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Theoretical Framework for Conflict Resolution
by William G. Cunningham

[Key_Events] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]

Text: © William G. Cunningham ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following is a chapter contributed by William G. Cunningham, from his thesis entitled Conflict Theory and Conflict in Northern Ireland, submitted for the degree of Master of Literature in Political Studies to the University of Auckland, 1998. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
This article is copyright (© 1998) of William G. Cunningham and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the author. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Conflict Theory and the Conflict in Northern Ireland

William G. Cunningham Jr.

A thesis submitted in complete fulfilment of the requirements
for the degree of Master of Literature in Political Studies,
The University of Auckland, 1998.

Table of Contents

List of Tables, Maps and Photographs
IIConflict Issues and Interpretations
IIITheoretical Framework for Conflict Resolution
IVAttempts at Settlement and Resolution
VPrognosis: The Future of Northern Ireland

List of Tables and Maps

Chart 1: National identity by Constitutional choice.
Table 1: Choice of national identity 1968-1994
Table 2: Constitutional preferences
Table 3: Indices of religious voting
Table 4: Increase in violence in NI from 1980- 1981
Table 5:Percentage of Votes for Sinn Fein 1979-1993
Table 6:Election results for the Northern Irish Forum
Table 7: Peace Process Indicators and Elements
Map 1: Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
Map 2: Northern Ireland.


An examination of the political conflict in Northern Ireland since 1969 concentrating on explanations of the conflict and the search for solutions. The analysis focuses first on examining explanations of the conflict and previous attempts at settlement. Secondly, new theoretical approaches are introduced in the forms of the Enemy System Theory and John Burton's Conflict Resolution Theory. Third, an analysis of the current peace process in light of these theoretical tools is used to offer a prognosis of the future.


I chose the Northern Irish conflict as my topic for two reasons. First, violent political conflict has been a research interest of mine since I was an undergraduate. I was a student of the Cold War during the 1980s, and I developed an interest in ethnic conflict and terrorism in the 1990s. Secondly, my ancestors emigrated from Ireland to America during the famine in the 1840s and I have learned to appreciate my Irish heritage. I chose this topic partly out of respect for my antecedents as well as my Irish friends. I have travelled to Ireland on three occasions, the last time to conduct research for this thesis. I have found the people, both North and South, to be among the most friendly, charming and hospitable people I have ever met. Not that anyone deserves violent conflict, but certainly the people of Ireland, Catholic and Protestant, do not. If I can contribute to the debate on finding peaceful solutions to their conflict than I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

In the restaurant and real estate businesses location is everything. In political analysis timing is not everything, but it is crucial. Obviously, the cease-fires and subsequent 'peace process' have had profound influence on this work. I had a sense of deja vu as I had conducted my previous M.A. research from 1989-1993 during the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then, as now, political scientists and observers have been forced to discard their old models and create new ones to try to explain the momentous events. Because of the dynamic nature of the situation in Northern Ireland I have tried to focus my research on longer term theoretical issues, which will hopefully have more lasting value.

The second issue relating to timing is much more banal and it concerns University deadlines for the submission of theses. I did my final revisions in January and February, 1998 and this was submitted to the binder on 17 February 1998. Consequently, I have missed out on important developments such as the outcome of the peace process, the impact of renewed violence and the referendums North and South. In my chapter on prognosis I have tried to incorporate some longer term forecasting. Time will tell how successful this has been.

One of the most difficult problems I had with this research involved the search and digestion of source materials. This problem was not one of a lack of research material, but rather one of an overabundance. There are approximately 10,000 works on the conflict in Northern Ireland specifically, and this does not include works on conflict theory. It was a laborious task to wade through the material and sift it for relevance. The fact that I found most of the irrelevant material incredibly interesting nonetheless, did not make it easier. I now know that I must focus my reading at an earlier stage.

By far the most interesting and rewarding aspect of my research was conducting fieldwork. It was my first experience conducting research in the field. I travelled to London, Ireland and Northern Ireland to gather material and interview key political actors as well as academics and observers. I was fortunate to have a high degree of access and cooperation from those I interviewed. Irrespective of their positions, affiliations or identities, I found all the people I contacted to be friendly, cooperative and forthcoming. I was also fortunate to be able to observe first hand a contentious political event: the annual Apprentice Boys March in Derry (12 August 1996). Thankfully, the incident was non-violent. I observed most of the march from the Butcher's Gate and Magazine Street by the Derry City walls overlooking the Bogside. The only unsettling incident occurred after the march, when my friend I was travelling with (another American) and I went to a pub in the Bogside for a quiet pint. It was obviously not the time or place for tourists, so we were mistaken for intelligence agents, and by our accents it must have been the CIA we were from. We quickly finished our pints and moved on to a quieter pub near Magee College, were we were made welcome. Oddly enough, this incident was foreshadowed by a professor I chanced to meet at Trinity College, Dublin, who was from Derry. He warned me that I would be mistaken for some manner of agent and to be careful how I conducted my business. It was sound advice and it helped me to avoid the incident escalating further.

This research is an outgrowth of my previous M.A. research into terrorism, conflict theory and the IRA. I am sure that this will lead my future doctoral research down related paths. I would like to explore the effects of attitudes and perceptions in perpetuating the conflict and how changing these preconceptions can influence conflict resolution. I am interested in the use of track two diplomacy in paving the way for track one diplomacy. I would like to engage in some comparative work on other protracted social conflicts such as those in Sri Lanka, Cyprus, Spain (the Basques) Bosnia and the Middle East. I would like to be able to push the envelope in our understanding of how to resolve such destructive and futile, yet incredibly human, conflicts.

Chapter III Theoretical Framework for Conflict Resolution

Chapter Sub-headings:
Conflict Theory
Micro Theories of Conflict
Macro Theories of Conflict
Enemy system Theory
Human Needs Theory
Conflict Resolution Theory
Conflict Resolution: Track Two Diplomacy
Chapter summary

"A bloody phenomenon cannot be explained by a bloodless theory." - Donald Horowitz [1]

This chapter examines the parameters of conflict theory relevant to Northern Ireland. Of particular importance is the introduction of the Enemy System, Human Needs and Conflict Resolution theories to explain Northern Ireland. The exploration of conflict theory is important for understanding the nature of political conflict itself. In order to find solutions to the seemingly intractable problems in Northern Ireland, this theoretical area needs to be fully explored. Developments in this field will hopefully guide researchers to a better understanding and help in the search for solutions. This process is threefold. First, one of finding an appropriate explanation of the nature of conflict; second, using this model to explain the conflict within Northern Ireland; and thirdly, the search for solutions.

Conflict Theory

The purpose of this section is to explore the themes and schools of thought of conflict theory. This is done in order to define the scope and variety of conflict so that the conflict in Northern Ireland can be put into perspective. A review of conflict theory will reveal a number of observations. First, there is a large volume of literature written about the nature and theory of conflict, especially with regard to warfare. Second, there is a lack of consensus among both contemporary and historic views of human conflict. Third, among the literature most relevant to political science theoreticians, there are several dichotomies that divide the search for a dominant paradigm.

The first dichotomy to be addressed concerns the nature of conflict. Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff outline the problem: "Social scientists are divided on the question whether social conflict should be regarded as something rational, constructive, and socially functional or something irrational, pathological, and socially dysfunctional." [2] This has important consequences, particularly for conflict resolution. There is also significant polarity among theoretical approaches. There are two contending approaches: the classical and the behaviourist. The classical approach focuses on the macro level of analysis. It is primarily concerned with analysing the interaction of groups. These groups can be divided along many different cleavages: national, institutional, ethnic, class, and ideological to name but a few. The classical theoretician is concerned with the interaction of groups at the conscious level. The behaviourist focuses on the micro level, the unit of measurement being the individual rather than the group. The unconscious is examined by the behaviourist in order to understand unstated motivational factors. Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff illustrate the different research methodologies:

The former [behaviourist] prefers to isolate a few variables and analyse a large number of cases to determine the relationships among variables. The traditionalist [classicist], in contrast, will often wish to examine all the variables which could conceivably have a bearing on the outcome of a single case. [3]
Conflict engenders interaction at a level more intense than that of competition. Although, as Schelling notes, conflict, competition, and cooperation are inherently interdependent, conflict occurs when competing groups' goals, objectives, needs or values clash and aggression, although not necessarily violence, is a result. [4]

Micro Theories of Conflict

Among the most important assumptions of the behaviourist school are the beliefs that the root causes of war lie in human nature and human behaviour; and that an important relationship exists between intrapersonal conflict and conflict that pervades the external social order. The behaviourist school believes in the centrality of the stimulus - response hypothesis. This school seeks to establish whether humans possess either biological or psychological characteristics that would predispose us towards aggression and conflict. They also seek to explore the relationship between the individual and its existence in its environment. They wish to extrapolate, by way of inductive reasoning, specific variables regarding intrapersonal conflict and generalisations regarding interpersonal and international conflict. Among the prevalent micro theories that we will review are: animal behaviour, instinct or innate theories of aggression, frustration - aggression theory, social learning theory and social identity theory.

Among the behaviourists, biologists and psychologists have used animal behaviour or ethological studies to illustrate possible corollaries to human behaviour. Humans often ignore the fact that we are part of the animal kingdom. However, one should be wary not to directly draw conclusions about human behaviour from animal behaviour. Both human and animal behaviour are complex phenomenon involving such motivational factors as "territoriality, dominance, sexuality, and survival".[5] When using the animal studies method the independent variable that is studied is aggression. O'Connell maps out the parameters of human conflict by suggesting that humans engage in both predatory and intraspecific conflict. While it is unusual but not unknown for animals to pursue such a wide range of aggression, what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our motivation.

Organized warfare was part of nature long before man arrived on the scene. The coordinated rapacity and obvious political intent with which certain of the social insects conduct aggression demonstrate that, behaviourally, there is nothing uniquely human about joining an army or fighting as part of it. . . . Yet the key difference has to do with motivation. Driver ants wage war because their genes demand that they wage war. Man, on the other hand, invented his version of the phenomenon. It is a cultural instrument, a product of his imagination. [6]
As O'Connell contends, man engages in a broad range of conflict. This broad range is supplemented by the variety of motivators which compel him to do so. Another defining element of human conflict is the material aspect. As O'Connell suggests, "Only with the coming of agriculture, and later politics, would true warfare become part of the human experience. Then there would be something to steal and governments to organize the theft." [7] Although animal behaviour studies shed some light on human behaviour, it offers only clues and not an explanation of the complexity of human conflict. It offers a good starting point, but the analysis weakens as human behaviour becomes more complex than animal behaviour.

Early psychologists often postulated that there was an innate instinctual or biological mechanism which would predispose humans towards aggression. This lead to the formulation of the instinct theories of aggression. This theory combined elements of early psychological studies (Freud's `death instinct' for example) and social Darwinian theories regarding the fight for survival. This theory was subsequently discredited by biologists who did not believe that such a mechanism existed.

In Seville, Spain in 1986 a group of scientists met to explore the sources of human aggression. John E. Mack explains the results of the Seville Statement of Violence:

In the Seville Statement the signatories, who included psychologists, neuroscientists, geneticists, anthropologists, and political scientists, declared that there was no scientific basis for considering human beings innately aggressive animals, inevitably committed to war on the basis of biological nature. Rather, they said, war is a result of socialization and conditioning, a phenomenon of human organization, planning, and information processing that plays on emotional and motivational potentialities. In short, the Seville Statement implies that we have real choices and that a new kind of responsibility in the conduct of human group life is possible. [8]
The significance of the Seville Statement are the implications for the explanation, conduct, and resolution of human conflict. The Seville Statement gets to the core of one of the central debates in conflict theory research: are the roots of human conflict to be found within nature (genetic) or nurture (the environment). The Seville scientists have firmly concluded on the side of nurture. However, as recent discoveries by geneticists illustrate (gene mapping for instance), the debate is far from over.

Like most pioneering theories, the innate theories gave way to more sophisticated and scientific hypotheses over time. One important development of this work was the evolution of the Frustration- Aggression theory. The basic assumption of the Frustration-Aggression theory is that all aggression, whether interpersonal or international, has its root causes in the frustration of one or more actors' goal achievement. That is to say that conflict can be traced to the unfulfilment of personal or group objectives and the frustration that this breeds. Since the demand for basic human needs has always exceeded the supply, all human conflict can be traced to an actor's failure to obtain what it needs. The Frustration-Aggression theory rests on the basic stimulus-response hypothesis. The questions that this theory raise are: does all frustration lead automatically to aggression, and can all aggression and conflict be traced to some catalytic frustration? These questions, as well as the challenge of insufficiency of causal link to aggression, and other insights into human behaviour have lead to the discrediting of the Frustration-Aggression theory and the subsequent development of the Social Learning and Social Identity theories.

Social learning theory is based on the hypothesis that aggression is not innate or instinctual but actually learned through the process of socialisation. This hypothesis is the contention of the Seville Statement. One acquires aggressive attributes by learning them at home, in school, and by interaction with their environment in general. Interaction in society helps to focus and trigger stored aggression onto enemies. This is an important concept, particularly when the conflict is ethno-national or sectarian in nature. Social learning theorists have tried to understand the relationship of the individual in their environment and how this relates to group aggression. Socialisation into a violent environment like West Belfast has detrimental effects on childhood development. This is the precursor to aggressive and anti-social behaviour in the teen and early adult years. Children who grow up watching their parents and neighbours being hassled by the police, army or 'other' community often become petrol bomb wielding teens. This aggression can escalate if unchecked or encouraged.

Social Identity Theory (SIT) was developed by psychologist Henri Tajfel, and it offers insight into the conflict in Northern Ireland. Ed Cairns, a psychologist at the University of Ulster, has noted the importance of this theory: "What is different and important about Social Identity Theory is that it is based on normal psychological processes that operate under all circumstances not just under conditions of intergroup conflict." [9] We create our social identities in order to simplify our external relations. Further, there is a human need for positive self esteem and self worth, which we transfer to our own groups. We also order our environment by social comparison between groups. The concept of ingroups and outgroups is important in this analysis. Cairns explains another important concept from Social Identity Theory:

What Social Identity Theory has helped social psychologists at least to recognize that individuals are different in groups and that it is this difference which produces recognizable forms of group action. . . . In other words what Social Identity Theory has done is outline a process which places the individual in the group and at the same time places the group in the individual. [10]
Group relations are, of course, at the root of the problems in Northern Ireland. At the core are relations between the minority and majority communities. Tajfel outlines the importance of stability and legitimacy with regard to majority / minority group relations:
There is little doubt that an unstable system of social divisions between a majority and a minority is more likely to be perceived as illegitimate than a stable one; and that, conversely, a system perceived as illegitimate will contain the seeds of instability. It is this interaction between the perceived instability and illegitimacy of the system of differentials which is likely to become a powerful ingredient of the transition from the minority's acceptance of the status quo to the rejection of it. [11]
Consequently, groups place importance on the perceived legitimacy within their social environments. Legitimacy is an important concept for Northern Ireland because nationalists do not perceive the state to be legitimate. As Tajfel observes:
The perceived illegitimacy of an intergroup relationship is thus socially and psychologically the accepted and acceptable lever for social action and social change in intergroup behaviour. . . . In the case of groups which are "inferior", the leverage function is fulfilled by the perceived illegitimacy of the outcomes of intergroup comparisons; in the case of "inferior" groups which are already on their way towards change, it is the legitimization of their new comparative image; in the case of groups which are "superior" it is the legitimization of the attempts to preserve a status quo of value distinctiveness whenever this is perceived as under threat. [12]
The perceived illegitimacy of group relations in Northern Ireland by Catholics was a significant factor that lead to the development of the civil rights campaign in 1967-9. The 'inferior' Catholics were challenging their relationship with the 'superior' Protestants. The Protestants attempted to preserve the status quo of their hegemony which was under threat. Because the successive governments of O'Neill, Chichester-Clark and Faulkner could not manage this change adequately, the situation changed from competition to conflict and violence soon erupted. This theme of the illegitimacy of 'inferior' and 'superior' group statuses between the minority and majority has been prevalent in the intragroup relations in Northern Ireland since the creation of the state in 1921. Therefore, for nationalists, opposition to the state is legitimised. Since the state is not perceived as legitimate, neither is the state's monopoly on the use of force (violence). Republicans rationalise their use of violence to overthrow what they perceive to be an illegitimate state. The individual's environment is determined by a myriad of social identities that people perceive. For example, ethnic identities are very strong because of their composition as extended kinship groups. These kinship groups are important in the development of ingroups and outgroups. This is a particularly important concept when dealing with ethnic conflict.


Behavioural or micro theories are based on observations of the individual within their environment. They analyse the subconscious mind in order to establish motivational variables. Behavioural theories evolved from animal studies using comparison with human behaviour, to more sophisticated theories which examine the relationship between the individual and their group identities. While behaviourism still assumes the centrality of the simple stimulus-response hypothesis, it has managed to create complex models of human behaviour such as the social learning and social identity theories. Social Identity Theory introduces important concepts that bridge the gap between individual and group behaviour. It also sheds light on majority-minority group relations. The debate over nature (genetics) and nurture (environment) is still contentious. The Seville scientists concluded that it was primarily the environment; thus humans can control and change their social systems and relationships. This bodes well for finding solutions to endemic conflicts. Consequently, the socialisation process, group comparisons, perceptions and positive identities are important concepts for conflict resolution.

The micro theories have added an important dimension to our understanding of conflict. They put complex situations into workable models that stand up to empirical analysis. They are a useful asset in our attempt to impose some objectivity on specific situations. Rather than wait for the nature-nurture debate to be resolved, if indeed it can be, it is better to combine both approaches in the development of a sophisticated explanatory model. Socialisation is an important concept, so are group comparisons, positive self and group identities and the perceived illegitimacy by minority communities. Once these issues are understood, explanations of aggressive behaviour become possible. However in-depth our empirical analysis on the micro level our research may be, it still fails to take into consideration all variables and attributes of conflict, particularly at the conscious level. This is where macro theory comes into play in our analysis of human conflict. In order to cover the conscious realm we turn now to macro theories of conflict.

Macro Theories of Conflict

"In divided societies, ethnic affiliations are powerful, permeative, passionate and pervasive." [13]

Macro theory focuses on the interaction of groups, specifically on the conscious level. Early political theorists, from Thucidydes and Sun Tsu to Machiavelli and von Clausewitz, have chosen one particular element to concentrate on: power. The use and exercise of power is a central concept of macro theory of conflict. Macro theorists would agree that power comes in many forms: economic, political, military, even cultural. The common assumptions of macro, or classical theories are that the roots of conflict stem from group competition and the pursuit of power and resources. These assumptions operate on conscious motivational factors in a material oriented environment. Classical theory capitalises on observations of group phenomenon for single events in order to study the problem in depth, and to determine the importance and relationships of many variables rather than using few variables for many cases. The predominant methodologies used are historical or case study approaches.

In the 19th century, post Napoleonic Europe was largely concerned with the balance of power. This concept was employed by Metternich at the Concert of Europe. While the outbreak of the First World War largely destroyed this theory, its assumptions were to be employed in the Cold War's deterrence theory. Deterrence theory rested on the assumption that a balance of terror due to the superpowers' nuclear arsenals would prevent conflict. Deterrence theory gave way to more sophisticated theories such as decision making and game theories.

Decision making and game theories have their origins in the 20th century model of the rational actor. The rational actor model was developed by economists to explain human economic behaviour. It presupposes that people make choices and decisions on a rational basis based on informed choices and weighing of opportunities.[14] Game theory is based on the rational actor model in that it relies on the assumption of a rational decision making process that is fundamental to the engagement of human conflict.

Thomas Schelling takes this model further to develop a sophisticated game theory. Schelling's game model includes communication, negotiation, information, and introduces the importance of irrationality into strategic thought. One of the most important contributions of Schelling is his hypothesis of the interdependency of conflict, competition and cooperation among actors.[15] In each incident of conflict there are elements of cooperation; cooperative engagements often engender an element of conflict. This notion has become an important element in our understanding of conflict. Schelling uses game theory as an attempt to break down the complexities of intergroup relationships by using game playing to illustrate analogous situations. He uses three types of games: chance, skill, and strategic, to illustrate the corollaries to international relations - both cooperative and conflictual.

Within macro theory there is an important set of concepts that can be derived from the study of ethnic conflict. This is of importance to Northern Ireland because the same concepts are applicable to sectarian conflict. Whether one defines the conflict in Northern Ireland as ethnic (between Irish 'Gaels' or 'Celts' and British 'Anglo-Saxons') or as sectarian (between Catholics and Protestants), it makes little theoretical difference as the conceptions for ethnic and sectarian conflict operate in the same manner. What is important is that these groups of people have categorised themselves as distinct groups and they view each other as the outgroup or enemy.

We begin our review of ethnic conflict theory with Donald Horowitz. In his seminal work on ethnic conflict in the developing world, he describes the framework in which ethnic conflict occurs:

Finally, the state system that first grew out of European feudalism and now, in the post-colonial period, covers virtually the entire earth provides the framework in which ethnic conflict occurs. Control of the state, control of a state, and exemption from control by others are among the main goals of ethnic conflict.[16]
Consequently, one of the key objectives of ethnic conflict is to seek control of the state itself. Groups seek control of the state in order to ensure that their needs are met, usually to the detriment of opposing groups. This conflict over the control of the state is often perceived as a zero sum conflict. That is to say that one group's gain is another group's loss; this conflict is not win-win for both groups. While this is undoubtedly the core conflict issue in most cases in polarised states, there are also contributing issues at stake which add to the complexity of the situation. As Horowitz explains:
In severely divided societies, ethnicity finds its way into a myriad of issues: development plans, educational controversies, trade union affairs, land policy, business policy, tax policy. Characteristically, issues that would elsewhere be relegated to the category of routine administration assume a central place on the political agenda of ethnically divided societies.[17]
This is certainly the case in Northern Ireland, where every public issue becomes a focus of ethno-national conflict. Before the Troubles began the key issues were housing, job discrimination and political gerrymandering. As the conflict intensified, these issues all became entangled within the wider ethno-national conflict. This is one of the features that makes that conflict so complex and enduring. It permeates the very fabric of society. This complexity is highlighted as a severe hindrance to conflict resolution by Professors Seamus Dunn and John Darby.[18]

Horowitz distinguishes between ranked and unranked systems. Ranked systems are societies in which one ethnic group is in complete domination of another. Unranked systems are composed of two ethnic groups with their own internal stratification of elites and masses. Northern Ireland in the late 20th century is therefore an unranked system. This unranked system is a result of the Plantation of Ulster which began in the 17th century. The present system which is derived from the plantation and the partition of Ireland, is one in which legitimacy and historical grievances are key issues. As Horowitz notes:

Migration and incomplete conquest also give rise to different kinds of lingering historical grievances. . . . An indigenous group that was colonized and forced to abide the entry of ethnic strangers for colonial economic purposes may later regard their presence as illegitimate ab initio.[19]
In Northern Ireland we see the fruits of historical grievances matched with the perceived illegitimacy of the state by the minority community. The result has been an intractable conflict over the very existence of the state itself. Horowitz describes the consequences of such conflict:
When ethnic violence occurs, unranked groups usually aim not at social transformation, but at something approaching sovereign autonomy, the exclusion of parallel ethnic groups from a share of power, and often reversion - by expulsion or extermination - to an idealized, ethnically homogeneous status quo ante. [20]
Although written about ethnic conflict in developing nations in Asia and Africa, this also describes the conflict in Northern Ireland. The civil rights movement which preceded the outbreak of hostilities was aimed at transforming the state. However, when reactionary elements within the loyalist community responded with force, the cycle of violence began. Once under way autonomy, and not transformation, became the goal of the nationalist community. Again, the perceived zero sum nature of the conflict is a hindrance to its resolution.

Another theorist of ethnic conflict who has contributed significantly to our understanding is Professor Walker Connor. Connor is concerned with the confusion over terms and concepts within the literature on ethnic conflict. He believes that observers often attribute ethno-national conflict to other, less salient elements:

In summary, ethnic strife is too often superficially discerned as principally predicated upon language, religion, customs, economic inequality, or some other tangible element. But what is fundamentally involved in such a conflict is that divergence of basic identity which manifests itself in the "us-them" syndrome. [21]
While such things as religion and economic deprivation may be important contributing factors to ethnic conflict, it is the opposition of national identities which define the conflict. Connor further underlines the importance of the depth of emotions in ethnic conflict:
Explanations of behavior in terms of pressure groups, elite ambitions, and rational choice theory hint not at all at the passions that motivate Kurdish, Tamil, and Tigre guerrillas or Basque, Corsican, Irish, and Palestinian terrorists. Nor at the passions leading to the massacre of Bengalis by Assamese or Punjabis by Sikhs. In short, these explanations are a poor guide to ethnonationally inspired behavior. [22]
One can sense the depth of emotion and sheer intensity of the conflict by the atrocities that are carried out by the violent extremes of both communities. The IRA killed 11 civilians at a Remembrance Day celebration in Enniskillen in 1987. Loyalists killed eight people and injured 19 in Greysteel in 1993. What these events illustrate are the levels of hatred and violence that the conflict partners are willing to engage in. What is an adequate guide to ethnonational behaviour is their pursuit of their human needs in light of confrontation with competing ethnic groups within the confines of a single state. Unfortunately, in most cases this is perceived as a zero sum confrontation in which one group's gain is another group's loss.

One of the key and contentious concepts for ethnonational behaviour is that it is not elite driven, as other political phenomenon may be, it is mass driven. If this is the case, then it has important consequences for the search for solutions. For instance, a key component of consociational democracy is elite cooperation. While consociational theory may work for the Walloons and Flemish in Belgium, it will not work in Northern Ireland because there is little or no elite cooperation; and even if there was, it would not sway enough support from the masses for its success. As Connor notes: "The essence of nationalism is not to be sought in the motives of elites who may manipulate nationalism for some ulterior end, but rather in the mass sentiment to which elites appeal."[23] I would argue that within Northern Ireland ethnic conflict is a mass and not an elite driven phenomenon. While such key figures as Gerry Adams, John Hume, Ian Paisley, and David Trimble certainly have their influence on the conflict, they are restricted in their actions by what their followers will tolerate. They may act to steer public opinion and marshal their forces towards goals and objectives, but the bottom line is always what the masses will accept in their names. Hence the need for referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic to approve any settlements reached at the peace talks. Even if the elites manage to agree to a set of solutions, the masses must give their assent in national and provincial referendums before changes are enacted. This would not be necessary if the elites dominated and drove the conflict.

If elite cooperation is not the key to a solution, then the key lies elsewhere. Unfortunately there are no simple solutions to ethno-national conflict. If there were, it would have been found and applied by now in those societies which are severely divided, such as Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Cyprus, Lebannon and Northern Ireland, among others. Horowitz offers some hope through a system of power sharing; but not the type of top - down power sharing that was attempted in Northern Ireland in 1974 (the Power Sharing Executive), but from the bottom - up.[24] Political engineering is required in situations like this. Institutions must be altered or, in the case of a state with little legitimacy, replaced with new ones. Solutions will be examined in more detail in chapter V.


While behavioural theories examine the individual subconscious, the classical theories concentrate on the conscious interaction of groups. Classical theory has often been occupied with the exercise of power and the use of force in intergroup relations. While classical theory is useful in explaining acts and events, it does not answer questions about subconscious motivational factors. Ethnic conflict theories are useful in explaining conflict behaviour in Northern Ireland. It illustrates the depth and complexity of emotions that are at work in the province. What is required is a synthesis of both behavioural and classical approaches to explain the phenomenon of conflict in Northern Ireland. This will enable researchers to break through the circumscribed mid-range theories presently available. We must be able to explain such things as the intransigence of certain sections of both communities, as well as the continuing violence at the fringes.

A pattern of consistent variables begins to emerge. We can discern a convergence of thought on the importance of such concepts as identity and the dichotomy of us-them. This dichotomy often leads to the perception of a zero-sum conflict. Most of the analysts also stress the importance of the depth of emotions associated with ethnonational conflict. Many also observe that there has been an over reliance on materialism as an explanatory concept. Connor sums this up well:

As Chateaubriand expressed it nearly 200 years ago: "Men don't allow themselves to be killed for their interests; they allow themselves to be killed for their passions." To phrase it differently: people do not voluntarily die for things that are rational. [25]
Perhaps the truth is that they only allow themselves to be killed for their needs.

As micro and macro theories to date have been insufficient to explain the conflict in Northern Ireland, then the search for a new paradigm should begin with a fusion or synthesis of both macro and micro theories. An attempt to do this is evident with the development of such theories as the Enemy System Theory (EST), the Human Needs Theory (HNT) and John Burton's Conflict Resolution Theory (CRT). These theories will be introduced and examined in the next sections.

Enemy System Theory

The Enemy System Theory was developed to help explain intractable conflict and was used to explain the Cold War in the early 1990s before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a fusion of developmental psychology and international relations theory. This theory presents some important conceptualisations which help to create a sophisticated explanatory model of conflict. It has been used to explain terrorism in Northern Ireland, but it has not been widely adopted to explain the totality of the conflict. [26] It is a key assumption of this study that use of concepts from the Enemy System Theory and the Human Needs Theory offer a comprehensive and balanced theoretical explanation of the conflict in Northern Ireland. It is hoped that this will further the development of a paradigm shift away from the current debate on internal-external explanations, and foster the development of a more comprehensive approach based on the fusion of micro and macro approaches to conflict theory as an explanation of the conflict.

The Enemy System Theory (EST) was developed in the late 1980s by a group of psychiatrists and international relations practitioners (former members of the American National Security Council and the U.S. State Department), as a model to explain the complexities of group behaviour, particularly with regard to antagonistic group relationships. The gist of the Enemy System Theory is the hypothesis that humans have a deep rooted psychological need to dichotomise and to establish enemies and allies.[27] This phenomenon happens on individual and group levels. This is an unconscious need which feeds conscious relationships, especially in our group lives. This is especially important with regard to the formation of ethnic or national group identities and behaviour.

Identification with these ethnic or national groups largely determines how we relate to people within our ingroups and with those of our outgroups. How the masses within each group perceive themselves and their relationships with groups that they are associated with helps to determine whether their relationship will be based on cooperation, competition, or conflict. This is also determined by historic relations between these groups. Consequently, the theory combines concepts from individual and group psychology, as well as international relations theory. As Vamik Volkan explains:

This particular approach requires a penetrating examination of how the human mind is reflected in the process of decision making by a large group. It explores the following phenomenon: the psychological need to have enemies and allies (Volkan 1988); the intertwining of the individual's sense of self and that of the group's identity with the concepts of ethnicity and nationality; and the ways in which wars, with all their logistical planning, are connected to man's primitive and unconscious impulses. In terms of large-group interaction, most of these processes are involuntary. [28]
Thus, the theory is predicated on the relationships between intrapersonal concerns, the individual within their environment, as well as the interaction of individuals within groups and the actions between those groups. The following concepts comprise the Enemy System Theory.

The first concept is that of identity. Humans identify themselves as individuals and as members of groups of individuals. These groups can be acquired at birth, such as race, or through association within society, such as a group of workers or athletes. Developmental psychologists have identified the human need to dichotomise. We organise ourselves and our environments into groups of two. For example, we distinguish between I / not I, pleasure / pain, good / bad, right / wrong, and so on. This need begins at a very early age during infancy. The importance of this is that we also tend to attach 'good' qualities with what we identify as ours, and we tend to associate 'bad' qualities with those of our outgroups. Consequently, we begin to develop a sense of us and them. Not only do we distinguish between these groups, but 'we' are perceived as good, virtuous, superior and desirable, whereas 'they' are perceived as bad, inferior, full of vice and undesirable. As we grow older and become socialised our identity expands to include our families, our communities and our ethnic and national groups. These are the subconscious building blocks of prejudice and racism.

There is an associated concept of the negative identity. This is when individuals suffer from low self esteem through narcissistic injuries. Instead of projecting negative images out, these images are saved for the self. This often results in those who suffer from negative identity turning to maladaptive groups such as criminal and terrorist organisations to try to regain their lost self esteem. People at risk for such negative identities are usually found among the chronically unemployed (particularly working class), those with little or no educational qualifications, and from home environments that are broken or abusive.

The next concept is that of ethno-nationalism. Ethno-nationalism is the identity of an individual to their ethnic or national group. Within Northern Ireland there are two distinctive and conflicting ethno-national groups. The emotions associated with ethnic identity are usually very strong and powerful. Ethnic identities are often seen as extended kinship identities; this gives us a sense of a wider 'family' which contributes to our sense of belonging. This organising into ethnic groups puts these groups in competition. This competition can be either adaptive, such as the Olympic Games, or maladaptive, such as the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland. Ethno-national identity groups play a central role in Northern Ireland. The key constitutional issue divides the two conflicting identity groups: the Catholic-nationalist-Irish, from the Protestant-unionist-Ulster-British. Although these groups are not stagnant and monolithic, as has been the interpretation in the past, they remain relatively stable and become more salient when group stress polarises the communities. When groups are under political, economic, ecological, or military stress, they can become malicious. There is a tendency to strike at outgroups when this occurs. As John E. Mack explains: "The central problem in efforts to understand enmity between ethno-national groups is the location of the source of the hatred or antagonism."[32] The source of such enmity can often be traced to some historical animosity. The historical animosity in Northern Ireland can largely be traced to the Plantation of Ulster for the Catholics, and the rise of the Home Rule Movement and Catholic nationalism for the Protestants. This brings us to the next concept, ethnic victimisation.

Joseph V. Montville defines the concept of ethnic victimisation as the state of ethnic mind when the security of their group is shattered by violence and aggression. Further, he states that there are three important elements:

  1. Experience: a cataclysmic event stuns the victim group.

  2. Unjustifiable violence; human and civil rights have been violated.

  3. The assault represents a continuous threat and generates a fear of annihilation of the victim group. [29]

These elements combine to overwhelm the victim group. Depending on the circumstances, these groups often feel that their very survival is at stake. For the unionists the violent outbreak of the Troubles signaled an end to their control of Northern Ireland. This reinforced the Protestant 'siege mentality' and their subsequent proclamation of 'no surrender'. For the nationalists, the Plantation of Ulster, the Famine, the Anglo-Irish War and the subsequent partition of Ireland created such perceptions of ethnic victimisation. This leads on to the next concept: the egoism of victimisation.

The egoism of victimisation, as Mack defines it is: "the incapacity of an ethno-national group, as a direct result of its own historical traumas, to empathise with the suffering of another group."[30] Therefore, victimised groups do not see beyond their own pain and anguish. These groups do not take responsibility for victims created by their own actions. This is a very important concept, particularly because it enables a terrorised victim to become a terrorist, with little guilt about committing violence. This concept is important for understanding the conflict in Northern Ireland, as well as the Middle East. After a group has been wronged, it feels no compunction about committing violence against other groups. An example of this would be 'Bloody Friday' in Northern Ireland. On 21 July 1972, the IRA set off 26 car bombs in Belfast, killing 11 and wounding 130 people. This was carried out after secret talks between the IRA and London collapsed, and it was justified as reprisals for 'Bloody Sunday', in which 14 unarmed civilians (Catholics) were killed by British troops in Derry on 30 January 1972. The IRA used an atrocity on their community to justify their atrocities. It is not difficult to see how violence escalates and spirals out of control. The egoism of victimisation also goes a long way towards explaining hard line Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. The Holocaust is often used to rationalise policies, particularly when the perceived survival of the state is under threat.

Another element of this concept is the common theme among ethnonational terrorist groups that passivity ensures the continuation of victimisation.[31] Therefore, in order to prevent the group from being victimised, the group, or militant elements thereof, continue their unjustifiable activities in the name of group preservation. This was a common theme with early Israeli terrorist groups (Irgun and the Stern Gang) who were fighting for a Jewish homeland after the Holocaust during the Second World War. Ironically, the same concept applies to radical Palestinians (Hamas) who are fighting Israel for their own homeland. Cries of 'never again' are often heard form such groups. The outbreak of the Troubles had similar effects on the IRA who were, at first, ill prepared to defend the Catholic community against loyalist violence.

There are intervening elements which make ethnonational groups more susceptible to these influences. One of these is what Volkan calls suitable targets of externalisation.[33] These targets are where we store images in the subconscious. They can be inanimate objects such as national flags or colours, ethnic food, music, costumes or dances, and the like. It is these stored images that are the building blocks of our ethnic identity. These targets act as cultural amplifiers. That is to say, they send out messages about who we are and what makes our group unique. These targets can send positive and negative images. The positive images are usually retained for our own groups, while the negative images are reserved for the outgroups or enemies. This process allows us to focus hate onto external groups. These targets or cultural amplifiers play an important role in ritualised behaviour, such as the contentious issue of parading in Northern Ireland. Symbols such as the Irish Tricolour and banners depicting King William of Orange are used to send positive images to members of the ingroups and negative images to members of the outgroups. Although groups often claim that they do not mean to cause offense, the symbols they carry send negative images whether they are intentional or not. This is just as true of the symbols carried by the Ancient Order of Hibernians (Catholic) as for the Orange Orders (Protestant). These subconscious negative images add to the complexity and intractability of the contentious marching season.

The next concept is the inability to mourn. Volkan describes mourning as the reaction to real or threatened loss or change.[34] There are two types of mourning: uncomplicated and complicated. Uncomplicated mourning is when a group comes to terms with what was lost. They learn to cope with their grief and sorrow. Complicated mourning is when groups are under threat and cannot let go of their losses. An important effect of this is that groups often try to regain what was lost, especially territory. As Volkan states:

When territory - or even prestige - is lost to an enemy, and a group had difficulty forming a remembrance formation, the group can still be seen trying to recoup ancient losses. Under political, military or economic stress the mourning may become complicated when the representation of what is lost cannot be surrendered because it is too highly idealized or too necessary to self esteem. [35]
Groups that suffer from complicated mourning tend to perpetuate conflicts because they cannot face giving up what was lost. A suitable example of this would be militant Irish republicans who cannot give up the six counties of Ulster that were 'lost' as a result of the partition of Ireland in 1921. For the unionists, loosing majority rule in 1972 when Stormont was dissolved would be another example. This complicates the search for solutions as groups suffering from complicated mourning are not disposed towards compromise, particularly over what was lost.

The next concepts deal with psychological mechanisms that make it easier for humans to aggress and kill one another. These are the processes of demonisation and dehumanisation.[36]

Demonisation is the mechanism for projecting negative images onto enemies, especially leaders, to make them seem like demons. An example of this would be that during the Gulf War the U.S. government and media projected Saddam Hussein as Hitler, the 20th century's most infamous demon. By making Hussein out to be Hitler, it was easier for the government to manipulate public opinion against Iraq, thus creating a more favourable environment to wage war against the perceived enemy. Labeling someone as a 'terrorist' is a way of demonising them in Northern Ireland. This is done by both communities.

Dehumanisation is a step further than demonisation. It is when we begin to regard our enemies as something less than human. We regard them as demons or animals so that we cannot empathise with their pain as we attack and kill them. This is associated with psuedospeciation, whereby we regard our enemies as another species. Demetrios Julius discovers an interesting phenomenon about dehumanisation: "An important point to note here is that this process of dehumanisation of the other has a way of dehumanising the individual himself as well. . . . As we deny dignity and respect to the other, we begin to loose our own humanity and self respect.".[37] Consequently, the more we dehumanise our enemies, the less human we become ourselves. This cycle perpetuates our ability and desire to kill our enemies; indeed it makes it easier to do so. Rafael Moses explores this concept and reveals that due to the processes of demonisation and dehumanisation, we can kill without guilt for two reasons: first, we are dealing with something that is less than human; and second, these subhumans threaten our very survival, so we are justified aggression due to self defence.[38] Dehumanising the enemy is carried out by republican and loyalist paramilitary groups, as well as elements of the security forces within Northern Ireland. The wider communities may not condone these acts, but they implicitly allow them to be carried out on their behalf.

A concept that is related to victimisation is the chosen trauma.[39] A chosen trauma is an event whereby a group is badly victimised. The group usually suffers from complicated mourning about this event. The group becomes obsessive about the trauma and often feels a sense of entitlement or payment for past wrongs. Aggressors and terrorists often focus on these chosen traumas to justify their unjustifiable acts. Indeed it is not uncommon for terrorist groups to name their organisations after chosen traumas. Examples of this would be the Revolutionary Organization 17 November (17 November) in Greece and the October 1st Antifascist Resistance Group (GRAPO) in Spain. Examples of chosen traumas would be the Holocaust for Jews, the famine and Bloody Sunday for Irish Catholics, and the IRA campaign against the Union for Northern Irish Protestants. The partition of Ireland can be seen as a chosen trauma for both communities: for nationalists it represents the loss of the northern six counties and for unionists, it represents the loss of the rest of Ireland.

The chosen trauma is a group element, whereas the conversion experience is an individual phenomenon. Joseph V. Montville identifies this concept as a personalised chosen trauma.[40] It is an event in which an individual is victimised. It brings the remote sense of group victimisation closer to the individual. It can convert the terrorised victim into a terrorist. Montville illustrates this with the example of Frances Hughes.[41] Hughes was an Irish Catholic living in Northern Ireland who was beaten up by troops of the predominantly Protestant Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). He quickly joined the IRA after his beating. Hughes was later captured and incarcerated for his terrorist offenses. He was the second republican to die in a hunger strike in 1981 after Bobby Sands. His conversion experience, the beating, changed forever the course of his life and resulted in his premature death.

Peter A. Olsson explored the conversion of victims into terrorists and has developed the personal pathway model. Terrorists often perceive themselves to be the personification of a victimised ethnic group's fantasised liberation; they try to regain what has been lost.[42] Olsson defines this model with four primary elements:

  1. Early socialisation into a violent environment (eg: West Belfast, South Armagh).
  2. Narcissistic injuries (ie: negative identity).
  3. Escalatory events (ie: conversion experience).
  4. Personal connections to terrorist groups. [43]
This model uses many concepts relevant to the Enemy System Theory. Research into the development of terrorists would be useful in helping to explain the wider conflict. The preceding concepts and this model should aid in our understanding of the creation and perpetuation of antagonism which results in perpetual cycles of violence. Demetrios A. Julius sums this up well:
Very simply put, the perpetuation of aggression is insured by the victimization action of one group upon another. . . .These reciprocal hostile actions stimulate and enlarge the opponent's historical enmity and validate each other's dehumanisation. . . .Victimization is the process that leads to the final behavioral action of the cycle. . . .Since each attack triggers the process in the other, the two adversaries are locked in an ever expanding and vigorous dance of hostility. [44]
This victimisation cycle of 'reciprocal hostile actions' helps to explain the depth of both the zero sum nature of the conflict, as well as the problems associated with the double minority model. With each group committing violence against the other, the zero sum nature becomes self evident. The victimisation of each group fuels its fear of being an endangered minority group. This fear of annihilation and the egoism of victimisation lead the group to further acts of aggression against the other group. Meanwhile, the other group as the target, perceives the same fears of annihilation and the cycle is repeated. This complicates the search for solutions as each group seeks to blame the other for their aggression, while ignoring their own responsibility for the perpetuation of the cycle. As we saw with the traditional nationalist and unionist approaches, their 'solutions' were the elimination of the other group (or their proxies, the Irish or British), or at least the destruction of their ability to attack and victimise (and perceptionally, to defend themselves). A recent illustration of this phenomenon was the spate of reprisal killings that followed the murder of LVF leader Billy Wright on 27 December 1997. Ten people were murdered by loyalists, eight of them Catholics. There was widespread fear that this would trigger a violent repsonse from the IRA; thus ending their ceasefire and their participation in the talks. This would bring an end to the peace process.

The Enemy System Theory offers a sophisticated theory of conflict which explains difficult problems such as terrorism and the depth of ethnic conflict. While it is a behavioural theory, it offers a bridge to classical theory by combining elements of developmental psychology with international relations theory. It transcends the realist paradigm in international relations theory by using communal or ethno-national groups as an important unit of analysis.

Human Needs Theory

Human Needs Theory (HNT) was developed in the 1970s and 1980s as a generic or holistic theory of human behaviour. It is based on the hypothesis that humans have basic needs that have to be met in order to maintain stable societies. As John Burton describes:

We believe that the human participants in conflict situations are compulsively struggling in their respective institutional environments at all social levels to satisfy primordial and universal needs - needs such as security, identity, recognition, and development. They strive increasingly to gain the control of their environment that is necessary to ensure the satisfaction of these needs. This struggle cannot be curbed; it is primordial. [45]
This struggle for primordial needs is theoretically related to the Frustration-Aggression theory which is based on the stimulus-response hypothesis. The frustration of not satisfying these needs leads to aggression and subsequently, conflict. What distinguishes Human Needs theory from the Frustration-Aggression theory is that the former is concerned only with absolute requirements (needs) while the later is also concerned with wants and desires. Burton further states:
Now we know that there are fundamental universal values or human needs that must be met if societies are to be stable. That this is so thereby provides a nonideological basis for the establishment of institutions and policies. Unless identity needs are met in multi-ethnic societies, unless in every social system there is distributive justice, a sense of control, and prospects for the pursuit of all other human societal developmental needs, instability and conflict are inevitable. [46]
The significance of this theory is that it recognises and legitimises both Catholic and Protestant needs in Northern Ireland. The needs of both must be met, not the needs of one at the expense of the other. This helps to move the conflict from zero-sum to win-win. The abstraction of 'human needs' helps to eliminate the sense of mutually exclusive goals. Rather than fighting over the constitutional future of the Province, with the mutually exclusive goals of maintenance of the union or unification with the Republic, the situation shifts to one in which both communities seek to fulfil their needs such as security, identity, recognition and development. These needs are not satisfied at the expense of the other community, but are realised along with the other community's needs. These needs are not mutually exclusive or gained at the expense of another; they are universal.

There are bold assumptions in this theory. "This struggle cannot be curbed . . . instability and conflict are inevitable", these are contentious statements with far reaching implications. If the hypotheses of this theory are correct, if there are certain human needs that are required for human development and social stability, than the solution to conflict must be the ability to create an environment in which these needs can be met by all segments of societies. This is where Human Needs theory meets Burton's Conflict Resolution Theory (CRT).

Conflict Resolution Theory

"Conflict avoidance is not conflict resolution."- John Burton [47]

Professor Burton distinguishes between conflict resolution, management and settlement. Management is 'by alternative dispute resolution skills' and can confine or limit conflict; settlement is 'by authoritative and legal processes' and can be imposed by elites.[48] Burton suggests by contrast:

. . . conflict resolution means terminating conflict by methods that are analytical and that get to the root of the problem. Conflict resolution, as opposed to mere management or 'settlement', points to an outcome that, in the view of the parties involved, is a permanent solution to a problem. [49]
By accepting the assumptions and hypotheses of the Human Needs Theory, Burton suggests that there is a need for a paradigm shift away from power politics and towards the 'reality of individual power'.[50] In other words, individuals, as members of their identity groups, will strive for their needs within their environment. If they are prevented from this pursuit by elites, other identity groups, institutions and other forms of authority, there will inevitably be conflict. The only solution is for the groups to work out their problems in an analytical way, supported by third parties who act as facilitators and not authorities. This is particularly relevant when the conflict is over needs which cannot be bargained and not material interests, which can be negotiated and compromised.

One of the problems with the internal conflict school examined in chapter II, was that while there was some agreement on an explanation of the conflict, there was little consensus on solutions. There is the general understanding that the conflict is unique to Northern Ireland, and its explanation lies within the Province and its relations to Ireland and Britain. However, there is a real need to step away from the specifics of the conflict and take a holistic approach. This abstraction will accomplish the goal of being more objective in the search for an adequate explanation. As Burton states:

Whatever the definition we have of conflict, wherever we draw the line, right down to family violence, we are referring to situations in which there is a breakdown in relationships and a challenge to norms and to authorities. . . . [Conflict] is due to an assertion of individualism. It is a frustration based protest against lack of opportunities for development and against lack of recognition and identity. Whether the tension, conflict, or violence has origins in class, status, ethnicity, sex, religion, or nationalism, we are dealing with the same fundamental issues. [51]
If the participants in the conflict can begin to recognise their conflict as a breakdown of relationships, and that there are fundamental similarities between the antagonists, then the process of abstraction will enhance their objectivity. The purpose of this process is to enable the participants to come to the understanding that all the participants have legitimate needs that must be satisfied in order to resolve the conflict. The other key here is to develop an analytical process to facilitate the changes required to create a political and social system in which these needs can be met. Burton further notes that:
Conflict resolution is, in the long term, a process of change in political, social, and economic systems. It is an analytical and problem solving process that takes into account such individual and group needs as identity and recognition, as well as institutional changes that are required to satisfy these needs. [52]
Traditional approaches to conflict management or regulation have largely been based on mediation and negotiated 'settlements'. These approaches will only work when the conflicting parties are amenable to negotiation and have something tangible they are able to bargain. However, the recognition of primordial needs eliminates the possibility of traditional negotiations. Consequently, we are left with Burton's requirement for a process of change in order to accomplish resolution. This process of change is the subject of the next section.

Conflict Resolution: Track Two Diplomacy

Using the Enemy System and Human Needs theories to explain the conflict in Northern Ireland is only the first step. Understanding the nature and parameters of a conflict is useful, but the objective is to use this analysis to resolve the conflict. By applying the assumptions of John Burton's Conflict Resolution Theory, we can map a way forward. There are practical methods and processes that can be used in our move from theory to practice. These processes are what is known as Track Two Diplomacy. Joseph Montville defines this as:

Track two diplomacy is an unofficial, informal interaction between members of adversary groups or nations that aims to develop strategies, influence public opinion, and organize human and material resources in ways that might help resolve their conflict. It must be understood that track two diplomacy is in no way a substitute for official, formal, "track one" government to government or leader-to-leader relationships. [53]
One of the key phenomenon that track two diplomacy has been developed to deal with is Protracted Social Conflict (PSC).[54] Protracted social conflict is a type of conflict that is not based on material interests, but is one based on needs; particularly identity related needs of ethno-national or communal groups. Edward Azar describes this conflict type:
These identity groups, whether formed around shared religious, ethnic, racial, cultural, or other characteristics, will act to achieve and insure their distinctive identity within a society. When they are denied physical and economic security, political participation, and recognition from other groups, their distinctive identity is lost, and they will do whatever is in their power to regain it. In short, this is the origin of protracted social conflict. [55]
Ethno-national conflict, such as in Northern Ireland, can be a form of protracted social conflict. Protracted social conflicts define intractable conflicts that are not readily amenable to resolution. Examples of identity groups in protracted social conflict are in the Middle East: the Palestinians, Israelis and Lebanese, in Cyprus: Greek and Turkish Cypriots, in Sri Lanka: Tamils and Sinhalese, in Spain: the Basques, and of course, in Northern Ireland: the Irish nationalists and Ulster unionists. Since these conflicts have not been resolved through 'normal' or track one diplomatic means, than an alternative approach should be used to resolve these conflicts. This is where track two diplomacy turns theory into practice.

Track two diplomacy is a three stage process that enables group representatives to work towards resolving intergroup conflict in a non-threatening, non-coercive and non-confrontational environment. As mentioned, it is not designed to replace track one or official diplomacy, but it can often pave the way for official negotiations by initiating attitude changes in public opinion and decision makers. There are three stages or processes. The first stage is a series of problem solving workshops or forums. These workshops are designed to bring influential people from the respective communities in conflict, but not the key decision makers, together to explore alternative means of defining their conflict. The goal is to transform their perceptions about the conflict from zero-sum to win-win. This can be achieved through the process of facilitated meetings as part of the workshops. These workshops are facilitated by a panel of experts on the psychology of intergroup conflict and on the specifics of the conflict in question. The facilitators do not seek to impose or even offer solutions to the conflict, their purpose is to facilitate communications and gently guide the participants towards changing their attitudes and perceptions themselves. Through this change comes the ability to view the conflict in new terms. This is the transformation that makes viewing the conflict as zero-sum to viewing it as win-win, possible.

The workshops are composed of a series of plenary and small group meetings over several days. These formal meetings are supplemented by informal social events such as dinners and sightseeing. The atmosphere is conducive to bridge building and understanding and not to power politics and bargaining. Herbert C. Kelman has defined seven central features of these workshops: "its healing purpose, its analytical process, its focus on needs, its establishment of alternative norms, its stress on self-generated learning, the facilitative role of its third party, and the clinical nature of its research enterprise." [56]

As noted about protracted social conflict, it is about needs and not interests. Kelman believes that the focus on needs is essential in the process of attitude and perceptional change:

For example, if both parties insist on possession of the same territory, they are boxed into a zero-sum definition of the conflict, whereby the demands of one can be satisfied only at the expense of the other. When they look behind these positions, however, they may discover that one party wants the territory to satisfy its security needs and the other to satisfy its identity needs. Having redefined the conflict in these terms, they can begin to search for a solution that would allow the one to express its national identity without jeopardising the other's national security. [57]
In dealing with the essential needs of groups in conflict that are in a restricted amount of space (ie: islands), the focus on territoriality can become acute. The correlation between protracted social conflict and island or limited habitats is not coincidental. Northern Ireland (Ireland), Cyprus, Sri Lanka, and Fiji are all examples of this type of conflict in restricted island areas. In these cases the limited amount of land compounds the conflict. In these conflicts it is essential that the parties move beyond a territorial dispute and into an environment where all participating groups' needs are met.

The second stage of track two diplomacy is to influence public opinion and to change the attitudes and perceptions of the protagonist communities. These changes will be based on the alterations that were made by the participants in the problem solving workshops. This is by no means a simple or automatic process, but one that takes time, and a great deal of perseverance and patience. Before the communities themselves can be targeted, the workshop participants must first convince the decision makers in their communities of the veracity of their newfound perceptions. After this has been achieved, the wider communities can undergo a process of transformation. Mass communication will be an important element of this process. Besides mass media, academic journals and conferences and special events can help with perceptional changes. This process is helped by tangible gains that are made in the third process: cooperative economic development.

Cooperative economic development is not engaged in as a substitute for problem solving oriented conflict resolution, but as a means to enhance it. Cooperative economic development is just that. It is a cooperative venture whose goal is to alleviate the worst material sufferings of the contentious communities. It is usually directed towards the group that has been historically victimised and underdeveloped. However, in Northern Ireland development would need to target the working class of both communities, particularly those on the margins. It is these subgroups that are the most affected by the conflict; and they also provide the richest ground for the paramilitaries to exploit and recruit. Edward Azar notes that: "Furthermore, the satisfaction of basic needs of the victimized, either along communal lines or as part of a national strategy, should be the ultimate priority of government development policies. Only thus can we move toward managing protracted social conflict."[58] The basic needs can first be met in Northern Ireland by providing jobs for those who have been chronically unemployed. It is amazing how agreeable people can become once they have useful jobs to keep them busy and some money in their pockets to spend. Tim Pat Coogan, reknown writer on the Troubles, has noted the importance of job creation for success of the peace process.[59] These material gains will not eliminate the conflict, but they will help to alleviate it in the worst sections of the communities and it will provide people with tangible proof that things can change and can work.

Track two diplomacy has been tried and proven successful in changing the attitudes and perceptions of workshop participants. It is an essential step in paving the way for track one diplomacy to succeed. In most cases of protracted social conflict, track one diplomacy has been tried and has failed. The elites seek to bargain and manipulate in order that their constituencies can get the best 'deal' possible. Although this is normal in international relations, this will not be successful in solving the seemingly intractable cases of protracted social conflict. A precondition for successful negotiations between elites is the change in perceptions that track two diplomacy accomplishes. Herbert Kelman describes the results of workshops that he has participated in as a facilitator:

I have been greatly encouraged by the extent to which the representatives of the two parties with whom we have been working have been able to discover common ground, to conclude that there are potential negotiating partners on the other side and negotiable issues to consider, to recognize the occurrence of change and the possibility of further change, and to develop the sense of guarded optimism that is required for movement toward conflict resolution. [60]
These changes are essential in order to create a more positive environment in which substantial negotiations can take place. There is evidence of this happening in Northern Ireland. Community relations projects have blossomed in the last decade. Educational initiatives such as Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) and integrated schools have been developed. There has been an obvious change in perceptions by significant elements within the republican community, notably Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, which lead to the Provisional IRA ceasefires. Whether these changes are 'strategic and not tactical' remains to be seen. However, the changes have enabled the peace process to move forward, inch by inch. If the perceptions have changed significantly and strategically then this will aid the success of the current peace process. If these changes are superficial, then the process will undoubtedly fail.

Chapter Summary

The search for the parameters of conflict theory has lead us to a number of conclusions. First, there still remains a lack of cohesion or consensus among theorists that prevents us from crossing the threshold into grand theory. In the past, the paths of micro and macro approaches seldom crossed. The evolution of conflict theory indicates that these two approaches will converge in the future. For example, one cannot adequately explain conflict in Northern Ireland or the Middle East without examining both the classical and behavioural approaches. Once this barrier is crossed and there is a fusion of these approaches, on many analytical levels, than we will witness the development of a grand theory of human conflict. Conflict engenders change. The Chinese character which defines the concept of change is represented by the characters for danger and opportunity. Conflict is the embodiment of such a paradox.

The contending approaches offered by scholars of Northern Ireland have the benefit of being specifically designed for the region. They attempt to address the specific elements of the conflict in all their complexity. However, most fail to achieve a level of comparison or abstraction that would enable them to be more objective, and to take a more holistic approach. The traditional nationalist and unionist approaches were not so much seeking explanations of the conflict as they were seeking rationalisations for particular policies. They sought to lay blame for the conflict in order to justify their antagonisms towards their perceived enemies. In short, they were looking for scapegoats.

The internal approach offers a better understanding of the conflict and there is some agreement about the causes of the conflict. However, there is no consensus on solutions, as the adherents of this school are influenced by the bias of their respective communities. There will be no consensus on solutions until there are significant attitude and perceptional changes in both the elites and the communities themselves. This will only be brought about by the widespread use of track two diplomacy and the acceptance of the principles of the enemy system, human needs and conflict resolution theories.

The Enemy System Theory introduces the human need to dichotomise and thus create enemies and allies. Both the Enemy System and Social Identity theories stress the importance of self esteem and positive identity particularly with regard to relations between ingroups (allies) and outgroups (enemies). Human needs theory hypothesises that there are certain irreducible human needs which must be met in order that societies can function without maladaptive conflict. Burton's conflict resolution theory recognises these needs and suggests ways to accommodate them analytically and non-coercively. Track two diplomacy offers a process that can be used to achieve the results envisaged by Burton's Conflict Resolution theory.

At present, a fusion of the Enemy System Theory and Human Needs Theory offer the most comprehensive and objective explanations of the conflict. However, explanation is not enough. Burton's Conflict Resolution Theory provides a holistic approach to conflict resolution. As a relatively new and pioneering theoretical development, it remains outside the mainstream of the literature. It challenges the assumptions of Western political thought that power is based and exercised through elites who establish norms of behaviour. However, it remains to be seen whether this approach will be accepted by the participants in the conflict, and used to their benefit to resolve it.


[1] Donald Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkely, University of California Press, 1985, p. 140.
[2]James E. Dougherty and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Contending Theories of International Relations. New York, Harper & Row Publishers, 1981, p. 187.
[3]Ibid., p. 37.
[4] Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1960
[5] Robert L. O'Connell, Of Arms and Men, A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression. New York, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 15.
[6] Ibid, p. 30.
[7]Ibid, p. 26.
[8]John E. Mack, 'The Enemy System', in Vamik Volkan, et al eds., The Psychodynamics of International Relationships: Volume I: Concepts and Theories. Lexington, MA, Lexington Books, 1990, p. 58.
[9] Ed Cairns, A Welling Up Of Deep Unconscious Forces: Psychology and the Northern Ireland Conflict. Coleraine, Centre for the Study of Conflict, University of Ulster, 1994, p. 5.
[10]Ibid., p. 9.
[11] Henri Tajfel, Human Groups and Social Categories. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 320.
[12]Henri Tajfel, Differentiation between Social Groups. London, Academic Press Inc., 1978, p. 76.
[13] Horowitz, op cit, p. 12.
[14]For details of the rational actor model and politics see Anthony Downs' An Economic Theory of Democracy, 1957.
[15]Schelling, op cit.
[16]Horowitz, op cit, p. 5
[17]Ibid, p. 8
[18]Seamus Dunn, (ed.) Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1995.
[19]Horowitz, op cit, p. 30.
[20]Ibid, p. 31.
[21]Walker Connor, Ethnonationalism, The Quest for Understanding. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1994. p. 46.
[22] Ibid, p. 74.
[23] Ibid, p. 161.
[24] Donald Horowitz 'Conflict and the incentives to political accommodation', in Dermot Keogh and Michael H. Haltzel (eds.) Northern Ireland and the Politics of Reconciliation. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994. p. 188.
[25]Conor, op cit, p. 206.
[26]See Joseph V. Montville's chapter 'The Psychological Roots of Ethnic and Sectarian Terrorism' in Volkan, 1990, op cit.
[27] Vamik D. Volkan, 'An Overview of Psychological Concepts Pertinent to Interethnic and/or International Relationships', ibid., p. 31.
[28]Ibid., p. 31.
[29] Joseph V. Montville, 'The Psychological Roots of Ethnic and Sectarian Terrorism', op cit., p. 169.
[30] John E. Mack, 'The Psychodynamics among National Groups in Conflict', ibid., p. 125.
[31] Joseph V. Montville, op. cit., p. 170.
[32] John E. Mack, 'The Enemy System', ibid., p. 63.
[33]Vamik D. Volkan, op. cit., p. 33.
[34]Volkan, ibid., p. 43.
[35] Ibid., p. 43.
[36]See Demetrios A. Julius's chapter 'The Genesis and Perpetuation of Aggression in International Conflicts' in Volkan, 1990, for details about these concepts.
[37]Ibid., p. 101.
[38]Rafael Moses, 'Self, Self-view, and Identity', in Volkan, op. cit., p. 53.
[39]Vamik D. Volkan, op. cit., p. 44.
[40]Joseph V. Montville, op. cit., p. 174.
[41]Ibid., pp. 176-7.
[42]Peter A. Olsson, 'The Terrorist and the Terrorized: Some Psychoanalytical Considerations', in Volkan, ibid., p. 187.
[43]Ibid., p. 188.
[44]Demetrios Julius, op. cit., pp. 106-7.
[45] John Burton, 'Conflict Resolution as a Political System' in Vamik Volkan, et al (eds.), The Psychodynamics of International Relationships: Volume II: Unofficial Diplomacy at Work. Lexington, MA, Lexington Books, 1991, p. 82-3.
[46]John Burton, 'Political Realities' in Volkan, 1991, ibid., p. 21.
[47]John Burton, 'Conflict Resolution as a Political System', in Volkan, 1991, op. cit., p. 81.
[48]Ibid., p. 73.
[49]Ibid., p. 72.
[50]Ibid., p. 84.
[51]John Burton, 'Political Realities', op.cit., p. 20.
[52]John Burton, 'Conflict Resolution as a Political System', op. cit., p. 71.
[53]Joseph V. Montville, 'The Arrow and the Olive Branch: A Case for Track Two Diplomacy' in Volkan, 1991, op cit., p. 162.
[54]Edward E. Azar, 'The Analysis and Management of Protracted Conflict', ibid., p. 93.
[55]Ibid. p. 95.
[56]Herbert C. Kelman, 'Interactive Problem Solving: The Uses and Limits of a Therapeutic Model for the Resolution of International Conflicts' in Volkan (1991), ibid., p. 146.
[57]Ibid., p. 157.
[58]Azar, op cit., p. 101.
[59]Interview with Tim Pat Coogan by this analyst at the Claddagh Pub, Auckland, 9 October 1996.
[60]Kelman, op cit., p, 153.


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CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
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