What could be done? The politics of conflict-resolution

By Johan Galtung

First version written mid-1993, revised 2006

Let us first engage in some counter-factual history.  Fall 1991 Yugoslavia and Europe, and the world in general, was faced with a war unfolding in Croatia.  Yugoslavia was not that strongly coupled so fortunately the war spread slowly; after all, it was a federation bordering on con-federation. Many of the national mixes were tripartite. So is gunpowder: carbon, sulphur and salpeter.  Proceed with care. And, if you use a hammer, do not be surprised if you see an explosion.  There were many hammers, some inside, some in the region some in the larger international system.

A major condition for war, polarization, was fulfilled as the logic of a war is bipolar.  If there are more parties than two the condition for war is alliance-formation combined with neutrality for some; the wars being more or less shifting.  Alliances, like the highly unlikely Croat-Muslim alliance in B-i-H could be forged from the outside; or, like the counterpoint, a Serbian-Croat alliance in B-i-H, from the inside (the Milosevic-Tudjman scheme).  What would be the minimum assumptions for an alternative, more conflict solution oriented course of history?  Opinions will differ on that one, but here are two, and they are far from unrealistic:

[1]  We might have not only expected but demanded more conflict literacy in the definition of the conflict. To cast this complex conflict in a small number of parties – or only Serbs versus the rest and Serbia alone in the role as problematic (to the delight of the others), ending up with the Hague Tribunal conflict map of the world against Milosevic is simply dumb.

[2]  We might have followed Pérez de Cuéllar’s three-point advice:  do not recognize “too early, selective and uncoordinated”. We could have decided to not recognize any party as independent before a solution satisfactory to the minorities has been found, not favoring the more Western of the republics and have a policy for Yugoslavia as a whole. In other words, priority should have been given to the United Nations over the European Community/Union.
There is also a third, but less realistic, assumption:  more attention given by media and politicians to the numerous ideas from NGO/civil society that we have mentioned in another post here.

Ten pointers toward a peace process in Ex-Yugoslavia 1991-1995 [Read more…]