Tag Archives: conflict

Partitioning Sudan: Failure or Successful Resolution?

Voter registration line in Abyei

People lined up to register to vote in Abyei, Sudan, 18 November 2009. Photo courtesy of U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan. The views expressed here have not been endorsed by the Special Envoy.

A vote for independence from the north is the expected outcome of the referendum in southern Sudan, which was held from 9-15 January 2011. Sudan’s fractured history goes much deeper than the more recent killing and displacement in the Darfur region, including two civil wars between the more developed Islamic north and the impoverished tribal south. The latter conflict was mainly over the religious autonomy of the south and division of oil revenues. (The majority of Sudan’s oilfields are in the south while refineries and pipelines to the seaports are in the north). The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement established tentative peace and mandated a referendum for independence.

Some consider the partitioning of a country to be a failure of diplomacy and intergroup contact.  For southern Sudan gaining independence, although fraught with many new challenges, might be an opportunity to gain equal status with the north. According to Gordan Allport’s intergroup contact hypothesis, equal status is one of the four necessary preconditions for decreasing intergroup prejudice and anxiety. Commentary on Allport’s work (Esses, Jackson, Dovidio, & Hodson, 2008) claims that reducing competition for tangible resources and attenuating symbolic conflict over issues such as identity and religion need to happen simultaneously. In fact, decreasing tension over sovereignty and religious freedom might create more political space to negotiate sharing oil revenues.

On the Ground: Answering Your Sudan Questions, Take 1

Esses, V. M., Jackson, L. M., Dovidio, J. F. and Hodson, G. (2008). Instrumental relations among groups: Group competition, conflict, and prejudice. In J. F. Dovidio, P. Glick and L. A. Rudman (Eds.), On the nature of prejudice: Fifty years after Allport (pp. 227 – 243). Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK.

On the effectiveness of intergroup apologies

By Kevin R. Betts

A common theme of my previous posts concerns intergroup conflict and its resolution. Some conflicts I have examined include clashes in Bangkok between anti-government protestors and the Thai government, relations between the LAPD and bicycle commuters, immigrant relations in Arizona, conflict on the Korean peninsula, and reciprocal determinants of terrorist and counterterrorist actions. The nature of these conflicts is complex, and accordingly, the interventions I proposed have sometimes been complex as well. But a recent article by Blatz and Philpot (2010) suggests that some of these conflicts may not require complex solutions. Rather, a simple public apology may sometimes be all that is needed to restore peace.

Blatz and Philpot (2010) suggest that intergroup apologies can improve intergroup attitudes, restore trust, and promote forgiveness. Additionally, they identify nine moderators (intentionality, time since harm, severity, privity, costliness, time since apology, trust, power, and identification) and four mediators (remorse, sincerity, empathy, and assigning responsibility) that influence apology-outcome relationships. Although it is beyond the scope of this brief post to examine all of these factors, one can imagine how each might relate to the conflicts discussed above. Take whether or not the perpetrators intended to harm the victim (intentionality) as an example. This past summer, I wrote about an incident where an LAPD officer was filmed kicking a bicycle commuter during the monthly mass bicycling event Critical Mass. As an organization, the LAPD reacted to this incident by condemning the actions of the officer and expressing their support of lawful bicycle commuting. Framing this incident as unreflective of the LAPD as an organization (unintentional) may have aided their attempt to restore relations with bicycle commuters in the city. In contrast, intergroup apologies should be less effective when transgressions are clearly intentional. For example, the North Korean government openly takes credit for their recent attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. Although an official apology is certainly warranted for this attack, it is unlikely to be effective in achieving the immediate forgiveness of South Koreans.

Clearly, not all intergroup conflicts can be resolved with an apology. What should be taken from this research is that when certain conditions are met, the power of a simple public apology for improving intergroup attitudes, restoring trust, and promoting forgiveness should not be underestimated.

Read more

Blatz, C.W., & Philpot, C. (2010). On the outcomes of intergroup apologies. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 995-1007.

Destruction on island at center of Korean barrage (CNN)

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Terrorism as collective communication

By Kevin R. Betts

Recently, intelligence surfaced about several dozen Muslim militants with European citizenship training for attacks that may involve European capitals. These reports are especially worrisome because unlike previous threats, this most recent one involves individuals with unrestricted access between training grounds in Pakistan and various European countries. Western officials are currently advising vigilance among those living and traveling in Europe as attempts are made to dismantle the threat.

Research on terrorist threats like the one captured above have surged following the shocking attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Is it possible to make sense of these threats using this research and improve counterterrorism efforts? Recent work by Fischer, Fischer, Weisweiler, and Frey (2010) suggests that we can. They presented a collective communication model of terrorism (CCMT), which “proposes that terrorism is a complex process of collective dialogue between terrorists and potential victims about political/societal issues and aims…” Their model is an extension of the classic communication model, which comprises a sender, a message, and a receiver. In the CCMT, the terrorist as sender possesses attributes that influence the nature of interactions with the receiver. These attributes may regard cultural origin and motive for the attack, among others. The victim of terrorist threats is the receiver in this model, and also possesses various attributes that influence the nature of interactions. The message in this model may concern political or social issues, and is communicated through a threat or attack committed by the terrorist on to the victim. Fischer et al. (2010) extend this basic model further by considering ways in which the receiver interprets and responds to the message. For instance, victims may respond in ways that are conflict-escalating or deescalating, either of which communicates a new message to the terrorist. This often results in a cyclical process whereby the sender and receiver continuously switch roles sending opposing messages.

What is the implication of this research for counterterrorism efforts? If terrorists and victims simply take turns communicating opposing messages, then no solution can be reached. For counterterrorism measures to be effective, genuine understanding of the motives behind terrorist threats is necessary. Why do today’s terrorists feel hatred toward their victims? Why do they see violence as an acceptable medium of communication? By answering these questions, we may be able reduce the number of future threats, and respond more appropriately to those that still emerge.

Read more:

Dozens of Europeans in terror training (MSNBC)

Fischer, P., Fischer, J.K, Weisweiler, S., & Frey, D. (2010). Terrorism as collective communication: The collective communication model of terrorism (CCMT). Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4/9, 692-703.

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A children’s peace force in the Koreas

By Kevin R. Betts

I stumbled across an interesting news story this weekend that detailed a 13 year old Korean American’s ambitious goal to restore peace between North and South Korea. His name is Jonathan Lee, and he is the founder of I.C.E.Y. H.O.P.E., a youth humanitarian environmental group that seeks to convince North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il to plant a children’s peace force in the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas. Lee says, “What I would really like, if possible, like maybe the children from both countries could be able to meet and play with each other. Like a big playground.”

The contact hypothesis predicts that Lee’s efforts should result in at least some success. In general, the contact hypothesis suggests that interpersonal contact is the most effective way of reducing biases among conflicting groups (Wagner, Tropp, Finchilescu, & Tredoux, 2008). And although Lee’s efforts are geared toward children who may not yet have developed these biases, positive benefits may be seen in the unprejudiced views of these children as they age, as well as the views of watchful Korean nationals who observe this contact. However, for contact to truly be effective, research tells us that it must occur amid certain conditions. First, contact must be between equal status groups. If one country’s children are treated as subordinate to those of the other country, contact is unlikely to yield positive outcomes. Second, the two groups must share common goals. For children, one common goal may be as simple as having fun. For adults, these goals may revolve around reducing tensions among North and South Koreans in later generations. Third, intergroup cooperation must be present. For efforts at peace to be effective, cooperation on both sides of the Koreas is necessary. Fourth, authorities, law, or custom must support this intergroup contact. For Lee’s ambitious goals to stand a chance, both North and South Korean leaders must support his attempts.

The results of Lee’s efforts remain to be seen. Yet, the consistency of these efforts with the contact hypothesis gives us reason to be hopeful. Peace between North and South Korea still remains possible.

Read more:

Korean-American teenager shares ambitious peace plan

Wagner, U., Tropp, L.R., Finchilescu, G. & Tredoux, C. (Eds.). (2008). Improving intergroup relations: Building on the legacy of Thomas F. Pettigrew. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

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LAPD seeks to restore relations with bicycle commuters

By Kevin R. Betts

“As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists.” Although it is unclear who first said this, there is no doubt that many people feel this way. In California, this recently became clear when an officer of the LAPD was filmed kicking a bicycle commuter who followed several hundred others riding in Critical Mass, a monthly mass bicycling event. Making matters worse, officers then surrounded and tackled the cameraman! Unfortunately, cities across the U.S. have seen similar confrontations between police and bicycle commuters in recent years.

While friendship may not be in the cards, peaceful relations between police and bicycle commuters are essential as the popularity of bicycle commuting grows. Every day, thousands of people around the globe commute to work, school, and other locations by bicycle. In one U.S. city, bicycle couriers were found to deliver between 3000 and 4000 items per day at a financial steal of only about seven dollars per delivery (Dennerlein & Meeker, 2002). Indeed, bicycle commuting offers an important contribution to society as it is cost-effective, as well as reduces pollution and traffic congestion. Standing in the way of these societal advantages, however, may be fears among potential bicycle commuters about confrontation with aggressive police. For these cyclists, it is imperative that police understand their role as protectors of those that legally share the road. When bicycle commuters abide by traffic laws, they should be treated by police in the same manner as motorists.

In response to the incident in California, LAPD officers joined a Critical Mass ride this past Friday to show their support for lawful bicycle commuting. Whether most bicycle commuters in California have taken this peace offer at face value is unclear, but nonetheless, the actions of the LAPD are commendable. Considering the societal advantages of bicycle commuting and the potential role police can play in protecting lawful bicycle commuters, peaceful relations are imperative.

Read more:

LAPD officers attack Critical Mass riders

LAPD pledges to join Critical Mass ride

Dennerlein, J.T., & Meeker, J.D. (2002). Occupational injuries among Boston bicycle messengers. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 42, 519-525.

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Anti-government protests and mirror-image perceptions in Thailand

2010 political protests in Bangkok, Thailand

By Kevin R. Betts

Clashes in Bangkok between anti-government protestors and the Thai government appeared subdued this weekend after over two months of violent confrontations. Integrative agreements in protest situations like this are often impeded by mirror-image perceptions that opposing parties hold about one another. For example, a Thai government official was quoted saying about the protestors, “They don’t want a peace offer…They don’t want a peaceful resolution to this.” Mirroring this criticism, a CNN reporter claimed that the protestors did in fact wish to see the conflict end, and blamed military forces for much of the violence. In short, both parties claimed that the other was preventing the conflict’s resolution.

At least in part, many conflicts have been prolonged due to mirror-image perceptions between opposing factions. Shamir and Shikaki (2002) provide evidence that parties to the century old Israeli-Palestinian conflict both consider the violent behavior of the other side to be terrorism, while simultaneously seeing the violent behavior of their own side as justified. Similarly, De Dreu, Nauta, and Van de Vliert (1995) provide evidence that professional negotiators, governmental decision makers, and organizational consultants view their own conflict behaviors as more constructive than those of their opponents. From these examples, it seems worthwhile that when attempting to resolve new and old conflicts, we start by examining potentially reciprocal viewpoints of opposing factions. In many cases, both sides may be motivated to reach an integrative agreement, but unable to successfully communicate this intent to their opposition.

Read more:

State of emergency in Thailand may be lifted

Anti-government protests in Thailand

Shamir, J., & Shikaki, K. (2002). Self-serving perceptions of terrorism among Israelis and Palestinians. Political   Psychology, 23, 537-557.

De Dreu, C.K.W., Nauta, A., & Van de Vliert, E. (1995). Self-serving evaluations of conflict behavior and escalation of the dispute. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25, 2049-2066.

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