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Prepare a 15 presentation on the assigned readings based on those two chapter.


1. Time: 15 minutes in total for presentation on the assigned readings depending on whether you work as a team or individually (see below under Tasks). The important thing to know well is not how much time you need. It is ability (competency) to identify what is most important to know from the readings and to communicate it clearly and concisely. Get straight to the point.

Prepare a 15 presentation on the assigned readings based on those two chapter.

Discussion Leader. Each student will lead discussion of assigned readings for at least one week.

1. Preparation. Read the assigned material. Identify the author’s main argument or overall point, the main question the argument responding to that question, the reasons and evidence in support of the argument, and the aspect of the conflict on which the author focuses.

Address these main elements first. Ask what is the point of this chapter? What the purpose of each section? What does it focus on? What does the author want the reader to know and understand well?

Next is your position (response to the author). What is your response to the author’s argument? Give a good reason. Finally pose one question NOT several! Just one question that came up as you read or after you completed reading and preparing the assignment. Tell us why it is important for us to consider or worth our time discussing.

2. Posing a good question is an important conflict resolution skill. A good question is one that provokes immediate response from the audience, and advances discussion or debate. It gets your audience’s attention. Provokes thought. It helps to pay attention to the question’s scholars pose in their work and the way they do so. Consider them carefully, specifically their “fruitfulness” or potential to advance debate on a phenomenon of concern to a broader community of scholars and practitioners. Not all questions advance debate or open up new avenues of inquiry. For example, rhetorical questions, questioning the obvious, and questions that elicit an automatic NO or Yes. Think carefully about the questions you ask.

i have also attached the 2 chapters 


Understanding Conflict and Conflict Analysis

A System of Conflict Dynamics

Contributors: By: Ho-Won Jeong

Book Title: Understanding Conflict and Conflict Analysis

Chapter Title: “A System of Conflict Dynamics”

Pub. Date: 2008

Access Date: May 18, 2020

Publishing Company: SAGE Publications Ltd

City: London

Print ISBN: 9781412903097

Online ISBN: 9781446279366

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781446279366.n7

Print pages: 135-153

© 2008 SAGE Publications Ltd All Rights Reserved.

This PDF has been generated from SAGE Knowledge. Please note that the pagination of the online

version will vary from the pagination of the print book.

A System of Conflict Dynamics

The dynamics behind conflict progression, comprising emergence, persistence, and transformation, can be
revealed by a general systems theory that illuminates elements geared toward either sustaining or disrupting
a status quo, and their relationship to the internal and external environment. In complex systems theory, a
conflict path is viewed as more than a simple, static, and dyadic process. While some might depend on a
linear system to explain changes, cyclical patterns may better illustrate how seemingly unrelated events and
processes conspire to shape outcomes (Gleick, 1987). Each conflict is considered contextually unique, but its
main features can be explained by shared common foundations (Golden, 2007).

Society is interlaced by orders created at various levels, but segmented in diverse ways. In considering that
conflict systems are not necessarily linear, the course of any event does not always produce controllable and
predictable outcomes. In contrast with a fixed structure, adaptive response systems can generate novel and
creative outcomes in a complex environment (Jones and Hughes, 2003). This chapter sheds light on action-
reaction modes of conflict dynamics, diverse types of behaviour, and contextual variables involved in influ-
encing the patterns of interaction between actors.

System Perspectives

Relationships between conflict components can be explained in terms of system processes and their out-
comes. Persisting trends in mutual interaction and consistent patterns of behaviour characterize each stage
of conflict. The changes in a conflict system move through a cycle of grievance expression-escalation-sup-
pression. An action-reaction process is considered cyclical with a punctuated equilibrium. With the manifes-
tation of escalation, a latent conflict turns into a crisis. Then the crisis eventually has to be turned back to a
latent condition of conflict, for heightened tension is not the normal state of relationships.

A system is imagined as a complex set of interaction patterns, constituting forces beyond the features of indi-
vidual components. By nature, a system is continuously shifting from one stage to another in the process of
adapting to a new situation. Although a dynamic interaction within a given structure changes from moment to
moment, it is not chaotic, representing instead ‘a set of self-organizing forces that keep the system on track’
(Littlejohn and Domenici, 2001: 218). Thus system dynamics are best captured in terms of an equilibrium em-
bodying a succession of identical or similar states.

In general, events activated at an earlier point can come back to affect the original event with a tendency
toward greater intensity. For example, additional pressure from a supervisor results in more resistance from
employees, eliciting greater directive responses from the boss. On the other hand, the interaction can be
‘self-correcting, and perpetuate a steady state’ if the relationships between the boss and employees are self-
regulated without involving patterns of abusive orders and withdrawal (Littlejohn and Domenici, 2001: 219). A
complex set of interactional patterns is, of course, modified as a result of a deviation of the system, subse-
quently restructuring rules that govern relationships.

Changes can, therefore, be elaborated in terms of any action that causes system disturbance. Equilibrium is
a normal state of many dynamic interaction patterns. Some systems are characterized by cyclical repetition
of an indefinite sequence of states. Thus conflict may be seen as a movement away from an orderly normal
state of relationships regulated by existing norms. The main question that remains, however, is how groups
move from harmony and equilibrium to a manifested conflict, and vice versa.

In a system’s model, the dynamic paths may all converge into, or diverge away, from the equilibrium point.
The loss of equilibrium sparks off movement toward the previous balancing point. When system components
lose the ability to interact in equilibrium, parties experience a breakdown in regular interaction patterns. Once
a new system emerges, the laws of the old system are not valid any more.

© Ho-Won Jeong 2008

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The larger picture of US-Soviet history between 1945 and 1979 epitomizes the repetition of a particular se-
quence of events, moving to and from a certain equilibrium point. The Cold War pendulum vacillated between
the opposing poles of containment and détente before the collapse of the Soviet bloc socialist systems. Dé-
tente in the early 1970s was followed by an unstable equilibrium, ascribed to unilateral arms build-up, the
pursuit of military superiority by President Ronald Reagan and his ideological rhetoric in the early 1980s (ri-
valling that of the worst days of the Cold War in the late 1940s). The US plan to install intermediate-range
missiles in Western Europe and the renewed nuclear arms race created anxiety and pressure to recover a

stable equilibrium.1 This pressure eventually brought about renewed arms talks and a superpower summit.
With the demise of the Soviet system, the old patterns of rivalry were replaced by new rules that govern dif-
ferent dynamics in the relationship between post-Soviet Russia and the United States.

Being accompanied by more than 40 years of antagonistic relations, the US-North Korea nuclear weapons
agreement in 1994 created a stable equilibrium point at which to open up the possibility of diplomatic normal-
ization. The pendulum swung in the opposite direction in 2000, however, with the election of President Bush
and his administration’s abandonment of the agreement. A tit-for-tat escalation of conflict between the Ameri-
can and North Korean leadership led to the latter’s testing of nuclear weapons in 2006. Since then, the conflict
has been moderated only by the renewal of bilateral talks and the withdrawal of US financial sanctions, as an
effort to explore a new equilibrium point that restores normalized channels of communication.

These events are denoted by divergence from, and return to, behavioural and normative expectations found
in stable relationships. Incompatible, unregulated patterns of interaction are the hallmark of negative relation-
ships represented by disequilibrium. Whereas intractable conflicts escalate towards a more destructive end,
many normal adversarial relationships can be managed through a relatively stable system, oscillating be-
tween periods of tension and equilibrium. An action-reaction model suggests not only conditions that facilitate
escalation, but also conditions that encourage stability.

Action-Reaction Functions

A system’s perspective reflects action-reaction functions that have been applied to the analysis of arms races,
which create the vulnerability of each side to destruction by the other. The joint functions of two or more in-
teracting countries can be said to form a system with an equilibrium point at which each side feels that its
security interests, protected by military, technological, and economic strengths, are balanced against the oth-
er’s threats. This equilibrium impinges upon the structure of expectations that are derived from the combined
effects of interests, capabilities, and wills.

In understanding changes which affect the maintenance of the equilibrium, we can focus on a self-reinforcing
spiral of actions and reactions that might either instigate the initiation of war or spur conciliation. The ex-
change of the moves and countermoves drives conflict either downwards or upwards. By moving away from
mainly adversarial relationships, associated with an overall increase in a range of hostile behaviour, accom-
modation can be reached at the balancing point.

In an action-reaction process, the behaviour of one party is, in large part, a function of the other’s move. The
concept of interaction functions was originally formulated from an arms race perspective (Richardson, 1967).
This research originates in the classic work by Quincy Wright (1942), which correlates national interests and
respective levels of armaments to the increased likelihood of hostilities.

In the processes of the arms race envisaged by Richardson (1967), one country reacts to increases in an ad-
versary’s armament levels by strengthening its own arms expenditures, pushing, in turn, growth in the initia-
tor’s military spending levels. The threat of the other party, denoted by even higher levels of arms, will cause
one party to boost its military strength again. The perceived threats coming from the rapid arms build-up of
the opponent are a main factor leading to an upsurge in armaments; the level of responsiveness in military

© Ho-Won Jeong 2008

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build-up reflects the intensity of the impact of an adversary’s armament on one’s own perceptions of threats,
fears, and grievances.

In the mutually aggravating process of an arms race, therefore, the rate of change in each party’s military
build-up is a direct result of the combined effect of a rival country’s military strength and an accumulation
of grievances that sharpens a sense of threat. The level of arms production is checked only by the cost of
procuring arms systems, and such internal constraints as limited economic strength, budgetary restrictions,
and other indicators of fatigue.

A desire for balance in the dynamics of arms competition is driven by fear of the other’s superiority in arms
levels. While the perceptions of threat (resulting from feelings of insecurity) are magnified by increasing griev-
ances toward the other party, motivating further arms build-up, each party must be able to afford continuing
armaments. The capability to keep up with the other’s expenditures is bound to preserve a threat-arms accu-
mulation reaction system. Thus mutual parity in arms procurement is an essential condition for safeguarding
equilibrium and deterring all-out war.

The system is regarded as stable if forces tending to recover the equilibrium point effectively counter a distur-
bance. When the differences in arms procurements are relatively small, disturbances move within a certain
range from an equilibrium point. Noticeably, a small deviation does not result in a general war. Gradual and
continuous adjustments to arms levels reproduce stable interactions between perceived threats and costs. In
contrast, equilibrium in the existing interaction would not be sustained if an arms race were to end in either
total disarmament or war.

The failure to attain equal arms development with disparities in economic capabilities produces conditions for
disequilibrium. An unstable equilibrium is created by large disturbances from the system’s present state. The
rising level of threats, following an uncontrolled exchange of hostilities, in tandem with a clear manifestation
of opposing interests, is expected to unleash catastrophic events that are beyond defensive reactions. In this
situation, predomination of the arms build-up is likely to precipitate overt armed conflict.

The accumulated mutual grievances from each other’s threats generate runaway conflict spirals. The ability
of parties to intensify a conflict can be constrained by emotional and physical costs. The strength of disequi-
librium factors needs to be overshadowed by braking factors, such as a fear of a possible war, along with the
accumulation of goodwill.

If equilibrium in the arms race is not stable, instances of hostilities can have a chain effect, leading to a specific
outcome of war. The retention of high levels of arms outweighs goodwill by generating the need to keep pace
with the increasing arms competition and heightened threat levels (Richardson, 1967). Large disturbances in
the system’s state result in a failure to return to the equilibrium point.

Intense overt conflict is irrevocably tied to the destructive capabilities of parties as well as perceptions of
threat and grievances derived from unequal relationships. In order to uphold stable action-reaction dynamics,
the conflict system has to balance threats and arms control. In the end, system transformation is essential to
de-escalation and conflict resolution.

In parallel to an arms race between rival states, ethnic mobilization, accompanied by the collapse of the cen-
tral authority in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992 to 1995) or militia armaments in Somalia (since 1988) and Liberia
(1989 to 1996), demonstrates competition among antagonistic groups for control of the state. Each group may
want to take advantage of a window of opportunity to expand its power and exploit the vulnerability of others
in an all out competition to capture state legitimacy and material assets (for example, timber and minerals) or
infrastructure such as ports. In enduring ethnic rivalries, one group’s increased strength creates a sense of
insecurity for others, whereas neighbouring groups practice self-help to ensure their own security.

Competitive, especially armed, mobilizations generate ‘a hostility spiral of action and reaction’ (Lobell and

© Ho-Won Jeong 2008

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Mauceri, 2004: 4). Even a seemingly defensive move is seen as an offensive posture by rival groups. Each
hostile action is likely to be reciprocated by an adversary’s counter-offensive operations. In total anarchy, eth-
nic groups seek counterbalance with their opponents’ fighting capabilities, believing that offensive strategies
are the most effective in pursuing their survival. While each group either implicitly or explicitly takes measures
to protect themselves by balancing the rival’s strength, the mobilization dynamics result in further escalation
of hostile actions without increasing one’s own group’s security. This process ultimately ends either with the
emergence of one dominant group or external intervention to bring stability through new institution building.

The Modes of Interaction

Sanctions are often regarded as legitimate and acceptable methods of coercion in the international political
system. The transmission of threats specifies the negative consequences faced by parties who defy the de-
mands of a coercive opponent. Hostilities, war, or other negative forms of social influence are contrasted with
persuasion and incentives (Franck, 2006). While a negative mode of action involves economic or diplomatic
sanctions that are intended to increase costs or to take away benefit, positive measures focus on rewards or

The attributes of interaction may consist not only of a mode of behaviour, but also different levels of intensity
in movements (incremental versus sudden) and directions of a particular measure (an increase or decrease
in punitive action). The degree of severity and consistency of sanctions produce diverse interpretation and
reciprocal action over time. The consistently increasing harshness of sanctions is likely to signal the demand
for capitulation rather than a move toward conciliation. The increasing or decreasing pressure is inclined to
be adopted in a manner that bears a direct relationship to the other party’s compliant or defiant acts.

Different degrees of positive inducements, ranging from diplomatic recognition, humanitarian relief and eco-
nomic assistance to military aid, can be employed as an appeasing influence strategy. Economic incentives
such as lower import tariffs and free loans have often been aimed at inducing a favourable response and forti-
fying ally relationships. In its pursuit of the war on terrorism, US economic assistance has, for example, been
granted to Pakistan and strategically important Central Asian countries.

The initiation of a negative mode of behaviour (such as violent acts as well as hostile statements) tends to
be easily reciprocated through retaliatory measures. The transmission of coercive messages may have un-
desirable repercussions with uncontrolled consequences via escalation. To prevent a run-away acceleration
of violence, coercive action needs to be applied gradually, with a greater magnitude, in specific areas. The
effects of threats and punishment as a mode of influence generally focus on the costs originating from non-
compliance. This strategy is contrasted with a promise made to engender trustworthy perceptions and deliver
good intentions.

In most conflict interactions, the imposition of pain is combined with the remuneration of benefits (Mitchell,
1999). Whereas coercion is likely to constitute a dominant form of escalatory action, the mixture of both col-
laborative and coercive strategies is typically associated with conflict diminution. Even with the introduction of
de-escalatory measures, bullying and intimidation tactics may not completely disappear if pressure needs to
be put on adversaries to act. When a conflict is controlled to bring about settlement, the ratio and frequency
of conciliatory behaviour increase vis-à-vis those that are coercive.

Threats and coercion may be accompanied by persuasive efforts made through the promise of rewards. For
example, the USA and its European allies promised limited types of nuclear technology to Iran in return for
Teheran’s freeze on uranium programmes. When Iran declined the proposal, Western powers threatened to
initiate UN-sponsored sanctions. In the post-conflict settings of Mozambique and El Salvador between 1992
and 1994, guerrilla forces temporarily ceased a continuing demobilization process when the governments
were slow to take promised measures such as changes in election rules and land reform, respectively.

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In antagonistic relationships, sanctions may serve as a means of communication to constrain an adversary’s
behaviour. On the other hand, the unmanaged expression of hostile intentions inadvertently instigates the
rival party’s misperceptions. The prevalence of an aggressive mood in one country is likely to invite similar re-
actions from the other. Prior to the Six Day War of 1967, both Arabs and Israelis were reacting to each other’s
intense emotional fever for war.

The same action causes different consequences, depending on the opponents’ perceptions. Provocative be-
haviour by one side generally brings about the other’s harsh response intended to deter continuing provo-
cation. Even if stronger reactions entail a risk of inciting further escalation through a negative spiral, it might
be feared that modest reactions are seen as a lack of will to challenge an aggressor. The breach of normal
expectations, accompanied by extreme violence, sets off a malignant spiral of escalatory acts. Witnessing
atrocities encourages vindictive behaviour against enemies.

High-stakes competition, especially in conjunction with an ability to inflict pain on adversaries, most likely
rouses voices of complaint about excessive concessions. While conciliatory counter-proposals can be made
to meet, at least partially, an adversarial demand, this might not soften the stiff position of the opponent who
feels a sense of victory and seeks total capitulation. The concessions proffered unconditionally by one side
may generate expectations of continued gains from the other, who may not want to believe in, or be convinced
of, a limit on what can be achieved. If the adversary’s goal is confined to low antagonistic interactions, they
can be placated through friendly gestures and symbolic recognition of their claims.

Prior to the abandonment of antagonistic measures, competitive behaviour may increase temporarily in sig-
nalling the possibility of a return to a tough stance, commensurate with an adversary’s future strategies. Ag-
gressive moves for short-term gains can be misinterpreted, however, unintentionally producing retaliatory re-
actions. The hard question becomes how to avoid provoking the other side into an escalatory track while
adopting contentious tactics in a measured manner to strengthen one’s negotiating position.

The other’s intention can be misconstrued due to the multiple functions of communication methods. Whereas
specific actions may have been taken to shape the opponent’s interpretations of the situation, these may also
have to be considered in terms of the morale of one’s own constituents. The efforts to send out both concilia-
tory and harsh messages to multiple types of audience often bring about misunderstandings and unintended
reactions. Ambiguous meanings can be crafted to show intransigence to the domestic audience, while inti-
mating an intention to lower hostilities toward adversaries. Even though the tough messages are constructed
for public consumption and to allay domestic critics, they can proliferate ill feelings and enmity in the enemy

Specific expectations and standards about acceptable and unacceptable contentious behaviour may differ
among the parties. Words and acts ought to be interpreted in the specific context of past and present events.
Every action does not have the same value. In fact, some can be intentionally ignored or dismissed. For in-
stance, even after the North Koreans detonated nuclear weapons in the autumn of 2006, the USA and Japan
declared, as part of efforts to reverse their adversary’s claim to a nuclear power status, that they do not rec-
ognize the ownership of nuclear bombs by Pyongyang as a factual matter. Even in escalation, implicit or ex-
plicit sets of rules may emerge to inhibit excessive conduct intended for total destruction. In the midst of a
violent struggle, tacit communications can be devised to constrain each other’s attempts at further escalation.
Without official acknowledgement, the Israeli military refrained from bombing Beirut’s main commercial cen-
tre, during the 2006 Lebanese war, in part, due to Hezbollah’s threat of retaliatory rocket attacks on Tel Aviv.

A Threat Mode of Action

Threats can be designed to force the other party to abstain from particular actions or to push them to pursue
new policies that favour the threatening party. Compliance with another’s threats and accompanying demands

© Ho-Won Jeong 2008

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hinges, in part, on the likelihood of the actual implementation of the impending actions in the event of defi-
ance. The threats are seen to be more credible if the imminent attack appears to be well prepared for causing
real harm. Credibility also rests on the actor’s reputation for adhering to their own words with a show of deter-
mination (Patchen, 1988).

The cost of acting on a threat has to incorporate vulnerability to counteraction by the target. Even though the
United States has the military capability to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, the American government is less
inclined to employ force because of their vulnerability to destructive counterattacks. The price of actually car-
rying out the threatened military strikes needs to be compared to the cost of not doing so.

In response to coercive steps, the target party has multiple choices, ranging from unconditional or partial com-
pliance with the demand, ignorance by inaction to defiance with a counter-threat. The recipient of the threats
may choose to placate an adversary with an alternative reward, opt for conditional compliance in return for
the satisfaction of their own demand, or simply counter the other’s threat with their own. When the threatening
side is unlikely to accept any response short of unconditional and outright compliance, threats and counter-
threats can be further escalated as far as to war. Serbian rejection of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s key de-
mands, in the aftermath of the June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, set a chain
effect into motion. The series of fast-moving events finally spiralled into World War I.

Compliance to demands under intimidation is more likely if the punishment is of high magnitude, if a low cost
for concession making is worthwhile evading the reprisal, and if other means are available by which to achieve
the goals to be abandoned. Power differentials make compliance inevitable in order to end the current pain
and to avert an imminent, even larger one. The target may choose to respond to low-level coercion, instead
of waiting for the infliction of much more severe retribution if the current loss is considered a less costly option
in the long run.

Threats, especially carrying excessive demands, can be a gamble if they push an adversary into a corner.
The target of deterrent threats is less likely to yield if it has to give up its vital needs without any alternative
routes to satisfaction. In particular, the appeal of compliance would not be great without the availability and
attractiveness of alternative options after the desertion of one’s objectives.

Resistance is likely to come from concerns relating to the precedent-setting effect of yielding under coercive
pressure. This anxiety increases if the issues at stake are repetitive in nature and so likely to be brought up
again. In addition, compliance under coercion is likely to be discouraged if what has to be conceded carries
value of a high magnitude.

The intrinsic costs originating from accepting the threat terms take account of a loss of reputation for being
firm as well as damage to status, self-esteem, and pride. The price of complying with a public threat can be
particularly difficult to absorb due to a loss of face. Such harm to one’s standing can result in the encourage-
ment of new demands and threats even from other adversaries fighting on different issues.

Giving in or making a concession might be taken to be evidence of general weakness for opponents who are
inclined to issue further challenges. The outcome of the current conflict can then set expectations about future
resolve. For instance, Germany adopted more assertive strategies and invaded Poland in September 1939,
after the Munich crisis of 1938 that ended with Hitler’s partial annexation of Czechoslovakia.

A target may defy the threat despite possible vengeance, or even send out a counter-threat as an attempt to
discourage the adversary from carrying out the original plan. Furthermore, pre-emptive action can be taken
against the warning party in order to neutralize their coercive capabilities. A high cost of compliance with the
threats and also the perceived illegitimacy of the attached demand are likely to augment a prospect for such
defiance. Since the counter-coercion needs to be backed up by necessary force, not every actor is capable
of forceful resistance or counter-retaliation.

© Ho-Won Jeong 2008

SAGE Books

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In general, threats are made under the assumption that the target will react rationally to make an objective
calculation of costs and benefits. The opponent’s response may, however, become unpredictable, with the
involvement of miscalculations, especially under the stress arising from having few options but highly destruc-
tive outcomes except capitulation. In this situation, policy making is more likely to be dictated by emotion than
rational considerations (Gordon and Arian, 2001). Even though a high level threat is successful in creating
fear, it fails to engender an attitude change. The magnitude of threats should, therefore, be adaptable to the
target of influence.

The nature of threats ought to differ according to the target’s strength and the odds of resistance. For exam-
ple, the US threats of trade sanctions against Iran would have a different leverage from those targeted toward
China. The threat of a sanction (for instance, the imposition of high tariffs) would be effective if the positive
incentives (the continuing benefit of trade relationships) exist for compliance with the demand (the protection
of property rights).

Behavioural, Psychological, and Organizational Dimensions

The situation of each conflict stage is configured by particular behavioural and psychological parameters. At
the same time, the perception of structural conditions by parties is likely to mirror changes in the dynamics of
conflict. The situational variables in antagonistic interactions elucidate the definitive effects of confrontational
actions. The mitigation of a conflict is typified by a transition from violent to non-violent strategies.

The patterns of interaction, associated with a particular conflict phase, impinge on certain psychological and
structural …

Understanding Conflict and Conflict Analysis

Escalation and Entrapment

Contributors: By: Ho-Won Jeong

Book Title: Understanding Conflict and Conflict Analysis

Chapter Title: “Escalation and Entrapment”

Pub. Date: 2008

Access Date: May 18, 2020

Publishing Company: SAGE Publications Ltd

City: London

Print ISBN: 9781412903097

Online ISBN: 9781446279366

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781446279366.n8

Print pages: 154-176

© 2008 SAGE Publications Ltd All Rights Reserved.

This PDF has been generated from SAGE Knowledge. Please note that the pagination of the online

version will vary from the pagination of the print book.

Escalation and Entrapment

Conflict escalation is noted for its rising levels of hostility, driven by the severity of the tactics. New patterns of
interaction are accompanied not only by the involvement of extra parties in the struggle, but also by changes
within each of the parties. An increase in the intensity of a conflict tends to bring about an expanded scope of
participation that engages more people. At the same time, conflict groups are further divided with de-individ-
ualization, due to adversarial socio-psychological processes and organizational developments in preparation
for an entrenched struggle. Enemy images, stereotypes, and lack of trust result in the destruction or loss of
important links of communication, both formal and informal.

The escalation of a conflict is associated with proliferation and generalization of the initial specific issue, the
polarization of relationships among parties, deep feelings and the personalization of the situation. The con-
tinued escalation reflects efforts to rally allies and the dehumanization of an enemy with hardening attitudes.
The value placed on winning substitutes a more pragmatic goal, along with the rise of hard-line leaders, curb-
ing the possibility of seeking alternatives. In a nutshell, the self-fulfilling expectations of contentious behaviour
are further fuelled by the development of enemy perceptions and decreased contact between the parties as
well as strained communication. This chapter examines the various characteristics and processes that are
related to conflict intensification and entrapment.

Dynamics of Escalation

The emergence of a number of contentious issues pushes the parties to move further apart, accentuating dif-
ferences and submerging similarities between them in order to justify a desire to inflict harm on one another.
The increased mistrust of enemy motives hinders an ability to sympathize with the other party and strength-
ens a tendency toward zero-sum calculations. Fixed assumptions about the conflict result in the distortion of
each party’s positions, even generating a strong sense of threat to a group’s central values. A disputed terri-
tory may have been perfectly divisible, but the fighting and its consequences attach symbolic meaning to the
contested land; denying it to the enemy becomes, in itself, a gratifying goal.

In a highly contentious struggle, issue proliferation produces new flashpoints along with the emergence of
obdurate positions. Narrow, specific complaints become universalized, with the development of antagonism
predicated on the denial of the other’s legitimate rights. The shift from a specific disagreement to general
group hostilities may shed light on hidden agendas that were previously considered taboo. The prohibition on
wearing a headscarf in French schools, for example, provoked a protest against the suppression of Islamic
culture; forced assimilation and intolerance of non-French ethnic traditions has resulted in the resurfacing of
discussion about French government policies, and mainstream society’s attitude toward African and Middle
Eastern minorities.

The enlargement of contentious issues is likely to highlight the competitive positions of opposing groups. A
widening conflict is inexorable in a clash involving multiple types of contestant over a broad set of issues aris-
ing from deep divisions of basic values or interests. When one adversary extends their list of demands, the
other may be willing to enlarge an opposing list of contentious issues. Even technical, mundane matters may
evolve into attacks on personal or group attributes, being framed as integral to collective identities and even
to the party’s own existence. Great symbolic significance can be attached to seemingly separate, minor inci-
dents of collision once there is a rising sense of grievance. Any harm caused by the imposition of sanctions is
attributed to the other’s strong desire for vengeance by the use of any means, even if the sanctions may have
been carefully introduced, with limited objectives, so as not to alienate the entire population of an adversarial

The expansion of a conflict demands heightened personal commitment in conjunction with the devotion of
more resources to the fight with optimism. Conviction in the feasibility of total victory generates increased con-

© Ho-Won Jeong 2008

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Page 2 of 17
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fidence about the achievement of desired objectives (Kriesberg, 1998). This is well illustrated by the euphoria
and surge of Arab nationalism, prior to the 1967 Six Day War, along with a call for sacrifice, exhibited in the
capitals of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and other Middle Eastern states.

Parties are unwilling to make concessions and take positions of non-compromise with high aspirations for
a victory across a wide range of issues. Embracing more assertive patterns of behaviour complicates the
original conflict that became expanded with the growth of issue complexity. Once the solidification of enemy
perceptions is tied to one’s own survival needs, ideologically or morally characterized struggles defy compro-
mise. The war on terrorism was monolithically defined by the US government in terms of a fight against ‘evil’,
leaving very little room for the analysis of the political and social causes that might be related to the US role
in the Middle East. Such positional rigidity is further strengthened if there are no efforts to properly interpret
an adversary’s motives.

A fight over an extended list of issues is more likely to solicit support from a wide spectrum of sympathizers
with the expansion of recruitment bases. Splinter groups might be formed to push their own agendas to the
fore. As people react to calls for outside support, a conflict gains new complexity through an increased num-
ber of partisans, each of whom is likely to have their own understandings of the original issues entrenched in
primary antagonism.

The creation of opposing camps in support of different protagonists enlarges the conflict with the addition of
new ally or patron-client relationships (Maoz, 2006). The tendency toward enlargement exerts pressure on
non-aligned parties in the periphery of the conflict to take sides, pulling more groups farther away from moder-
ate positions. Formerly neutral observers are increasingly more attuned to the polarized centres in a widening
conflict in which vying for external support becomes the latest game of competition.

There are diverse motives for the participation, ranging from shared interests with one of the protagonists and
a search for allies in their own conflicts (through links to other conflicts) to the evasion of future costs incurred
from non-involvement. The Pakistani government revealed that the US threat through informal channels of
‘bombing [its] country back to the Stone Age’ forced its participation in the US fight against the Taliban and al
Qaeda in Afghanistan despite domestic opposition.

A high level of polarization accompanies inadvertent escalation associated with very little trust or miscom-
munication (Anderson, 2004). The bifurcation of groups between ‘us’ and ‘them’ puts up psychological and
physical barriers that reduce interaction with the formation of negative images. Severe forms of violence wipe
out cross-cutting ties that used to link multiple sectors of society and sub-groupings across political, cultural
boundaries. In the aftermath of various terrorist attacks by al Qaeda and its proxies or sympathizers, the num-
ber of Arab professional visits, other travels and students studying in the United States has dramatically de-
clined, deepening social distance. Most significantly, inter-group polarization produces a synergy for in-group
solidarity with less tolerance of favourable or sympathetic views about a common enemy.

Thus polarized attitudes emerge, in part, from conformity to extreme in-group normative positions along with
the derogation of other groups (Cooper et al., 2001). A lack of interest in accommodation is reinforced by
such motives as seeking a sense of ‘justice’ and yearning for revenge as well as the expression of anger.
These sentiments are supported by the adoption of a militant ideology that rationalizes the high cost of fight-
ing adversaries as psychologically redeeming. In the patriotic post-9/11 era, any opposition to US military
campaigns in Afghanistan was ridiculed or was subject to ideological criticism, raising very little doubt about
extravagant government spending on ‘the war against terrorism’ despite the sacrifice of essential domestic,
social and economic necessities.

The projection of fear onto the opponent plays a critical role in rationalizing highly destructive, retaliatory tac-
tics in lieu of persuasive argument. Tenacious enemy images, rooted in the predominant public sentiment, are
exploited in the justification of a win-lose orientation. The contentious strategies prevail in anger and hatred,

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seeking costly, undesirable consequences for opponents and shutting the door for the promise of reasonable
discussion. A stronger party is inclined to bully antagonists into submission when their substantial power su-
periority would easily subdue the aspirations of the other.

The magnitude of value incompatibility is misapprehended in a switch from pursuing narrowly defined objec-
tives to an attempt to annihilate adversaries. The original aspirations are reinterpreted in the overall prefer-
ences of goal hierarchies, supporting agendas seen as integral to the protection of the group’s essential core
identities. The intense pursuit of uncompromising goals, combined with the use of threats and force, is pri-
marily responsible for destructive conflicts.

Psychological and Behavioural Aspects

Escalation is characterized by an increase in quantity, intensity and scope of coercive exchanges among pro-
tagonists. The perpetuation of a violent struggle invokes a ‘upward spiral’, comprising a cycle of attacks and
counter-attacks. The intensification of violence may proceed from a series of actions, ranging from the denial
of rewards to economic threats and boycotts prior to military moves. An increasing employment of deception
and pressure tactics becomes the main means of influencing an adversary in seeking an advantage. Even
greater coercion is advocated as the only way to curtail resistance from the other side.

A high level of escalation is advanced by a variety of socio-psychological processes such as misperception
which stimulates the distortion of the other side’s traits and motives. Fear anchored in the distrust of the oth-
er’s intent might encourage provocative actions that prompt escalatory moves. In general, any conciliatory
conduct by an adversary is inclined to be overlooked or, even if it is acknowledged, regarded as deceptive.
The amplification of negative stereotypes assists in depicting the opposition as menacing, invigorating the
belief that the enemy would completely violate one’s own rights (Abrams, 2005). These rising tensions cause
deformed patterns of communication with every message viewed through an antagonistic lens. Non-existence
of communication at the height of escalation begets dangerous conditions for misjudging the other’s inten-
tions and taking risky behaviour.

Negative emotions attached to a locked-in struggle encompass a subjective, ethical legitimization of violent
acts. An outlet for the mounting hostility depreciates the ability to empathize with the other’s needs. De-in-
dividualization of enemy group members, based on ethnocentric values and attitudes, spawns demeaning
behaviour, along with a display of superiority to outsiders. In particular, a moral disengagement rationalizes
harm to, or exploitation of, certain ‘kinds’ of people deemed to be an obstacle to one’s own prosperity. Harsh
measures are more easily taken with a feeling of contempt for opponents seen as inferior or evil.

In a long-term rivalry, the motivation to inflict physical and psychological injuries is ascribed to a profound
desire to seek revenge for one’s losses. The parties’ ability to envision alternatives is further constricted by a
breakdown of open and direct communication. This interruption of communication, in conjunction with a high
level of distrust, engenders the misrepresentation of factual matters. Damaging propaganda adds yet further
difficulties for blocking fruitful discussion about substantive issues. Most importantly, vicious escalation spirals
are stoked by malicious intentions, castigation and revenge.

Once a total commitment is made on the basis of the justification of previous investments, complete with-
drawal from even a failing course of action is not considered to be an option despite continuously rising costs.
With very little prospect for reaching settlement, an escalatory path of ever increasing commitments is built
over a longer time horizon, perpetuating a tendency to persist in the existing course of action. Independent
of its originating sources, each action represents a momentum of its own, while the original causes become
less relevant. Increasingly hateful confrontations are geared to hurt opponents rather than boosting one’s own

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A Malignant Interaction

A threat by one group spurs the other side’s counter-threat in a spiral of new coercion and defence. Every
escalation step taken by one party provokes the other’s defensive hostilities in the absence of any willingness
to compromise. Tensions exacerbated by unregulated responses push the upward-spiralling dynamics of a
more damaging conflict. In a malignant social process, retreat becomes more difficult, owing to vulnerability to
an unacceptable loss of pride and self-esteem. Self-amplifying action-reaction dynamics are founded on the
intentional or unintentional instigation of violent acts which become normalized patterns. Brutalized relations,
revealed in terrorism or total warfare, are based on the excessive means and extent of destruction without
any regard for an adversary’s welfare (Eckert and Willems, 2005).

At the initial stage of the second intifada, Palestinians were angered by the killings of a growing number of
children following gun battles between Israeli troops and Palestinians in September 2000. After Ariel Sharon’s
election as Prime Minister, Israelis launched F-16 warplanes against Palestinian targets for the first time in
May 2001. In the ensuing months of June and August, Islamic Jihad began its campaign, with the recruitment
of Palestinian suicide bombers. They blew up a disco in Tel Aviv, leaving more than twenty people dead and
more than sixty others injured. This was followed by another suicide attack on a crowded restaurant in the
heart of Jerusalem, claiming the lives of 15 people and injuries to about ninety others.

In the subsequent years, approximately ten more Palestinian suicide bomb attacks detonated buses in Haifa,
Jerusalem and Beersheba, a hotel event in Netanya, a social club in Rishon Letzion, a Haifa restaurant, and
a popular nightspot in Tel Aviv. The levels of casualties reached their highest between 2002 and 2004. The
Israelis reacted with an incursion into the Rafah refugee camp (causing at least forty Palestinian deaths), a
massive military assault on Jenin and other West Bank towns (even reaching Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah head-
quarters) as well as the assassination of Hamas leaders with missile strikes and aircraft bombs. In spite of
a seven-week truce in the summer of 2003, these attacks had lasted until a ceasefire between Israel and
Palestinian militants in February 2005.

Progressively destructive interactions, represented by strident rhetoric and assertive strategies, push each
side to expect a higher degree of coercive action by their opponents (McAdam et al., 2001). A rise in hostilities
might even be derived from the anticipation of an enemy’s fresh attacks. Higher levels and new types of of-
fence, exemplified by suicide bombs, missile strikes and assaults by F-15 fighters on residential areas, can
be introduced to alter expectations about future actions and outcomes. The permissible amount of force may
go beyond previous boundaries with direct attacks on an enemy’s top leadership (for instance, the Israeli mis-
sile strike against Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in May 2004 and air strikes on the spiritual leader
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March 2004). The indication of an expanded boundary for one party’s attacks signals
a heightened level of pressure on the other side to concede.

The retaliatory spirals driven by blame, anger, and vengeance intensify the desire of one party to hurt the oth-
er in response to actions that it finds offensive. The growth in negative stereotypes relaxes inhibitions against
the employment of harsh measures. The experiences of each party are justified by hostility originating from
past grievances or feelings of injustice in relation to the other’s atrocious acts. As perceived injustice exacer-
bates rage, the harm suffered becomes a lasting source to seek revenge.

The belligerent actions are reproduced with each round of exchanges in an upward spiralling driven by action-
reaction processes. In a mutually damaging interaction, a growing list of grievances is further expanded, while
each retaliation action stirs a new provocative action. In malign, escalatory spirals, therefore, every exchange
of contentious behaviour aggravates protagonists to step up their pressure. The retaliatory actions of one are
countered by the other’s coercive responses at even a higher level in a ‘tit-for-tat’ logic. The lower end of the
intensity scale, meanwhile, is elevated to an intolerable level with the replication of an enemy’s escalatory

This higher pressure, along with a growing perception of threat, arouses self-fulfilling expectations in which

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one’s worst suspicion is confirmed by the other’s behaviour via one’s own false beliefs (Bordens and Horowitz,
2002). False expectations and negative perceptions elicit the feared response to become reality as a conse-
quence of inflamed emotions. Once one’s initiatives are based on the anticipation of an antagonistic action,
this, in turn, evokes its actual realization. Thus self-fulfilling prophecies are materialized by the parties’ irra-
tional images of, and behaviour toward, each other, in the context of deadly confrontations.

Even if the intention of the initiator is proactive (for example, the construction of a 640-kilometre West Bank
barrier by the Israelis in 2002), actions may be seen as menacing by the opponent. The attribution of adver-
sarial behaviour to harmful intentions provokes further engagement in a hostile reaction. An excessive reac-
tion to a perceived threat is attributed to growing suspicion and mistrust in conjunction with the miscalculation
of an adversary’s likely move. A mutually destructive spiral is predestined for a highly competitive process
felt simultaneously by adversaries. In the mutually assured destruction (MAD) of competition for nuclear ar-
mament during the Cold War period, an adversary’s move was often regarded as an unacceptable peril with
concerns about humiliating defeat. Stereotyped enemy images and historical analogies further tighten a com-
mitment to absolute victory.

A Mode of Escalatory Spiral

In a linear arrangement, qualitative and quantitative changes occur in each repetitive pattern of interaction.
In an incremental escalation model, a spiral whirls upward in a step-by-step process, with roughly the same,
or similar rates, in each antagonistic response. Tension may rise over time through a chain of incidents, each
provoking a new level of hostility, eventually reaching a point of crisis. The endpoint of mutual escalation is
likely to be an exercise of physical force; a series of events can prompt one or both parties to determine the
outcome of contest by attack.

Research on foreign policy-making behaviour suggests that conflict is more likely to escalate into an intense
crisis level if it entails a threat to basic values, finite time to react, and a high likelihood of military hostilities
(Brecher and Wilkenfeld, 2000). After the establishment of the Reagan administration in the early 1980s, the
exchange of hostile rhetoric between the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union (exhibited by the
‘evil empire’ and ‘a mad man’ respectively) drastically grew into a dangerous psychological warfare and a re-
newed arms race, despite mutual avoidance of military provocations. Fortunately, the psycho-political aspect
of the confrontation was not further escalated beyond the competitive military build-up and antagonistic emo-
tional responses.

The course of challenging and protecting the status quo can be featured by gradual escalation when each
party attempts to test the other’s strength and resolve with a series of increasing provocations. The unstable
competition for advantage, in general, ends up with uncontrollable violence without any steps taken to reverse
it. Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and occupied a significant portion of land inhabited by the Greeks as a
final step to break through the continual standoff with which neither side to the conflict felt comfortable. The
invasion was set in the context of Turkish threats of military intervention in the mid-1960s to alter the political
landscape in favour of minority Turks on the island vis-à-vis the original Greek inhabitants.

Prior to the invasion, each clash further escalated the conflict, producing a higher level of political tension.
This coincided with a Turkish weapons shipment and aerial bombing as well as Athens’ support for hard line
Greek nationalists. The Turkish government used a coup orchestrated by Greek militants to depose Cyprus
President Makarios as a pretext to dramatically tip the territorial balance. The Turkish action created about
160,000–200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees who comprised 82% of the population in the north.

By taking advantage of Greek inaction to the military provocation, the Turkish government was able to further
escalate the tension and imposed a new status quo desired by them. In the above case, ‘[t]ensions and vul-
nerability build up slowly, until they reach a critical point at which something snaps or some parties decide to

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force a break-through’. In this situation, a long and gradual onset contributes to the unfolding of a pattern of
critical incidents with a relatively abrupt termination after ‘the stage was set psychologically and politically for
a showdown’ (‘tHart and Boin, 2001: 32).

Escalation behaviour is not necessarily restricted to military actions or direct threats of their use (Hewitt,
2003). In the majority of international conflicts, severe political acts encompass antagonistic alliance forma-
tion, severance of communication, violation or abandonment of treaties, territorial claims, denial of political
legitimacy and diplomatic sanctions. One-sided escalation, imposed on an adversary, can be taken more se-
riously by virtue of either stronger verbal or physical acts even if the adversary might not have initially taken
the threat seriously.

A status quo is ultimately disrupted by the escalation of a non-violent, diplomatic mode of exchange to military
action. Even an escalatory ladder of war entails various types of threshold, ranging from demonstration at-
tacks on the interior zone and limited bombing against the infrastructure to increasing assault on the military.
Thus a constrained disarming attack and some other forms of controlled warfare may precede full military
attacks. A series of thresholds may be pushed further up the escalation curve, while each party is eager to
display its own capabilities for and commitment to entrenched battles.

In cautious bullying, adverse statements may escalate to shows of strength, military preparedness, and ma-
noeuvres before an ultimatum being accompanied by the employment of force. Intimidation tactics may not
necessarily be intended to move farther up escalatory steps and might have been prepared as part of a ‘car-
rot-and-stick’ strategy. Pre-threat is devised for probing to get a sense of the other’s strategy prior to the first
signal of threat along with initial steps toward escalation. Escalating threats culminate in the actual application
of destructive force at the end of assertive bullying.

The initial exchange of threats and low-level coercive actions can continue to grow in magnitude and pass
one or more salient points, finally crossing the border line of an all-out war. In fact, adversarial actions impli-
cated in a war might denote the failure of manipulating enemy psychology with a gradual escalation strategy
built initially into diplomatic pressure and warnings as well as a demonstration of strength. In the two US in-
vasions of Iraq in 1991 and 2003, the advance of military actions proceeded from diplomatic efforts to form a
coalition in support of American policy along with the psychological manoeuvres to scare Saddam Hussein.

As opposed to a progressive escalation of hostile exchanges, a spiral for the eruption of sudden hostilities
is embedded in a long-term rivalry. This is well demonstrated by the massive Israeli retaliatory air strikes
in Lebanon following Hezbollah’s abduction of three Israeli soldiers in summer 2006 as well as swift Israeli
bombings on Syrian targets of suspected nuclear laboratory sites in fall 2007. Unrestrained, emotional re-
actions to any provocations may slip into open warfare quickly without a regulation mechanism. In surprise
attacks, intentions of aggressive moves, exemplified by the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands, may not be
so clearly expressed. The Korean War of 1950–53 was also initiated without much of a warning signal. Even
though there were a series of antagonistic political and diplomatic moves, no one predicted the North’s major
military offence in a short time span.

Tensions are easily exacerbated by unregulated responses to surprise attacks. In many crisis situations, quick
military strikes are taken to catch enemies off guard. In a show of dramatic offensive moves, the higher end
of the intensity scale might be reached without much of a spiral process; adversaries may promptly mobilize
the highest destructive forces with great intensity.

A Crisis Mode of Escalation

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An engagement in intense hostile behaviour is often reinforced by a sense of crisis which stems from warn-
ings of acute danger requiring immediate reaction. In many escalation cases, the stakes unintentionally rise
to crisis levels, especially when each party does not fully assess the broader consequences of individual ac-
tions. In the lead-up to World War I, a series of events, escalated by antagonistic diplomatic manoeuvres and
the mobilization of coalition armies within a short time frame, rapidly got out of control.

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 originated from the Pakistani troops’ attempt to infiltrate Indian Kashmir and
instigate local armed resistance. Initially it was planned as a quick military campaign to tilt the balance in the
disputed territory of Kashmir. After several skirmishes, India attacked Pakistan on multiple western fronts in
retaliation. This war started with the miscalculation of Pakistan’s leader General Ayub Khan to easily stir a re-
bellion in a region controlled by India. The Pakistani leadership underestimated the Indian military’s strength
after the latter’s loss in the 1962 war with China, and misconceived India’s will to fight.

The exacerbation of a high-stakes struggle into a crisis evolves from negative reactions to each other’s
threats. In a vicious spiral of escalation, each party justifies its action as defensive, while perceiving the other’s
action as offensive. Behaviour involved in such escalation situations as the Cuban Missile Crisis illuminates
the fact that the posturing of one side elicits similar behaviour from the opponent who is reluctant to show
weakness. …