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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War 2 Evaluating Interventions in History: The Case of International Conflict Resolution Paul C.Stern and Daniel Druckman When decision makers at any level organize interventions to prevent, mitigate, or resolve international conflicts, they are at tempting to change the course of history.1 They therefore need to learn lessons from history about why past interventions had the results they did—that is, they need to have the interventions evaluated in a relatively systematic way. Opinions are sometimes quite polarized about whether and how a scientific approach to evaluation can help conflict resolution practitioners. One extreme view, sometimes attributed to social scientists, follows from a simple model of how science gains knowledge and how that knowledge is used. Classical thinking about infectious disease illustrates this model. Each disease is caused by a specific microorganism, and the microbiologist’s task is to identify that organism so that applied scientists can find effective vaccines and treatments. When a disease follows the classic pattern, every case is sufficiently alike that, once it is correctly diagnosed, the prescribed prevention or treatment will be universally effective. Various scientific methods are used to identify infectious agents, develop vaccines and treatments, and evaluate their effectiveness and safety. Conflict resolution practitioners are like physicians in that they work to prevent or control noxious situations.2 Few of them, however, believe that violent international conflict follows the classical model of infectious disease in which each condition has a single cause and a small number of effective treatments that can be identified and evaluated by scientific analysis and applied independent of the situation.3 Practitioners are typi-
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War cally suspicious or even contemptuous of generalizations put forth as “scientific.” The extreme view sometimes attributed to them is that, because each international conflict situation is unique, scientific approaches that seek general laws cannot provide useful insights. In this view, useful knowledge is highly case specific. It requires detailed understanding of the cultural, political, and historical contexts affecting the parties to a conflict and experiential knowledge about the parties, their motives, and their susceptibility to influence. In this view, useful knowledge can be gained but not from systematic scientific investigation. Neither of these extreme views is satisfactory—and neither actually describes what competent scholars or practitioners do. International relations scholars do more than apply standard scientific techniques of measurement and analysis when they try to understand the causes of international conflict and its cessation. They know that the phenomena are difficult to categorize and quantify and virtually impossible to manipulate in the style of experimental microbiology. The best a scientifically oriented international relations scholar can hope to do is to apply some of the methods of social science, such as event analysis, comparative case study research, simulation, and modeling, and make inferences carefully and judiciously, understanding the limitations of each method. In making inferences, competent social scientists act a bit like practitioners, taking advantage of detailed knowledge about specific cases and their contexts to temper the conclusions that may seem at first glance to flow from their analyses. Similarly, skilled practitioners do more than rely on case-specific knowledge to guide their actions. They typically search history for similar situations and are influenced by their judgments of what was effective in those situations. For example, a foreign minister’s expressed desire to avoid “another Munich,” “another Vietnam,” or “another Somalia” is likely to be more than rhetoric used to justify a decision in the face of political opposition. A practitioner who sees striking similarities between a current situation and the situation preceding a well-known policy failure of the past is likely to treat very seriously the notion that the approach that failed before would fail if tried again (e.g., Khong, 1991). Thus, skilled practitioners benefit from acting a bit like social scientists: examining a body of presumably relevant evidence, drawing tentative conclusions from it, and making inferences about the likely effects of the interventions they are contemplating in the new situation. They temper those inferences, of course, with their specific knowledge of the current situation. But to the extent that they believe history holds lessons for them, they are acting like empirical social scientists and ought to find it useful to have thorough and carefully considered analyses available. There are serious dangers, of course, in relying on single historical analogies for
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War policy guidance (Neustadt and May, 1984). Practitioners can gain more reliable insights from more sophisticated social science approaches, such as the careful analysis and comparison of several relevant cases (George, 1979). It is possible to move beyond caricatures of social science and diplomatic practice by distinguishing among three types of knowledge, all of them useful to conflict resolution practitioners. One is case-specific knowledge of the current situation facing the parties to a conflict; the historical, cultural, and geopolitical contexts of the conflict; the internal dynamics of the decision-making groups for each party; the political pressures affecting decision makers on each side; and so forth. A second, which George (1993) calls generic knowledge, crosses situations and focuses on particular strategies of intervention. It takes the form of propositions that, under certain kinds of conditions, a particular type of intervention can be expected to yield certain kinds of outcomes. To make such generic knowledge useful in practice requires not only that the propositions be correct but also that the practitioner can accurately classify the situation at hand as to the types of conditions present. Thus, making generic knowledge useful requires case-specific knowledge. George (1993) also discusses “actor-specific behavioral models,” which include general propositions about the behavior of a particular actor, such as the state leader who is the target of an influence attempt. These propositions take the form that under certain kinds of conditions the target actor can be expected to behave in certain ways. When an actor-specific behavioral model is correct, it offers a form of generic knowledge about an actor. As with generic knowledge about intervention strategies, generic knowledge about actors must be combined with case-specific knowledge to be of practical value. It may be presumed that case-specific knowledge comes only from practical experience and that generic knowledge comes only from systematic research and analysis—that specific knowledge is “practical” and generic knowledge is “theoretical.” We do not accept either of these presumptions. For example, generic studies of actors and strategies can create typologies of situations that are very useful for building case-specific knowledge—the concepts tell observers what to look for in a situation. And generic knowledge can be greatly informed by the introspection of experienced practitioners who have developed useful practical distinctions among situations and working hypotheses about how conditions affect outcomes that can be tested and refined by systematic research. Thus, we are suspicious of theory in this field that does not have a strong basis in practice, and we accept the aphorism attributed to psychologist Kurt Lewin that there is nothing so practical as a good theory.4 Our concern here is with how systematic analysis can help distill the
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War lessons of history and thus aid the practice of international conflict resolution. Social scientific analysis can make practical contributions in several ways. It can help diplomatic practitioners check their tentative judgments about the lessons of history against the evidence and confirm or refine their judgments accordingly. For instance, it can test inferences from history against a wider range of relevant historical evidence and thus help keep practitioners from making errors because of gaps in their experience or overreliance on single historical analogies. Analytical studies can critically examine the assumptions underlying conventional wisdom about which interventions work under which conditions and may sometimes reveal weaknesses in policy thinking and suggest ways to refine it. By examining historical cases systematically, analytical studies can identify the conditions that have been favorable to the success of a particular strategy in the past and thus help practitioners identify aspects of a new situation that are especially important to consider in making policy choices. They may also identify past situations that practitioners have not considered that may have useful lessons to teach. Although social science can be useful to conflict resolution practitioners, it does not replace judgment. An analogy to the way medicine uses biological science can help clarify what social science can and cannot offer. Medicine is a practice that has a scientific base. Physicians use biological science in diagnosis to tell what signs, symptoms, and test results are the best indicators of the nature of a patient’s disease. To make an accurate diagnosis, however, a clinician must also rely on case-specific knowledge and clinical judgment. This includes not only the specific patient’s test results but also clinical knowledge about how to interpret evidence (e.g., patients’ reports of symptoms) and judgment about how, in a particular case, to combine evidence from different sources (symptoms, physical examination, lab tests) that may not all point to the same diagnosis. In treatment, physicians also draw on both scientific knowledge and clinical knowledge and judgment. Scientific research can tell which treatments are generally most effective and identify special conditions under which the usual treatment is contraindicated and an alternative treatment should be tried. But case-specific knowledge is required, among other things, to determine whether special conditions apply and to decide whether the patient will accept the usual treatment or might, because of other medical conditions or personal characteristics, respond better to an alternative treatment. Social science can aspire to be useful to conflict resolution practitioners in the same ways that biological science is useful to physicians. It can develop and refine taxonomic categories that make it easier to accurately diagnose conflict situations, and it can develop empirically supported
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War general propositions about the conditions under which and the processes by which particular interventions are likely to ameliorate particular kinds of conflict situations. But practitioners still have to rely on their judgment and experience as well as case-specific information (e.g., field reports) to diagnose situations, interpret ambiguous information, select interventions and combinations of interventions, and choose the right time to act. They must also judge how to deal with constraints on choosing the best-quality policy, such as the need for policy support, the limits on resources for policy analysis, and the impacts of decisions on other policy goals and domestic politics. And they must make choices about how risky a policy to adopt, how to resolve value conflicts embedded in policy choices, and the relative value of expected short- and long-term benefits. George (1993) provides a more detailed discussion of the major types of judgments practitioners must make for which social science can presently offer little assistance. The medical analogy is imperfect in that the social science of international conflict resolution is not as well developed as the biological science of disease. Because of the nature of international conflict, there are reasons to believe it never will be. The next section identifies and critically discusses the key challenges of taking a social scientific approach to evaluating interventions for international conflict resolution. It identifies the most serious obstacles to achieving a quality of knowledge that meets rigorous scientific standards. The following section suggests ways to make progress in the face of these obstacles. It proposes strategies for developing useful evaluations of conflict resolution techniques even in the face of the impossibility of achieving the highest levels of verification. We conclude that a systematic approach to learning from the experience of conflict resolution based on social scientific techniques and concepts can yield useful generalizations about what works under which conditions and thus make a modest but important contribution to practitioners’ skill. We also identify strategies for developing and validating these generalizations. CHALLENGES OF EVALUATION Compared with evaluating the efficacy of a medicine for malaria, it is very difficult to draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness of an intervention to reduce, eliminate, or transform an international conflict. This section identifies the major difficulties that face a social scientist who would like to evaluate such an intervention. Although none of these methodological difficulties of evaluation are unique to international conflict resolution, the scale of the difficulties and their conjunction around this particular kind of social intervention make the evaluation of interna-
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War tional conflict resolution efforts different from the evaluation of many other kinds of social interventions. Conceptual Challenges In the standard model of social science, researchers develop and test hypotheses about relationships among variables, including causal relationships. For conflict resolution interventions the key variables are the types of intervention; the consequences of those interventions, judged in terms of success; and the factors that may ultimately influence these consequences. A researcher must define each of these with sufficient clarity to allow other researchers and practitioners to duplicate the researcher’s procedures or ratings of events and situations. It is difficult to achieve this level of clarity with the phenomena of international conflict for several reasons, as this section shows. Defining the Intervention Interventions in international conflicts can be considered analogous to treatments in scientific experiments, but neither practitioners nor researchers are as precise in defining types of interventions as scientific canons prescribe. For social scientific analysis it is critical to define each type of intervention precisely enough to know how to classify each specific case. But the terms that describe international conflict resolution activities are not nearly this precise. A single term often refers to a family of related procedures with varying objectives rather than to a single “treatment.” For example, peacekeeping missions consist of many activities serving many functions in local, regional, and international contexts: peacekeepers may be stationed between combatants as an interposition force following a ceasefire, may defend the victims of international aggression, may monitor elections following a peace agreement, may restore law and order in the absence of government authority, may quell civil disturbances, and may establish safe havens or “no-fly” zones. The definition of peacekeeping has expanded with the increasing number of operations over the past decade (Diehl et al., 1998). Similarly, the term interactive conflict resolution and related terms such as problem-solving workshops and interactive problem solving have referred to a variety of interventions that have some overall similarities but also considerable differences in their operations and objectives (see Fisher, 1997; Saunders, Chapter 7; Rouhana, Chapter 8). Some aim to develop concrete proposals for immediate action by the parties to a conflict, while the immediate goals of others are limited to improving mutual understanding and establishing informal lines of communication. Even the traditional conflict resolution approaches of negotiation and mediation re-
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War fer to a variety of forms and processes. Negotiation may be formal or informal; it may be bilateral, trilateral, or multilateral or it may occur as part of conference diplomacy. Mediation may take the form of facilitation, good offices, the use of ombudsmen, or even slip into arbitration; it may be practiced by parties who can and do use material inducements or threats or by mediators who have little power of this sort. Should activities with such different content be lumped together for evaluation? Perhaps not, because the factors that affect success may not be the same for all of them. The use of a common umbrella term like peacekeeping or mediation suggests some similarity of purpose (various peacekeeping missions aim to improve relations among conflicting groups in a region, and various forms of mediation seek to help the parties to a conflict find a common ground that can lead to lasting agreements). But is such a common purpose a good enough guide for classifying interventions? If not, how should classification be done? The challenge is a serious one. Umbrella terms are particularly appropriate if there is a useful conceptual model to go with them. For instance, theories of deterrence provide a conceptual model within which it is possible to understand a variety of policies as instances of the same general concept and to offer postulates about which deterrence strategies are likely to work well in which situations. If a single conceptual model can do this for peacekeeping or interactive conflict resolution, it would demonstrate the usefulness of the umbrella terms. Defining Success Conflict resolution interventions are generally intended to alter the course of events in a particular direction, usually from violent to nonviolent interactions or, more ambitiously, to transform relationships from hostile and unstable to friendly and enduring (i.e., they may aim for “negative peace,” defined as the reduction of violence, or “positive peace” defined in terms of transforming relationships; Galtung, 1969). The absence of violent conflict is the most obvious observable criterion for success of a conflict resolution technique. But it is not the only possible criterion, and it may not be the best one. Some analysts have recommended measuring success in terms of specific changes in a peace process that indicate progress toward a negotiated settlement or a lasting peace. For example, Stedman (1997; Chapter 5) defines success as the weakening of actors opposed to the peace process vis-à-vis those engaged in it. Such process-based criteria can be assessed independently of the intensity of violence in the short term and may be preferable indicators under some conditions. For instance, some spurts of extremist violence during the
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War Israeli-Palestinian peace process during the 1990s occurred as a direct consequence of progress in peace talks and had the immediate effect of bringing the negotiating parties closer together. Some observers, stressing international norms of human rights, self-determination, or democratic participation, suggest that conflict resolution efforts should not be considered successful without improvements in these aspects of the well-being of people affected by the conflict. Sometimes, the violence of civil war has been greatly reduced by the establishment of a repressive and authoritarian regime (e.g., Zaire in the 1960s), but many observers would not consider this outcome a success or an instance of true conflict resolution. This is a good example of the achievement of negative peace without positive peace. The definition of success may also vary with the standpoint of the judge. The principals to the conflict, various interested third parties, and representatives of international and nongovernmental organizations may all have different criteria of success. Sometimes, what looks like a resolution from a certain external standpoint may look quite different from the inside. U.S. interventions to resolve the conflicts in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic in the 1950s and 1960s may have looked like conflict resolution from Washington, but to many Latin American observers the result was an imposed repression. Also, elites and general populations in a country in conflict may see success differently. A settlement that seems successful to national leaders or to outsiders who claim to see the big picture may seem not to be a resolution at all to members of populations forced to sacrifice as part of the settlement. Historical examples include populations that were moved between Greece and Turkey after World War I and between India and Pakistan after partition; the Bosnian conflict of the mid-1990s is likely also to seem unresolved from the perspective of groups that feel aggrieved by the settlement. If different parties have different definitions of success, which one is an analyst to use? The issue here is that many settlements have winners and losers, and in such cases the winners are likely to consider the settlement more successful than the losers do. It is also difficult to define success when an intervention has multiple or competing goals. An example was the economic sanctions against South Africa under apartheid. One goal was to reduce intergroup violence; another was to achieve adherence to international norms, such as human rights. The two goals were not entirely compatible. For some participants in the embargo, a period of increased internal violence in South Africa was an acceptable price to pay for changes that would establish human rights and, eventually, majority rule. To the extent that there is no consensus on what constitutes success, it is difficult to judge whether it has been achieved. A possible solution to the problem of defining success is to define multiple criteria and to judge
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War the effectiveness of an intervention separately against each criterion. We return to this possibility later. Setting Reasonable Expectations—How Much, How Soon? Closely related to the challenge of defining success is that of setting reasonable expectations—deciding how high to set the bar. The challenge here is to be clear about how much change to expect from an intervention. Some interventions are expected to do only part of the job of resolving conflict or preventing violence, so it is unfair to judge them failures simply because the whole job remains incomplete. For example, an economic sanction may be designed to get a party to negotiate. If the negotiation then fails to yield a settlement, it is unreasonable to judge the sanction a failure. Similarly, a single problem-solving workshop with a few members from the opposing sides in a civil war cannot reasonably be expected to end the war by itself, though it may contribute to that result by improving communication. If an intervention is expected only to contribute to conflict resolution and not resolve the conflict by itself, evaluation requires clarity about what it is expected to contribute. It is also important to set the appropriate time for assessment. How long should it take for an intervention, such as economic sanctions, to work? What looks like failure at one time might later turn into success. On the other hand, a settlement that looks successful in the short run may lead directly to violent conflicts in the future. The classic example is the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which brought to a close the “war to end all wars” but generated resentment that contributed to World War II. A more recent example may be the consociational governmental arrangements in Lebanon that seemed to be successfully managing conflict into the 1970s but that may have contributed to conflict later on, when the formulas for group representation no longer fit the distribution of the groups in the population. Thus, evaluation requires setting reasonable expectations as to what a particular intervention should accomplish and over what period of time. Observers may disagree not only about the appropriate definition of success to apply in an evaluation but also on how much change the intervention should reasonably be expected to accomplish and on the time period that should pass before pronouncing success or failure. Identifying Relevant Characteristics and Contingencies Scholars and practitioners are well aware that the consequences of any intervention depend not only on the intervention itself but also on the way it is carried out and on external contingencies that may influence its
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War outcomes. The latter may include unexpected events in other parts of the world, domestic political and economic forces in the countries in conflict or those intervening, personal characteristics of leaders, and so forth. The relevant contingencies may include both preexisting conditions and events that intervene in time between the intervention and its expected effects. Evaluation efforts should seek to determine the effects of an intervention holding such contingencies aside or, better, to specify how the outcomes depend on the conjunction or interaction of the intervention with particular contingencies. But which factors are likely to be important? It is difficult to know this a priori; consequently, specifying the important contingencies is a continuing challenge. Selecting Cases for Analysis Generalizations in social science are supposed to apply to some universe of cases. The standard social scientific approach to developing empirical generalizations is to define or enumerate the universe of cases of interest and, if there are too many cases to study them all, to investigate a representative sample of cases—that is, a sample that approximates the entire population in terms of the distributions of the key independent and dependent variables that will eventually become part of the explanation. There are formidable difficulties in applying this scientific approach to the study of international conflict resolution; however, other case selection strategies can help in developing useful generalizations (see below). Enumerating the Universe of Cases The appropriate universe of cases is determined in part by the choice of how broadly or narrowly to frame the topic under analysis. This so-called frame of comparison issue (Collier and Mahoney, 1996) is typically discussed in terms of how broadly or narrowly the independent variable (the type of intervention) is defined. This might be called the conceptual framing of the topic. A narrowly conceived topic makes research easier because the universe of cases is smaller, and, because the cases are likely to be more homogeneous in their cause-and-effect relationships, these relationships are easier to discern. However, conclusions drawn about a narrowly defined universe are not intended to apply outside that narrow frame. A more detailed discussion of such tradeoffs appears in Collier and Mahoney (1996). It is sometimes useful to divide a type of intervention into subtypes, to study each separately, and then to compare results to see if the subtypes follow different processes or produce different outcomes. Topics are also framed historically. In recent years, for example,
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War researchers have been concerned about whether the end of the Cold War has so changed the international context that pre- and post-1989 conflict resolution efforts should be treated as parts of different universes. As with decisions about conceptual framing, the choice of a historical frame presents a tradeoff in which a narrowly defined research task is easier but yields more limited results. Comparing different time periods can illuminate both the similarities and the differences between them. Even if an analytical problem is given a clear frame conceptually and historically, it may still be difficult to enumerate the universe of cases. Interventions such as negotiation are so widespread that it is virtually impossible to locate all cases, although this may be less of a problem for official intergovernmental talks. Further complicating this issue is the fact that many negotiations and third-party activities are kept secret, based on the assumption that secrecy may contribute to effectiveness. Recent evidence suggests that secrecy enhances flexibility in negotiation (Druckman and Druckman, 1996). Moreover, it can be difficult to determine accurately whether an intervention was a serious effort at conflict resolution or only a symbolic action. Often threats, economic sanctions, and the delivery of foreign aid are publicly represented as if the intent is to help resolve conflict in the target country when the main objective is something else, such as to placate public opinion in the country that took the initiative. It may be inappropriate to treat a purely symbolic effort analytically as part of the same universe as a serious intervention, even if symbolic efforts may have an impact on the conflict. Getting an Appropriate Sample A serious difficulty in the study of diplomatic activity is that the universe of known cases may be a biased sample of the full universe of cases. For instance, successful third-party mediations tend to be widely publicized, but many failures are kept hidden. If the known cases are biased toward success and lacking in cases that exemplify the routes to failure, a representative sample of the known cases would have the same biases. A similar problem of bias arises if all cases can be identified but the subset with adequate data for analysis forms a biased sample (e.g., if data are systematically lacking on mediations involving authoritarian governments). These possibilities can make it quite difficult to determine whether a sample of conflict resolution interventions is appropriate for drawing inferences about the universe of instances in which a technique was used. Even when one can be fairly certain that all cases of a particular type of intervention are known, there remain serious problems in selecting an appropriate sample of them. One solution, only rarely available, is to
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War which factors to consider in their domestic situation, in the target country, and in the international context before making threats. We believe that theory about other techniques and concepts can usefully follow this model and that several of the contributions to this volume make advances in that direction. Theoretical statements need not closely approach the ideal presented here in order to be useful. Even partial theoretical statements—partial taxonomies, for example, or limited sets of hypotheses about the ways that certain contingencies affect the outcomes of intervention—help both research and practice by directing attention to particular variables that may be important to the outcomes of conflict resolution interventions. To the extent that a theory is supported by evidence, it has identified variables worth considering. Both analysts and practitioners can economize on time and effort by looking at those variables first and considering what theory says about them. Of course, to the extent that a theory is incomplete or wrong, it may direct attention to the wrong variables. Scholars and practitioners need to take theories only as seriously as the supporting evidence implies. They are not absolute guides to action, only interim statements that summarize and systematize available knowledge and that may have suggestive implications about what is likely to work in new historical situations. Well-supported theoretical propositions have several uses for practitioners. They help practitioners assess situations by identifying the factors to consider in deciding whether, when, and how to use a particular type of intervention. They suggest scenarios leading from interventions to outcomes, both desired and otherwise, that practitioners may examine for their relevance to the situation at hand. They suggest what must be put into an intervention if it is to achieve a desired outcome and identify external conditions that are likely to lead to undesirable outcomes. Theories thus help practitioners identify policy opportunities and anticipate policy pitfalls. In all these ways, well-supported theories have diagnostic value for practitioners. Even theoretical propositions that are merely plausible can have diagnostic value if used with caution. A Dialogue of Theory and Experience Theories such as deterrence theory have advanced practical knowledge primarily because of how they help make sense of historical experience. Advances in formal theory by themselves may have very limited practical value because such theories may make opposing predictions depending on the specifics of a case. Wilson (1989), for example, shows that game theory models predict different outcomes of deterrence attempts depending on the structure of information and the parties’ interac-
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War tion—variables whose values can be determined only by observation of particular cases. From the researcher’s standpoint, a useful theory is one that, by focusing attention on particular contingencies, causal mechanisms, or distinctions between situations or classes and characteristics of interventions, leads to empirically supported generic statements that distinguish between favorable and unfavorable conditions for particular types of intervention and explanatory accounts of the processes by which conflicts are resolved. Such theories are also useful to practitioners by focusing their attention on aspects of conflict situations that are likely to be important to their decisions and offering ways to think through the possible consequences of their choices. Experience tests and refines theories, thus making them more useful over time. Good theory gives practitioners advantages they are not likely to gain from unaided reflection on their experience and past cases. Consider, for example, the development of theory about how the structure of electoral systems may affect the course of communal conflict in multicultural societies. Because each electoral system is unique, it would be hard for a practitioner in such a country to make sense of historical evidence from over 200 other countries without theoretical concepts that make it possible to classify those systems and consider their outcomes. Concepts like vote-seat proportionality, geographic accountability, consociationalism, and centripetalism and the theories in which they are embedded (Lijphart, 1984; Horowitz, 1985; Reilly and Reynolds, Chapter 11) offer useful ways of thinking about how any specific proposed electoral design is likely to shape the ethnic composition of political parties, interparty competition, and the potential for interethnic cooperation, communal violence, and peaceful transfers of power. Of course, there is no definitive theory in this field. Nevertheless, the theories that exist, and even the debate among them, are useful to practitioners by identifying causal mechanisms and historical trajectories from the past that may represent models to emulate or pitfalls to avoid. The theories not only point out good and bad examples but also specify what about them is good or bad. It is important to be explicit about the ways in which theory can and cannot help practitioners of international conflict resolution. No matter how well a theory is established, it cannot eliminate the need for practitioners to exercise judgment based on their experience and knowledge. It will always be necessary, at a minimum, for practitioners to classify current conflict situations into theoretically meaningful types based on available information and their judgments of the parties, to define their policy objectives, to make tradeoffs between competing objectives and between short- and long-term objectives, to judge how to proceed given the possibility of unforeseen events that might intervene, and to decide
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War whether aspects of the current situation make it so different from past experience as to question the applicability of the theory to the particular case. A detailed discussion of practitioners’ judgment can be found in George (1993). What good theory can do for practitioners is help them think through the decisions they face. Theory provides diagnostic categories for classifying conflict situations, and it advises on which aspects of a conflict situation are diagnostically important. It offers generic knowledge about the conditions that favor the use of particular interventions in particular kinds of situations and about the effects of implementing the interventions in specific ways. It also provides information on how strongly such generalizations are supported by historical and other evidence. By offering accounts of the processes and causal mechanisms that lead from interventions to outcomes, it gives practitioners ways of checking on the progress of their conflict resolution efforts. A theory of causal mechanisms may also help a practitioner think of new approaches to conflict situations designed to influence those mechanisms. Thus, it makes sense for practitioners to use theories as guides to thinking and action but not as sources of prescriptions for action. A theory that is well supported by evidence may provide a better guide to action than an individual practitioner’s experience; it certainly provides an important supplement to that experience. A theory may also mislead—either because it is in error or because it does not apply to the situation at hand—but a theory built on careful analysis of the relevant cases is less likely to mislead than an implicit theory based only on the limited and perhaps biasing experiences of a few practitioners. Theories can be useful and can be made more useful by careful research. However, they cannot eliminate the need or the responsibility for practitioners to make careful judgments appropriate to particular situations. It is useful to distinguish between theory development and the evaluation of interventions. Theory is intended to produce knowledge that applies to a number of cases, referred to here as generic knowledge. Theories include propositions that specify contingent relationships among variables or causal processes or mechanisms to explain these relationships. Evaluations are intended to throw light on whether particular interventions were or were not effective and why. Evaluation depends on theory development, which provides indicators or criteria of success and a body of propositions describing the conditions under which success or failure (under those criteria) can be expected and the processes leading to those outcomes. Thus, theory provides the concepts needed to evaluate an intervention and explain the reasons for its outcomes.
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War Triangulation Using several distinct research approaches or sources of information in conjunction is a valuable strategy for developing generic knowledge. This strategy is particularly useful for meeting the challenges of measurement and inference. The nature of historical phenomena makes impossible controlled experimentation with real-life situations—the analytical technique best suited to make strong inferences about causes and effects. Thus, making inferences requires using experimentation in simulated conditions and various other methods, each of which has its own advantages and limitations but none of which alone can provide the level of certainty desired about what works and under what conditions. We conclude that debates between advocates of different research methods (e.g., the quantitative-qualitative debate) are unproductive except in the context of a search for ways in which different methods can complement each other. Because there is no single best way to develop knowledge, the search for generic knowledge about international conflict resolution should adopt an epistemological strategy of “triangulation” (Campbell and Fiske, 1959), sometimes called “critical multiplism” (Cook, 1985, 1993). That is, it should use multiple perspectives, sources of data, constructs, interpretive frameworks, and modes of analysis to address specific questions on the presumption that research approaches that rely on certain perspectives, constructs, and so forth can act as partial correctives for the limitations of research approaches that rely on different ones. An underlying assumption is that robust findings (those that hold across studies that vary along several dimensions) engender more confidence than replicated findings (a traditional scientific ideal but not practicable in international relations research outside the laboratory). Thus, when different sources of data or different methods converge on a single answer, one can have increased confidence in the result. When they do not converge, one can make interpretations that take into account the known biases in each research approach. A continuing critical dialogue among analysts using different perspectives, methods, and data is likely to lead to an understanding that better approximates reality than the results from any single study, method, or data source. For more detailed theoretical discussion of triangulation approaches to understanding, see Cook (1985, 1993). A Final Word Practitioners who wish to resolve international conflicts need to learn the lessons of history, but history provides no definitive or comprehensive text. This situation is inevitable in a continually changing international system. A particular challenge in learning lessons from history is
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War the tendency of individuals to assimilate new information to old ways of thinking and the related tendency of organizations to reject information that calls current policies into question. Both these tendencies may lead practitioners to discount or misinterpret new information that does not accord with their preexisting views. Because inferences from history always involve comparisons with unrealized, or counterfactual, worlds, there is plenty of room for reinterpreting available knowledge to fit preconceptions or policy commitments, thus undermining the potential value of new knowledge.7 Nevertheless, careful analysis of historical and other evidence, together with the development of clear diagnostic concepts and empirically tested theories of peace processes, can make a modest but significant contribution to practitioners’ ability to understand and intervene to resolve conflicts. The following chapters are intended as part of that contribution. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We are indebted to Alexander George, Thomas Cook, Ronald Fisher, David Laitin, Dean Pruitt, and Philip Tetlock for helpful comments on drafts of this paper. A shorter version of this paper appeared in International Studies Review, 2000, 2:33–63. NOTES 1 It is useful to offer a few working definitions. We use the term intervene broadly to include any action undertaken to change the course of a conflict process. Interventions by force are only one type. International conflict includes violent conflicts between states as part of a larger class. Our concern is with significant intercommunal conflicts that have the potential to (1) generate violence that crosses state boundaries, (2) cause intrastate violence that generates international concern, or (3) result in violations of international norms about the appropriate uses of force to secure justice or order in states. Thus, our concern is with intercommunal conflict that is or may become violent. The parties to international conflict may be states, international organizations, or other collective actors that are defined or that mobilize themselves as ethnic, cultural, religious, socioeconomic, political, or national entities. International conflict resolution efforts are activities that aim to decrease the level of violence in international conflicts, to reduce the likelihood that conflicts will result in violence, or to provide or strengthen mechanisms or institutions for the peaceful expression and resolution of intercommunal grievances so that they will not turn violent. These efforts aim to change history at least in the narrow sense of altering the course of events and the pattern of forces that have, over an extended period of time, shaped the interaction between the parties to a conflict. They may also seek or produce broader historical changes affecting relationships of additional parties or the international system. It might be said that all social interventions are efforts to change the course of history in the sense that all social relationships have historical contexts. However, interventions in international conflict processes are quintessentially historical: they aim to change the long sweep
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War of relationships among classical historical actors such as states, nations, and social movements in ways likely to be noticed by world historians. 2 We adopt this analogy from George (1993). 3 Medical science is finding that few diseases follow this model. Smallpox and yellow fever may follow it, but cancer may be a more apt analogy for international conflict. There are many types of cancer, many paths the disease may take through time, and many points at which medical intervention may do some good. As with international conflict, the multifaceted nature of cancer makes it very hard to understand and treat. We are indebted to David Laitin on this point. 4 By theory we mean a conceptual model that defines a set of actors and conditions (such as intervention strategies, outcome conditions, and factors other than the intervention that affect outcomes) and postulates associations and causal relationships among them. To the extent that evidence is consistent with a theory and inconsistent with alternatives, confidence is increased that the postulated associations and causal relationships constitute generic knowledge about the actors or conditions. A theory is practical to the extent that it produces reliable generic knowledge that can be used, along with case-specific knowledge, to enable a practitioner to identify the intervention most likely to yield a desired outcome in a particular situation. 5 Such hypotheses and theories may be deductive in origin or they may be developed inductively from studies of the historical paths that led from an intervention to expected or unexpected outcomes. Inductively generated hypotheses can be tested on additional cases. An example from the negotiation literature is the work of Druckman (1995) on “situational levers.” 6 The search for causal mechanisms has increasingly been recognized as an important aspect of explanation and an important complement to the search for contingent generalizations in understanding international historical processes (e.g., Elster, 1983; Dessler, 1991; Little, 1991; Bennett and George, forthcoming). Whereas cross-sectional analyses tend to focus on establishing associations among variables, the search for causal mechanisms focuses on explaining such associations. 7 We are indebted to Philip Tetlock for emphasizing these points. REFERENCES Achen, C.H. 1986 The Statistical Analysis of Quasi-Experiments. Berkeley: University of California Press. Bennett, A., and A.L.George Forth- Case Study and Theory Development. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, coming Bercovitch, J. 1986 International mediation: A study of incidence, strategies, and conditions of successful outcomes. Cooperation and Conflict 21:155–168. 1989 International dispute resolution. In Mediation Research: The Process and Effectiveness of Third Party Intervention, K.Kressel and D.Pruitt, eds. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 1997 Mediation in international conflict: An overview of theory, a review of practice. In Peacemaking in International Conflict, I.W.Zartman and J.L.Rasmussen, eds. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press. Bercovitch, J., and J.Langley 1993 The nature of the dispute and the effectiveness of international mediation. Journal of Conflict Resolution 37:670–691.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: