Insightful analysis is essential to any conflict management process, from prevention to mediation to reconciliation. This course will help you understand the potential trajectories of a conflict situation so you can develop effective peacebuilding strategies.

The commander of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia visits the site of a truck-bomb attack allegedly conducted by al-Shabab in Mogadishu on Oct. 15, 2017. Photo: Flickr/AMISOM/Tobin Jones
The commander of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia visits the site of a truck-bomb attack allegedly conducted by al-Shabab in Mogadishu on Oct. 15, 2017. Photo: Flickr/AMISOM/Tobin Jones

Course Overview

A nuanced understanding of the context and dynamics of a conflict can determine the effectiveness with which you intervene, help you untangle the often-unintended consequences of any actions or policies, prevent any harm from being done, and help determine future priorities for program development.

This course is a case-based introduction to the process of conflict analysis. Participants will be introduced to two analytical tools that will help them identify emerging threats of conflict and opportunities for managing or resolving a conflict, and they will be given the chance to apply these tools to historical cases and relevant problem-based scenarios and differentiate among the various stages of the Curve of Conflict and practice mapping the generation, escalation and resolution of intrastate and international conflict. Further topics in Week 3 include how and why peaceful conflicts escalate to violence and the necessary conditions for their de-escalation.

If you cannot view the video, click here to download it.

Chapter 1 - Conflict in the Contemporary World

In this chapter we explore the importance of conflict analysis in today’s world and how the nature of conflict and trends in deadly violence have changed since World War II.

Chapter 2 - Conflict Analysis as a Leadership Tool

Chapter 2 introduces some of the definitions and principles of conflict analysis. This chapter starts to delve into ideas such as the difference between a conflict assessment and conflict analysis, the importance of active listening, and the concept of “Do No Harm.” Additionally, you are introduced to several conflict analysis and assessment frameworks utilized by various organizations around the world. Lastly, we examine the concepts of adaptive leadership and community resilience and how conflict analysis helps to develop them.

Chapter 3 - Stages and Dimensions of Conflict

This chapter introduces two specific frameworks for conflict analysis: the “cycle of conflict” and the “curve of conflict.” Various components of these analytical frameworks are discussed in depth, such as: the difference between conflict prevention, management and transformation; the root causes and structural causes of conflict; and trigger events. We also explore some of the important nuances in conflict analysis such as: qualitative vs. quantitative measurements and data, the different levels at which a conflict may be analyzed, trigger events, and unintended consequences.

Chapter 4 - The USIP Conflict Assessment Framework

In this chapter, we explore the various stages and key components of the USIP Conflict Assessment Framework, compare it with others, and review key components of conflict analysis. Specifically, we also discuss conducting a self-assessment; developing an information-gathering strategy; identifying conflict dividers, connectors, and various actors; charting potential conflict risk and opportunity windows; and applying findings to your work.

Chapter 5 - The Art of Listening

In this chapter we explore an essential skill for a good conflict analysis, listening. Observation skills can combine with knowledge of parties’ “mythic histories” and “biased punctuation” to create successful narrative mediation efforts. We explore these concepts to incorporate into conflict analyses and, hopefully, into your work.

Course Instructors

  • Dr. Jeffrey Helsing - Peacebuilding Consultant, former Associate Vice President of the Academy, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Matthew Levinger - Director, National Security Studies Program; Program Director, Master of International Policy and Practice; George Washington University

Related Publications

Misreading Biden in Beijing: Perception is Everything in U.S.-China Relations

Misreading Biden in Beijing: Perception is Everything in U.S.-China Relations

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

By: Carla Freeman, Ph.D.;  Alison McFarland;  Andrew Scobell, Ph.D.

Beijing’s strong reaction to U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to Taiwan highlights how the island has become ground zero in major power competition, with U.S.-China relations at their lowest point in decades. Indeed, the Taiwan Strait is now the most plausible locale for a military confrontation between the United States and China. Most alarmingly, Beijing and Washington are prone to misread the signals of the other, especially where Taiwan is concerned. Misinterpreting rhetoric or actions can be extremely dangerous because it can trigger action-reaction cycles that can spiral into unintended escalation and unwanted conflict.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & PreventionGlobal Policy

How Ukraine’s Counteroffensives Managed to Break the War’s Stalemate

How Ukraine’s Counteroffensives Managed to Break the War’s Stalemate

Monday, September 19, 2022

By: Mary Glantz, Ph.D.

In recent weeks, two Ukrainian counteroffensives — one in the south near Kherson and another in the east near Kharkiv — have pushed back Russian forces after months of grueling deadlock across the front lines. The eastern Kharkiv attack has been particularly successful, as Ukrainian forces continue to reclaim vast swaths of territory from a seemingly stunned Russian military. USIP’s Mary Glantz examines the resilience of Ukrainian forces thus far, how Ukraine managed to catch the Russian military off-guard outside Kharkiv and Russia’s reaction to what may be a major inflection point in the ongoing conflict.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Amid Ukraine War, Armenia and Azerbaijan Fighting Risks Broader Conflict

Amid Ukraine War, Armenia and Azerbaijan Fighting Risks Broader Conflict

Thursday, September 15, 2022

By: Mary Glantz, Ph.D.

Armenia and Azerbaijan reported nearly 100 combined deaths Tuesday, in the latest flare-up of violence between the two South Caucasus countries. For decades, tensions have simmered over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is controlled by ethnic Armenians and claims independence but is internationally recognized as Azerbaijan’s territory. There are fears that these tensions could boil over into a larger conflagration, like the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan war that resulted in over 1,000 casualties. In 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin negotiated a cease-fire to end the fighting. Today, with Russia bogged down in Ukraine, it is unclear if the Russian leader will be able to achieve a similar result, as regional stability hangs in the balance.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

The Latest @USIP: A Look at Global Conflict Trends

The Latest @USIP: A Look at Global Conflict Trends

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

By: Gary Milante

The global conflict landscape is becoming increasingly complex — and deadly, with violent deaths on the rise. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exposed longstanding weaknesses in the multilateral system and its ability to prevent and mitigate conflict. Gary Milante, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, discusses what worries him most about current conflict trends, how great power competition factors into these trends and how donors can take a different approach to mitigating conflict.

Type: Blog

Conflict Analysis & PreventionFragility & Resilience

View All Publications