Why is conflict resolution not as recognised as it should be?

Why do we expect politicians to be all-knowing multidisciplinary people?

This was asked on LinkedIn by one of my fellow students at Lancaster University, someone I was very impressed with, Pilar Perez Brown.  The context was President Macron attempting mediation talks with Putin, despite not having the necessary academic background or training to do so.

Mediators that comprehend the full political and strategic reality of the war are needed, people that know the best ways to guide this conflict and the relations in it. We need economists and strategists that can explain the depth of both sides’ demands, as well as many other specialists who are equally necessary despite not being politicians.

A discussion began.

Conflict analysis and responses have changed enormously this past few decades.  There are far more options and interventions available to prevent conflict, transform conflict and resolve conflict than most people are aware of.  Somehow, we need to get conflict resolution recognised and given a much higher profile in diplomacy and international relations incident management.

Exactly! Thank you for your insight. Indeed the nature of conflict has changed, and so the analysis of it has enhanced, therefore presenting more opportunities to transform and resolve conflicts, as you mention.
Why do you think these processes are not as recognised as they should be?

I think these are some factors:

  1. The nature of the media.  “If it bleeds, it leads“.  War is exciting and attracts readers / viewers so it is the lead story (to help sell advertising and raise revenue for the media).  Peace is not exciting: there is no blood, no blown up cars, no crying children or other images to bring in the readers.  So the media do not cover peace.  Hence people do not know peace-making is happening all the time.  This makes people assume war is the natural outcome of conflict.
  2. The warring leaders do not want to look weakAll conflict ends by talking.  When powerful people who publicly say they hate each other come to meet and compromise, they do not want their supporters to know they are doing so.  They think it makes them look like they are backing down and are weak.  So negotiation talks are kept secret.  Hence people do not get to hear about them.  When the outcome is a peaceful solution, even then the conflict resolution talks are not mentioned.  So people do not get to hear about how conflict resolution was involved and worked.
  3. Sometimes powerful third parties are involved in the conflict who want their involvement kept secret.  When it becomes politically or economically expedient to have this conflict resolved, it is not necessarily desirable to have the rest of the world see into the detail of the conflict.  Revealing their involvement in the peace process could reveal their role in causing or feeding the conflict, or appear hypocritical because of what they are doing somewhere else.  So they do not want any media coverage of the process of resolving the conflict.  It just quietly fizzles out, without the rest of the world noticing a process was followed.
  4. Revealing the presence of peace-making mediators makes them a target and can cause more conflict.  Some people will not want the conflict resolved and may attack the mediators.  Once mediation has been successful, knowing they were involved could make them vulnerable when they get involved in a later conflict.  So their involvement is never revealed.  This can be high profile individuals or specialist mediation agencies.  Again, the conflict resolution process does not get talked about, this time for reasons of mediator personal security.
  5. Historical precedent.  One view of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler was that it bought the rest of us a year to re-arm and prepare for the inevitable war.  But he has gone down in history as a weak man and a failure.  I suspect politicians are frightened of ending up in the history books for the same reason.  However, if you fight a war and lose, you can still be recorded as the brave hero who refused to give in.  It may seem better politically to go into a war and risk losing, then go into mediation talks that might fail and result in war anyway.  So a guaranteed war is actually more attractive than the risk of one.  Hence getting involved in peace talks risks losing one’s political credibility, so there is no interest, and no desire to have anyone know if they do so.
  6. President Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex and how they have a vested financial interest to influence public policy toward fear of conflict.  Governments and academia get added to this mix, depending on the theory.  I cannot imagine NATO or Lockheed Martin lobbying to have their funds are reduced and diverted to investment into conflict resolution research and promotion.  Mediation specialists have small budgets for advertising and little need to do so to the general public.  The arms industry and the military and their activities get plenty of coverage for free.  That normalises conflict for the public.
  7. The immaturity of International Relations Theory.  It is still based around the Realist / Liberalist / Marxist tripartite.  The Realist theory is simplest, oldest and most embedded in our culture as “might is right” and international relations being anarchic, amoral and all about survival.  Liberal theory has had to be modified many times to try to match current affairs, making it look weak and reactive and so of little use as a theory.  Marxist theory is a political non-starter.  When people have studied international relations theory, it has typically been this academic view, one which is not about conflict resolution.  Instead, it is about studying how war is just and inevitable, based on past experience.  However, that does not cover what actual practitioners have been doing in reality, nor count the times a war was avoided.  Huge progress has been made in understanding how people are motivated and how to achieve change painlessly and so that it sticks.  These practitioner fields and their modern techniques are not taught so much as IR Theory in generalist politics degrees.
  8. But I blame the media foremost.
    Create a cease-fire in a war: it’s an editorial on page 7.
    Slap someone on TV for mocking your partner’s medical complaint: it’s front-page news and it fills social media (about 4,810,000,000 results on a Google search!)
    Violence increases sales and increases advertising revenue, conflict resolution does not.

Who looks after the peacemakers?

When there is a conflict, people flock to one side or the other to support them, be it a divorce or an international conflict.  For those working with those parties trying to find an amicable solution, there is an expectation to empathise but not judge.

Listening to people who are angry, hurt and confused is hard without joining in.  To listen properly one must let them speak, put one’s self in their position, feel what they felt.  But to help fix the problem, one must not agree with everything they say as one would to a friend.  This means inevitably internalising all their emotion.  Then, when listening to the other party, doing that again.

I have found it is incredibly tough to do this, especially when over an extended period of weeks.  It is amazingly draining, not physically or just mentally, but emotionally and something else too.  There is something drained internally leaving one unable to make decisions or think of anything.  It becomes all-absorbing and nothing else gets in.

There must be techniques to prevent or reduce this, or to alleviate it.  Presumably those who conduct sessions at Relate or ACAS or in peace negotiations have tools and methods that mean they can keep working without exhausting themselves.

I have tried searching online to find out what these are, but without success.  Perhaps it is part of conflict resolution training or mediation training.

Having recently spoken to a GP and a policeman about this, I find neither gets any form of training or support to deal with the emotional consequences of their work.  People dying, mangled bodies, dealt with as part of their jobs, and no support.  How poor is that?