives, and reducing the political rhetoric. As each factor decreases so does the likelihood of a repeat conflict. For example, even if an entity disagrees with another over some value laden course of action the potential for conflict is much lower when acting alone then when there is a combination of value differences, economic incentives, and high public discourse to engage in the conflict.

Example 2: The economy has suffered some recent declines and revenue is hard to achieve. Organizational profit margins are on the decline. Unionized employees have become accustomed to incremental increases in wages every time the employment contract is signed. This is a direct result of two decades of economic expansion of markets. However, executives are now feeling pressure, due to market constraints, to reduce overall costs and increase productivity. The differences between management and employee values on methods of needs attainment and wealth distribution, limited resources available, and increased politicking on both sides of the isle are likely to create high levels of anxiety.

To resolve this issue is difficult but not impossible. Focusing closely on non-financial needs of employees, offering economic opportunities for individual goal attainment, helping leaders of both sides "save face", and sharing perspectives can minimize those catalysts that can cause a strike or lockout. What would be a benefit in this situation is a frank discussion on solutions to the financial stress and offering rewards in return for productivity. Such revenue sharing can be individualized or collectivized by the organization's profits (i.e. profit sharing, incentives, bonuses, decision making committees, or stock options in lieu of immediate compensation). Changing the vantage point to one of collaboration, economic opportunities and shared benefits are a start but doesn't begin to address this complex issue.

Conflict modeling is never a perfect solution. To present there are no models with 100% accuracy. In any conflict there are hundreds and thousands of factors that lead to the first eruption. Yet each of these factors are often grouped and statistically analyzed on a micro or macro scale to determine their relevance to the prediction process. Until a more valid conflict model has been developed we will still be subject to surprises.

Brack, G., Lassiter, P., Hill, M. & Moore, S. (2011). Ecosystemic complexity theory of conflict. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 50 (1).

Coleman, et. al. (2012). A situated model of conflict in social relationships. Negotiation Journal, 28 (1). 

Deutsch, M. & Leweiki, R. (1970). Locking in: effects during a game of chicken. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 14 (3).


Glen, E., Johnson, R., Kimmel, P. & Wedge, B (March, 1970). A cognitive interaction model to analyze culture conflict in international relations. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 14 (4).

Gotanda et al, (1995) Critical Race Theory: Key Writings That Formed the Movement. New Press. Introduction.

Kelman, H. (1965). International behavior: a social-psychological analysis. Irvington Pub. 15B082900275.

Pondy, L. (1967). Organizational conflict. Administrative Science Quarterly, 12 (2).

Ward, M. & Kirby, A. (1987). Reexamining spatial models of international conflict. Annals of Association of American Geographers, 77 (2).










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