Eduard Vinyamata (*)
The ability to innovate has always provided the decisive edge in overcoming problems and satisfactorily neutralizing danger. Even in the military arena, innovation in weapons, strategy and tactics has been the keystone for determining the victors. The switch from bows and arrows to firearms was crucial, as was the incorporation of aviation and mechanized cavalry as opposed to infantry and classic cavalry. Studies and practical experience have shown the real possibility of developing a type of defence1 or security that does not rely on destruction or repression. Today, innovation in the field of security has taken the form of the incorporation of a social sciences approach to conflicts, crime and violence, namely, conflictology.
The aim is precisely to promote innovation in the sphere of the most violent conflicts and actions to maintain security, incorporating experience, theory and realistic proposals for action in situations of violence – including extreme violence – danger and crime. It is to act drawing on knowledge of violence and crime in order to take smart, effective and decisive measures that do not rely on the use of force.
In medicine, uninformed treatment decisions taken without knowledge of the causes and characteristics of a disease risk being ineffective and even counterproductive. Scientific knowledge is essential in all fields; the field of security is no different. We must deepen our knowledge of the causes of conflicts and insecurity in order to find reliable, lasting solutions that go beyond emergency measures. The aim must always be to address the cause of the conflict, rather than merely repressing the symptoms or managing (mediating, negotiating) a stop-gap solution. Moreover, it must be done in such a way as to ensure democratic values, respect for human rights, effectiveness and scientific rationality.
In the field of policing, citizen security and public order , the situation can be greatly improved if we approach it from the perspective of human security2 and the contributions of conflictology3 and conduct field studies even as we put technologies into place to implement real interventions, based on another way of understanding security and conflict resolution in the sphere of policing and military action. Indeed, military officers and police from a variety of countries, as well as UN blue helmets, are enrolled on the UOC's English-language master’s programme in Conflictology.
Security budgets are rising apace with crime rates, violence and social protest, not to mention regional wars that sometimes give rise to violent behaviour and war across international lines. Security policies are based on having the necessary capacity to react and repress, and little attention is paid to understanding the causes and origins of the insecurity, violence and crime. They are skewed much more towards “physical” crimes than those of a financial, social, environmental, political or cultural nature, which sometimes are not even considered to be crimes or even misdemeanours, despite the scope and severity of the harm they cause, the damage they entail and the virulence they provoke. Clearly, the responsibility for this situation does not lie only with faulty police know-how, but also fully involves the legislative, judicial, economic and political powers. Corruption is an example. The political malfeasance and poor management of certain public bodies and financial institutions has defrauded thousands of citizens, resulting in the theft of billions of euros, widespread unemployment, financial ruin for many families, and the erosion of educational and health services that citizens paid for with their taxes.
Crimes such as the forced prostitution of adults and minors or the abuse of minors, the elderly or women are not isolated or rare events, just as organized and “white collar” are in no way irrelevant. Even states themselves sometimes fail to comply with their own criminal laws. Governments manipulate and distort democratic norms, generating corrupt decisions in order to illegally financing political parties (their own, of course) or do business with arms dealers and money-laundering mafias.
We know of cases in which policing that takes a conflictological approach has yielded much more effective results than classical policing. One such case was that carried out by the Ser Paz foundation in Guayaquil, Ecuador, chaired by Nelsa Curbelo in Guayaquil, Ecuador, with whom I actively collaborate. In 2008, the Conference of Ibero-American Ministers of Justice (COMJIB from the Spanish) requested my advice on how best to address (peacefully) the issue of Latin American pandillas and maras (local and transnational gangs). A seminar was held in Antigua, Guatemala, with justice ministers, police chiefs, government security agency heads and members of high courts, among others. The seminar consisted of an exploration of the experience gained through the "Barrio de Paz" (Peace Town) project in Guayaquil. Nelsa Curbelo and Lluis Paradell also participated.4
In those years, the police could enter downtown Guayaquil, but there was no guarantee they would come back out. The pandillas and maras were in control. Every day saw new crimes, misdemeanours and acts of violence, including murders. The Ser Paz Foundation managed to reduce violence 60% over the course of a six-month period, a feat that was virtually impossible to achieve using traditional security methods. Needless to say, Ser Paz's programme rejected all means of using a force it neither had nor wanted. On the contrary, and in a word, the Ser Paz programme's approach matched that of conflictology. The first step was to identify the motivations, causes and origins of the conflict generated by the gangs so as then to resolve whatever was causing it.
I remember in one of my first interviews with a gang leader, I asked him why he belonged to the mara. He gave three reasons, all significant and comprehensible: first, the mara assured him a level of security that the Guayaquil police could not; second, it paid him for the (often criminal) work he did for it; and, third, it offered him affection, an identity, a means of socializing and the chance to interact with girls his age.
Ultimately, the solution lay in promoting the creation of micro-enterprises in the gang members' areas of interest (hip-hop and break-dancing classes, a publishing house, a rap music label, t-shirts and hats screened with motifs reminiscent of graffiti, etc.). Dozens of small businesses were set up. Moreover, gang leaders committed to resolving intra- and inter-gang conflicts and conflicts by means of non-violent techniques and to abandoning the use of violence received the distinction of “white helmets”. Finally, efforts were made to organize places for people to socialize, make music and dance in their favourite styles, as well as to hold football tournaments the rules of which included respect for the opponent and collaboration and solidarity with one’s own teammates above and beyond the traditional rules.
It is not the result of theoretical speculation, but rather the real-life experiences and insights of actual participants in direct, on-the-ground intervention programmes, experiences and insights that can easily be applied to other cases and situations. These are seasoned professionals drawing on their extensive and successful work on the ground, in the reality itself. At the same time, however, they have the necessary prior training to be able to observe and consider the realities they experienced directly, and some are also university lecturers and the authors of books and papers. In short, they offer an optimal combination of hands-on experience and theoretical and practical know-how, grounded in solid humanitarian and democratic convictions forged over the course of their time in the field.
Innovation in security policies
Unfortunately, it is not possible to do without a security policy that guarantees peace and freedom. Security is a basic need. Since the dawn of time, human groups and the societies they have made up have established protection and defence systems, which they have even sometimes used for the purposes of aggression and conquest. Violence and war have been constants throughout history, rationalized and perpetrated in the face of the imperative need for a type of security that safeguards life and integrity. To date, the methods used to ensure self-defence have culminated in the organization of extremely costly, yet questionably effective armies, which have only very rarely been replaced by other ways of doing things.
That armies and wars have devastating human and economic consequences is as much a truism as the need to protect ourselves from the armies of others. It is not hard to see the insecurity in which humanity lives as a result of the destructive build-up of weapons and the very existence of armies and strategic plans of attack or defence. The medicine is worse than the diseases themselves, and yet the diseases of aggression, war and crime continue to thrive. Unfortunately war is not prevented by traditional strategic defence plans. If anything, the risks and threat of triggering war are increased or, at best, the war is postponed and the sides enter into what has come to be known as a “cold war”.
In short, the civilian population lacks sufficient protection against a weaponry that harnesses the destructive power of chemistry, biology and atomic energy. Nor do there tend to be plans to organize or mobilize the population against the dangers of aggression or, simply, to tackle accidents, disasters and large-scale crises.
As the epitome of conflict, war is quite illustrative to understand this rationally. The cost in human lives and physical suffering can be statistically determined, as can the overall economic cost, with regard to both the military and defence budgets and the costs arising from the destruction and disorganization of civilian industry. We can also consider the profits that wars generate amongst the belligerent countries; the new markets conquered by the winners, the reform of antiquated industrial structures, scientific and technological development, and the “moral rearming” of corrupted political systems.
Historically, wars have been viewed as a necessary evil, an inevitability, a congenital evil of humanity that can only be eased but never, ever, resolved. Today this reasoning seems childish. Although the existence of conflicts may seem inevitable and even conducive to social development, alternatives forms of protection to traditional security and warfare methods are emerging. These alternative methods are more the product of reason and knowledge than of moralist approaches unconnected to reality. War is a costly, ineffective, and even severely counterproductive system for conflict resolution that postpones, rather than resolves, conflicts. This postponement is then used to justify its existence.
Like conflict, war is intimately related to technology, that is, to the methods and means used to resolve it. Without weapons, aggression would be extremely difficult. The weapons, tools and methods used are of vital importance. One might even argue that, today arms production itself is reason enough to plan an aggression, in other words, to plan for the consumption of weapons and warfare methods.
The method, tools or “weapons” chosen to resolve a conflict will largely determine the outcome. The destruction of human lives, as well as subsistence and welfare goods, is directly related to a type of weaponry designed for that very purpose. The obsessive need to destroy the enemy or adversary, to master it, is not all that different from the individual obsessions we nurture to vanquish the fears and anxieties that others awaken in us.
However, we also know that any efforts to destroy those that we consider to be adversaries or competitors will require us to invest considerable energy in the endeavour and that we must moreover be willing to accept considerable losses. We also know that we will trigger in the party that has caused our concern similar feelings of insecurity to the ones we ourselves experience, causing our opponent to embark on the same defensive preparations we have. In short, both we and the party we consider to be our adversary will accrue substantial losses and massive problems without even managing to resolve the problem that caused the conflict and confrontation in the first place.
Neither the desire to profit from the manufacture of arms nor the goal of achieving the highest levels of efficiency in our defence plans nor the fear of being invaded and dominated can justify the way in which conflicts have been being resolved for centuries, culminating in violence and war. The profit obtained from manufacturing arms can likewise be obtained by manufacturing other useful things, especially given the number of essential needs that remain to be met amongst the majority of the world’s population.
The effectiveness of the national defence can be premised more on prevention as a means of conflict resolution rather than actual engagement in the conflicts. Imagine if a country’s healthcare system prevented the spread of infectious epidemics by physically eliminating those who had been or might potentially become infected even as it paradoxically ignored the possibilities of effective intervention based on hygiene and prophylactic measures.
History offers several examples that illustrate the effectiveness of alternative methods for the resolution of violent conflicts: Gandhi and his civil disobedience campaigns, culminating in India’s independence from Britain; the non-cooperation in Scandinavia with the Nazi army between 1940 and 1945; the defeat of the attempted Kapp Putsch coup in post-WWI Berlin (1920); or the actions of the German workers of Ruhr in 1923 against the French occupation authorities.
However, these examples would be much more bountiful had there been systematic and well-funded efforts in place to research peaceful and effective means of resolving violent conflicts. Historically, infinitely more has been invested in research on security and defence methods based on bloody and destructive technologies than in social efforts to research security based on non-violent systems, that is, systems that use scientific knowledge of conflicts to replace such barbaric means with more effective and less economically costly conflict resolution methods. In any event, this lack of ancestral foresight partially explains the underdeveloped state in which humanity now finds itself with regard to the serious threats generated by the perception of extreme fear to locate and ensure one’s own security before possible aggressions or the danger of internal or external war. Today, the main threat is none other than ourselves. The spectacular development of highly destructive weapons that are difficult to control inexorably casts doubt on conceptions of security and defence based on uncontrolled fear and terror. Likewise, democratic deficits are another worrisome factor that generates internal strife that can sometimes lead to civil war.
Preliminary research has also been conducted that lays interesting groundwork that would enable the development of much smarter and more innovative approaches to finding solutions to the complex and serious realities of defence and security. The authors include F. Zahn, M.S. Lund, G. Arias, J.M. Muller, C. Mellon, J. Semelin and others, some of whom are linked to each other through the United States Institute of Peace or edifying experiences with the International Red Cross, MSF, International Alert and other non-governmental and governmental organizations, such as UNITAR.
It is interesting to see how the current approaches arisen from the peace movement and being developed under the modern name of conflict resolution, or conflictology, suggest an evolution towards approaches that have shifted from simply denouncing war and arms and defence policies based on dissuasion to plans and actions consisting of direct, peaceful intervention in armed conflicts, criminal situations and situations of violent social upheaval.
With increasing clarity, the current trend towards internationalization is leading independent states to reconsider or relativize the sovereignty of their security and defence and to consider, instead, participating in cooperative alternative security projects. The development of plans and policies oriented towards conflict resolution is showing us the multidisciplinarity with which they must be endowed. It is no longer strictly a matter of classic military or policing technology; strategies must also take into account the contributions of the social sciences and their effort to resolve conflicts, including violent ones, drawing on modern science and from the perspective of peace and superior effectiveness, that is, focusing on the causes and origins of conflicts as the best way to neutralize and effectively resolve them.
There are alternatives to the use of brute destructive force, even when carried out with the most sophisticated technology, in which scientific progress is not limited to merely enhancing weaponry and brushing up traditional established strategy, but rather substantially modifies the very concepts of weaponry, strategy and conflict.
Michael Harbottle, director of the Center for International Peacebuilding, has written about the desirability of winning conflicts without resorting to the use of force, of blending contemporary strategic thinking with the philosophy of Sun Tzu, one of the classic military strategists and philosophers.
In my view, the evolution and refinement of the concept of security must take the form of the development of effective systems for the peaceful resolution of violent conflicts, for it is precisely the use of violence that begets greater violence and thus prevents the conflict from being settled. Obviously, this will require more than just declarations of good intentions. It will call for the practical application of strategic and tactical resources of a truly pacifying nature. There is no want of examples in this regard. One need only look to recent events in Egypt, Syria or Crimea, to name just a few.
It seems to me that, today, castles and spears offer very little in the way of defence. Castles would be surrounded and bombed, or perhaps even simply ignored, as the process of occupying and conquering the country or forcing the people into submission carried on around them, oblivious to their offensive and defensive capabilities. Lancers would be struck down by firearms shot from hundreds of metres away or simply disoriented to the point of being rendered ineffective by the ease and speed of modern communications or the incomprehensible magnitude of today's urban demographics and dimensions. In short, castles and lancers today are, at best, just amusing historical footnotes, and yet anyone who might stand in their way could still be slain. Nor can we ignore the fact that even technologies and notions of defence that might strike us as more “modern” are still a dangerous waste of time if what we aim to do is to endow our security policies with true value.
From the strategic point of view, something similar might happen. The essential concept of security is based on its capacity to prevent and react to crises and catastrophes caused by one’s own errors, the errors or aggressions of others, or natural disasters. In short, it refers to crises and disasters that can alter – slightly, moderately or severely, totally or partially – human and social life in their entirety.
The constant advances in weaponry have acted, to date, precisely as a guarantee of survival for those groups able to conceive of and use superior technology (...) The Roman empire fell because its weapons were not as advanced as those of the assailant Barbarians. The same was true of Imperial China (...). In contrast, the Byzantine Empire lasted ten centuries longer than Rome, for its weapons were superior to those of all its enemies. Western civilization of the Renaissance era was doomed to disappear under the incoming waves of peoples from the north and Central Asia, until the gun put an end to the Mongol invasions. Major wars could now only be waged between states that were at least civilized enough to build and use increasingly complex weapons that could not be manufactured or handled without a complex organization and culture of scientific spirit (Gaston Bouthoul, Traité de Polémologie. Sociologie de les guerres).5
The magnitude of today’s weapons has made it necessary to strive to prevent wars between the most militarily developed states, exporting armed conflicts instead to less developed countries to which surplus and antiquated weapons are sold. War with the latest in weaponry would be catastrophic even for the victors, given the destructive capacity of these weapons and the difficulty of controlling it. This is the situation in which we now find ourselves at the end of an era of political and military thought based on fear and the most destructive violence.
When we speak of territorial integrity, interests or aggressions, we are usually referring to concepts that no longer reflect contemporary realities. National economic interests, for example, are surely closely linked to multinational commercial interests; territorial integrity is diluted by membership in supranational political groups; and aggressions may now more often take the form of commercial, political or environmental incursions, rather than physical violence. Today, mass migratory movements caused by conflicts or arising from the simple need to survive generate greater conflicts than any army of old advancing to conquer new lands. We need only look to Lampedusa or Ceuta and Melilla. The weaponry of the Italian or Spanish security forces is ineffective against the “invasion” of sub-Saharan peoples.
Even as security forces equip themselves with various means, preparing to respond to a physical aggressions, the enemy may be slipping past unnoticed on the airwaves, through communication cables, in industrial products or via motorways and civilian airports. It is less and less about security that addresses the dangers of human and material destruction and more and more about one based on threats and dangers of social decomposition, economic dependence, frictions in co-existence, and the emergence of new problems that are not even able to provide for themselves.
Maintaining the necessary conditions to be self-sufficient in key areas such as food and energy; having the capacity to re-establish communications and, in general, social functioning, ie productive and distributive capacity, health and civil peace, as well as the operation of freedom and democratic forms of social organization: the role of human security today must be based not on dissuasion but on provention. The politics of dissuasion have achieved little more than to pad traditional security and defence programme budgets and, thus, reduce freedom and social welfare and promote conflict in all areas.
Knowing the causes of a conflict is critical to implementing an effective solution that offers real guarantees rather than simply treating the symptoms without truly understanding what is going on. Basically, it is necessary to address the following factors that contribute to the generation of conflicts:
a) Democratic deficits that impede or reduce the freedom of expression of specific groups and communities. Democratic deficits that hinder or prevent control of public authorities, leading to corruption or distortion of democratic processes.
b) Serious deficits in trade relations or in political and international relations that contribute to situations of social exclusion and poverty and, thus, the need to subvert the unfair and inoperative established order. They are likewise responsible for the mass migration of people in search of better living conditions.
c) Significant difficulties in controlling the development of highly dangerous weapons, whether in the area of biochemistry, computers or the manipulation of public opinion, that can cause chaos, disaffection and widespread corruption.
A research and development programme focused on finding alternatives to current security systems that rely more on the social sciences than on technologies aimed at honing current systems of espionage and social control or at repressing democratic freedoms.
In countries whose police forces actively engage in repression and destruction, a similar response is obtained. Either the population rises up or the criminal element ends up arming itself with more and better weapons and using similar methods. Mexico is a paradigmatic case. Criminal organizations have outdone the armed forces and police themselves. Planning citizen security policies is not limited strictly to the sphere of the police’s role in managing crime. The close relationships between justice and social peace, transparency and political ethics are of considerable importance. Crime prevention can lead to a notable increase in the social utility of police forces. The interest that the inclusion of the police in citizen conflict resolution processes would stir would have a positive impact on citizens’ perception of police forces, which are not currently all that well regarded.
Fundamentals of Conflictology
Conflictology is the science of conflict, including concepts such as crisis, change, problems, violence and synonyms. The term was used by J. Galtung and is internationally accepted in academia, the United Nations and at major NGOs as a synonym for conflict resolution. Conflict investigators and theorists such as J. Burton, M. Deustch, K. & E. Boulding, G. Burgess, Yarn, Fescher, Himes, Hobbes, Lederach, Rapoport, Sandole and Marlow, among many others, have contributed to laying the foundations of a body of theory and pragmatic considerations on how to address all types of conflicts. Thousands of books, hundreds of training programmes and dozens of research centres around the world bear witness to a plurality of approaches drawing on philosophy, sociology, political science, psychology, anthropology, and even mathematics, medicine and neuroscience in their studies of the biological bases for human emotions, stress and individual and collective human behaviour.
Historically, all great thinkers and leaders have dedicated a considerable amount of effort to understanding and providing solutions for conflicts and violence, whether with regard to internal crises and conflicts, conflicts between people, or collective, political and international conflicts. In fact, much of the point of politics, law, philosophy, psychology, education and security lies in regulating crises and conflicts that disrupt the enjoyment of life and peaceful co-existence.
Ancient masters such as Jesus, Buddha, Confucius and Lao Tse, or Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, Diogenes, Epicurus or Epictetus, all largely focused on overcoming the fears and conflicts that lead people to unhappiness and confrontation. In modern times, Rousseau, Freud, Marx, Lorenz Dahrendorf, Durbin, Malinowski, Mead, Coser, Hims, Knorr, North, Kelman, Fromm, Hegel and Nietzsche converged on a single interest from a variety of perspectives. Writing from the perspective of philosophy, economics, psychology or anthropology, they examined the make-up of conflicts, looking at the components of human aggression, power struggles or fear.
Although humanity’s interest in understanding and containing or channelling its conflicts is as old as humanity itself, it was only in recent decades that a process was undertaken to gather all such efforts under a single umbrella: conflictology or conflict resolution. In recent decades, peace studies, conflict transformation, conflict management, irenology, polemology, mediation and negotiation have converged in their interest to identify the multiple key factors that cause and give rise to conflicts and violence, as a system to be able to understand them fully and, thus, be able to intervene in a positive, practical and effective way. The aim is to overcome the limitations and contradictions of violent methods for solving conflicts.
One important feature of conflictology is the effort to reconcile disparate knowledge and to focus on a global, multidisciplinary and integrated approach to conflict analysis. It is a compiling science that moreover has technical capacities that can be practically applied in all fields of human conflict. Arbitration, conciliation, values education, individual and social psychological therapy, counselling, so-called “practical philosophy”, “non-coercive negotiation” and “training” are just some of the modern procedures for practical intervention. All of these methods have given names to diverse yet closely related currents – so-called conflict transformation (John Paul Lederach); conflict management (mainly used in the military sphere); non-violent conflict resolution (J.M. Muller); alternative conflict resolution (especially used by lawyers who practice mediation); transformative mediation or non-coercive negotiation (Ury) – which specialize in specific applications and techniques based on specific and specialized views of the problems generated by conflicts.
Conflictology focuses on the study and understanding of conflicts. It encompasses all techniques, procedures, methods, strategies and systems for providing assistance to the parties to a conflict with a view to enabling them to be the authors of their own peaceful and effective solutions.
We currently have people with extensive experience in applied work and work on the ground in violent and criminal conflict processes that draw on method from conflictology. Some of these people include: Nelsa Curbelo, more than 30 years of experience on the ground in Latin America and, more specifically, Ecuador with local and transnational gangs, armed groups, guerrillas and counterguerrillas; Beatriz Seisdedos, extensive experience in the International Red Cross in conflict zones; Mario López, experience on the ground in the Colombian reconciliation process; Laura López, corrections officer and experience with maras in Ecuador; Jesús Requena, Catalan police inspector with extensive professional experience; Diego Guerrero, extensive experience in humanitarian action with MSF in conflict zones; and Núria Solé, academically involved with the Catalan Institute for Public Safety (ISPC).
These people, along with other members of my working teams, come from trades and professional activities related to conflict and how to manage it without the use of force or, in any case and in extreme situations, with the least amount of force possible within the sphere of policing. Policing, NGOs that intervene directly in conflicts, public authorities from the educational, criminal, military and university spheres, etc.: each person approaches conflict from the perspective of different responsibilities yet with the same peaceful objectives of conflict resolution, human protection and security, and peaceful co-existence.
I finished my dissertation, Diplomacia preventiva y resolución de conflictos (Preventive Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution) twenty years ago. Since then, I have continued to study, practice and learn about the fundamentals of conflicts and the diverse methods for resolving or transforming them. At the practical level, I have been professionally and exclusively dedicated, within the university sphere, to directing, coordinating, creating, researching and teaching in this field, primarily at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia, UOC) but also, occasionally, at other European and American universities.
Separately. I have led research, training actions, dissemination efforts and interventions, promoting and coordinating collective works, some of which I have cited in the bibliography, and, most recently, the collection “Cuadernos del Campus por la Paz y el CREC”, a series of small, collective e-books featuring such titles as “Historia y Conflictos” (History and Conflicts), “Fundamentos neuro-psicológico de las emociones humanas” (Neuropsychological Foundations of Human Emotions), etc.
Humanity has not made much progress on applying conflict resolution methods other than the use of violence. That path is strongly rooted in our way of thinking and feeling. We continue to witness wars, crime and all manner of interpersonal conflicts that end up in an expensive, complex and relatively ineffective judicial system. We must also acknowledge that citizens increasingly mistrust the judicial system and seek out other forms of doing justice and resolving conflicts. Fortunately, citizens, the people, are more aware of their value as such, mistrust corrupt and undemocratic forms of government, and decide to live outside of complicated, expensive and ineffective political structures.
If we do not understand conflicts, there will be little we can do to minimize them or transform them into opportunities for improvement. Understanding conflicts requires building a conflictology able to understand the origin and causes of conflicts, their evolution and behaviour. To this end, we must not ignore any rational or scientific contribution or contribution of any other type of human knowledge, whether intuitive, emotional or mystical. That is why conflictology incorporates aspects of sociology, anthropology, psychology (all schools and tendencies), and neurology (essential to understand the biological foundations of human emotions). Mathematics provides us with knowledge about violence,6 as does theoretical physics and, more specifically, quantum physics, which helps us understand that there are implications in the way life behaves – and, thus, in human behaviour – beyond the logic we know. Philosophy7 also has much to offer when it helps us understand that there are philosophical principles (as well as mystical and religious ones) that predetermine our behaviour and attitudes towards ourselves and society. At the intervention level, the contributions of strategy, history, politics,8 pedagogy in the broadest sense, psychiatry9 and medicine are all also useful.
Conflicts are constantly present in human life, both individually and collectively. Crisis and violence have a strong influence on emotion, health and co-existence. In the social sphere, they refer to all kinds of war, crime and insecurity, which means that, rather than places in which we can live freely and fully, they are places in which life can be dangerous, difficult and precarious. The history of humanity can largely be written as the history of its conflicts, as the ongoing quest for peace and security.
A large part of humanity’s efforts have consisted, and continue to consist, in learning to resolve conflicts, ensuring security and living in peace. Many trades focus on this. For better or worse, these professionals are dedicated to managing conflicts: lawyers, psychologists, philosophers, police and the armed forces, politicians and diplomats, etc. The fact is that all situations or circumstances in which social relations occur or people interact give rise to reactions of cooperation and harmony or situations of conflict.
Social life also generates conflicts in many spheres, eg with regard to economic and productive activity. The exploitation of human and natural resources often drives conflicts. More than twenty per cent of the global economy is a criminal economy, ie businesses related to arms trafficking, drug trafficking, human trafficking, forced prostitution including minors, contract killings and organ harvesting. To that we must add “legal” scams, manufacturing crises for profit, corruption, the impunity of people who use the State apparatus to commit crimes and shirk their responsibilities, surveillance of citizens ostensibly to prevent terrorism but in reality to secretly obtain useful information for commercial or political ends beyond the reach of democratic control and the law.
A significant potion of economic activity does not respect any of the basic principles enshrined in religious morals or the ethical statements outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which most of the world’s governments nominally subscribe. The systematic destruction of the human habitat and widespread pollution of essential life-sustaining elements, such as water, soil or air, for the sole purpose of allowing a privileged few to make a quick, easy profit, generates levels of insecurity and disease that make a large portion of the economic and productive activity seem to be complicit in human misery.
Those activities carried out by certain pharmaceutical companies to ensure that some of their medicines render diseases chronic and to prevent patients from fully recovering, which would obviously eat into their profits, could also be considered conflictive criminal activities. Likewise, domestic violence falls into this category, as do psychological abuse and cruelty towards children, the elderly, women, men and people with physical or psychological disabilities.
Nor must we forget that sometimes, the administration of justice itself is used to extract vengeance, with the aim of restricting personal freedom and reducing or repressing social or national minorities. Likewise we must include certain ideologies and groups that spread fear, hatred and insecurity through social media in order to achieve submission, repression and manipulation. At times, the judicial system is transformed into a legalized practice of violence, intended to cause harm, restrict freedom and prevent democratic participation rather than do justice and resolve conflicts.
Often, when we wish to learn something new and innovative, we have difficulty integrating it into our thinking, attitude and behaviour. If the new knowledge is not compatible with the old, they end up cancelling each other out. traditional knowledge becomes meaningless and modernity can never be accepted. Unlearning becomes a key ability for overcoming fear of the new. We must learn to live in uncertainty and to accept that we know little, to let go of the traumas and memories that prevent us from evolving.
Many conflicts are rooted in our way of thinking, in myths and certainties that we have mentally constructed based on fear. The root lies in the part of people's minds and hearts where they have been programmed to live in a given way, whether it be in a permanent state of war or peacefully and serenely.
A significant part of conflictology's effort to understand conflicts and to intervene and resolve them while ensuring peaceful co-existence is focused on the objective of unlearning in order to discover how to think and feel peacefully. Conflictology is not a means of proceeding based on reasoning and convictions that conflicts can only be resolved through the use of force and legal violence. On the contrary, from the perspective of conflictology, to understand conflicts and be able to intervene in them effectively, we must first shift both or rational and emotional paradigm. The problem is always violence and its causes. Discovering its origins – these causes – is critical. Rarely do we act this way; rather, we are used to working at the level of symptoms and believe that by treating them, we can resolve the problem. That is why so many conflicts remain unresolved for years, decades and even generations.
Our societies tend to include violent attitudes and behaviours that are expressed in different ways: limiting freedom, deceiving and spreading malicious rumours, as well as, obviously, hitting, repressing and harming are all ways of practising violence. Normally, in the face of such violence, we react in kind, trying to control, reduce or eliminate the person or entity that is attacking us. However, when faced with violence, what matters is not to accuse, judge and condemn the person who is practising it, a figure we have all, no doubt, been at one time or another. What matters is to try to avoid that, to look for other ways of relating, solving problems and doing justice and, before that, of trying to understand – which is not to say condone – the reasons for the violence and conflict, which is the only way we will be able to effectively deactivate it. In short, what matters is not to agree, but rather to learn to coexist, even if we disagree.
For many, violence is met with more violence, a process that ensures that the violence will never end. In our current culture, aggressions and acts of violence between husband and wife are normally classified as sexist violence, and the response tends to take the form of judicial force, rather than a multidisciplinary process for resolving conflicts based on scientific knowledge of violence and conflict.
Generally speaking, the term violence is understood to refer to physical violence: shouting, insulting, hitting, hurting, killing. It is unlikely to be used when the violence is expressed in other ways. Humiliation, deceit, discrediting, ostracizing, and preventing are “legal” and, thus, are rarely considered violent. And yet, a person or group can be easily and effectively harmed by means of rumours, deceit, social, economic and political ostracism, or judicial procedures. Anything can be used to harm or benefit other people and groups, just like any object or procedure.
The capacity for non-violent intervention in violent conflicts has a long tradition and history of success. It also has a much more solid scientific and philosophical foundation than those who preach violence and war as systems for overcoming problems of co-existence and poor relations. It is easy to show the major drawbacks of war and the systematic repressive actions carried out by many security forces. The resistance to giving up the use of violence in order to adopt non-violent methods for conflict resolution instead can be explained in part by the economic and political interests invested in aggressive, violent and destructive technologies, a conception of security based on the use of force and domination, and the obsessive belief that force, if used legally, is the only thing that can resolve a conflict.
Non-violence is not passivity, condescension or a utopia. On the contrary, utopia is continuing to believe, after centuries of human history have proved otherwise, that violence can resolve conflicts and be leveraged to achieve levels of security that will make it possible to live in freedom and with justice. Non-violence, like conflictology, encompasses the origins and causes of conflicts and tries to implement solutions that address the causes. Violence deals only with the symptoms; it is reactive and irrational, and it tends to be effective only in the short-term and at great cost.
With regard to conflicts affecting couples, mediation historically came about outside the sphere of legal processes, beyond the scope of lawyers' activity, precisely to prevent the need for their intervention, which is always expensive and psychologically damaging. Lawyers, lest we forget, use the methods they know: separation and divorce, division of common property, visitation rights and custody of children, investigations into possible crimes committed in a more or less convulsive private relationship, etc. They are not interested in processes of dialogue aimed at identifying the causes and motivations of the disagreements and mutual offences that have occurred, nor are they interested in facilitating processes of reconciliation and rebuilding of the relationship, although the parties may decide to separate. No, that is not the work of a lawyer trained in litigation and the use of case law to determine who is guilty and who is the victim.
Mediation arose precisely to avoid having lawyers, judges and judicial methods be the basis for resolving the couple’s communication issues. The original goal of mediation was none other than to encourage a culture of dialogue and peace in interpersonal relationships, to allow people to regain their independence and, with it, their ability to solve their own problems, thereby obviating the need for the intervention of legal professionals, who end up putting the partners in the relationship on trial and finding them guilty before they can even be judged for crimes they did not commit.
Conflictology does not aim to prevent separations or to ensure the continued union of the couple. That is not the problem. The problem is the violence perpetrated both in separations and in efforts to keep people together. It is always this violence that complicates the solution, whatever it may be. Conflictology proposes satisfactory, non-violent solutions for problems of co-existence and unsatisfactory relationships. In my view, what matters is not for the couple to stay together or separate, but rather to ensure that, either way, they have a good relationship.
The hardest part is coming to understand that we can change how we think and, thus, live in peace with ourselves and the environment. That, in a nutshell, is conflictology’s task. To learn about conflictology is to learn to live in peace. Conflictology is interested in identifying and understanding people and societies when they are in critical situations, when violence rears any of its many ugly heads. It aims to help us understand conflicts and problems, learn to overcome them and take advantage of this energy to find better solutions.
Conflictology is a compendium of knowledge about conflicts, violence and crisis. It is also a compendium of the skills, techniques and procedures used to intervening without violence in the search for useful solutions to achieve calm and serenity. To learn about conflictology is thus to learn to pacify our knowledge, not to establish dual concepts, to integrate – as opposed to assimilating – concepts, terms, schools, disciplines and intervention systems. That is what matters. Without this prior exercise, we would once again reproduce precisely a system, a way of doing things, that is conflictive in and of itself.
In its most genuine conception, politics strives to ensure the co-existence of social groups with different interests and ways of understanding society so that they do not need to resort to war to settle their differences. Justice offers regulatory remedies to preserve or restore the security, dignity and freedom of people who have suffered the excesses or abuses of others. Religion, like philosophy and psychology, offers us guidelines to free ourselves from the mind’s traps, to live serenely and to overcome doubt. For their part, the armed forces and police were originally created to protect and defend our security and integrity and the dignity of life in society. Clearly, however, the reality is something else again. When we speak of security, we are referring, above all, to national security and not so much “human security”, ie the security of people.
Reality tends to be different. In the sphere of politics, structural and economic violence are sometimes practised, condemning large swaths of the citizenry to live under the yoke of the interests and ways of thinking of a privileged few. In the sphere of justice, complicated regulations that restrict people's freedom and consecrate social injustice are instated. Religions and philosophies, rather than freeing us, sometimes stoke our fears and ignorance, consigning us to unhappiness.
Finally, armies and police end up instituting insecurity and repression, emerging as the enforcers of the dominant political interests, wreaking moral and material damage. A few honourable exceptions point to a very different way of doing things, conceiving of and developing the necessary existence of human security to ensure peace in freedom and dignity.
Conflictology applies in all areas: personal crises, conflicts affecting couples and families, social and labour conflicts, conflicts among institutions, international conflicts, conflicts relating to crime and policing in general, and internal and external armed conflicts. It is, thus, a cross-cutting profession or calling that encompasses lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, teachers, anthropologists, education specialists, diplomats, human resource managers, executives and people who, in the course of their work, must deal with other people or consider how to improve individual or group living conditions.
Conflictology is “a-disciplinary”, it is not part of any specific discipline, but rather comprises them all. A large share of its analytical resources and capacity for understanding is taken from the social sciences. However, neurology, biology, philosophy and even mathematics, theoretical physics and mysticism also all make key contributions. It moreover embraces a wide range of intervention methods, with the exception of any form of violence, not only on ethical grounds, but on rational and scientific ones, too.
1Arias, Gonzalo (1995). El ejército incruento de mañana. Materiales para un debate sobre un nuevo modelo de defensa. Madrid, Editorial Nueva Utopía. Examining theories and real practical experiences, the author shows that it is utopian to continue to pursue the traditional model of defence, based on destruction and the near exclusive use of weapons built with specialized physical and chemical knowledge, rather than on understanding of conflicts from a social science point of view. 2This term was coined in the context of the UNDP to distinguish between state security, maintaining the status quo and public order and the concept of security primarily aimed at citizens, that is, protecting people from the crime and violence perpetrated by criminal enterprises.3My book Conflictología (Ariel (Planeta)) includes an extensive bibliography, a chapter on security and defence, and a specific lexicon. 4 The results of the seminar can be read about in the book, Pandillas y Maras: Aproximación a su comprensión y propuestas de estrategia de solución del conflicto que éstas generan desde la perspectiva de la Conflictología, published in Spanish and Portuguese by Editorial Tirant lo Blanch (Valencia, 2008) with the assistance of the COMJIB and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).
5Translation is the author's own.
6Anatol Rapoport. Game theory and other contributions.
7Plato, Not Prozac! and the contributions of so-called “practical philosophy”.
8John Burton. Conflict, Resolution and Provention
9Marie France Yrigoyen. Stalking the Soul.
Eduard Vinyamata, PhD in Social Sciences, Director master programs in Conflictology. Director of the Center for Conflictology Research and the “Journal of Conflictology and the Campus for Peace in UOC (Open University of Catalonia). Autor about 20 books in conflictology. firstname.lastname@example.org / www.campusforpeace.org www.uoc.edu