In just a few months, it seems, the third edition of this text will be out. This speaks to the staying power of the text by Ramsbotham, Woodhouse and Miall. Conflict resolution in the context of this text is really international relations and politics on a large scale. When I told a friend of mine that I was doing a course on conflict resolution, her first thought was to ask questions that showed she thought the subject was one of interpersonal relations on a small scale - conflicts within families, between neighbours, co-workers and employer/employee relations, etc. My course, being a part of the National Security Studies program at AMU, did not address that (worthy though friend's idea might be in another setting). In the preface, the authors state, `We produced the first edition of this book in order to provide a comprehensive account of the way in which conflict resolution emerged as a field of academic enquiry and how it might be utilized to manage post-Cold War conflict peacefully.' While there are certainly parallels between interpersonal relationships and international relationships, this text is focused clearly on the later.
The authors set the stage by looking at some basic concepts of conflict resolution models, different levels of conflict, and different ways of thinking about the roles of the participants. Classic approaches to thinking about things such as the Prisoner's Dilemma as well as new models that involve multiple parties at varying levels of concern and participation provide many examples both theoretical and historical. Tracing the development of conflict resolution from the post-World War I environment forward, the authors see three main periods: the inter-war period with stumbling efforts, the second generation post-World War II with more sustained development in conflict resolution research, the third generation during the Vietnam and post-Vietnam war era, and a reconstructive fourth generation from the mid-1980s to today. In this period, `Conflict resolution does not prescribe specific solutions or end goals for society, beyond a commitment to the core assumption that aggressive win-lose styles of engagement in violent conflict usually incur costs that are not only unacceptably high for the conflict parties, but also for world society in general.'
Conflict can take many forms - terrorism, more formal warfare, economic sanctions both effective and ineffective, interstate and intrastate conflict, and more. The authors devote a significant amount of the text to looking at ways to interpret conflict before moving on to chapters on peacebuilding, the ethics of intervention, and reconciliation. The authors conclude on a hopeful note, discounting various theories of doom and despair. `Conflict resolution and conflict transformation insist that, although human conflict is inevitable, the path to violence is not. It offers robust criteria for guiding policy choices in the positive handling of potentially damaging conflict, set within equally clear-cut principles for addressing underlying structural or cultural asymmetries.' This is no pie-in-the-sky text that promises peace and equity everywhere in every way. However, it does look for people at all levels to take both a local and global view of their actions, something that our increasingly shrinking world needs. A key word here is transformation - not a simple cessation of conflict, but rather changing it into something that can be less destructive, and possibly even constructive in different ways.
Useful for those who want a sense of conflict around the world, this book is good for anyone studying political science, international relations, security-related studies, sociology, and more.