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.

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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

What’s Next for U.S.-China Relations Amid Rising Tensions Over Taiwan

What’s Next for U.S.-China Relations Amid Rising Tensions Over Taiwan

Saturday, October 9, 2021

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

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi held a six-hour meeting in Zurich on October 6 in an attempt to manage “intense competition” between their two countries. The meeting took place against a backdrop of growing Chinese incursions of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone and a decision by the Biden administration not to remove Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods until Beijing keeps its trade commitments.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

The Need to Build on Security Gains in Mozambique

The Need to Build on Security Gains in Mozambique

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

By: Thomas P. Sheehy

The Rwandan armed forces and police deployed to the Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique have made impressive gains combatting the Islamic State-affiliated al-Shabaab militants that have devastated the area. These 1,000 or so forces secured the key port city of Mocimboa da Praia in August, and the militants — who have committed grave atrocities, killed thousands and driven nearly a million people from their homes — have been forced to retreat from several areas of this natural resource-rich region. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Violent Extremism

Making Sense of North Korea’s Missile Test

Making Sense of North Korea’s Missile Test

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

By: Frank Aum

North Korea announced on September 13 that it had tested long-range cruise missiles over the weekend. It described the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance.” The test caused alarm in North Korea’s neighbors — South Korea and Japan, both U.S. allies — as the revelation now puts both countries within striking distance. But despite the test, a spokesperson for the Biden administration said the United States remains prepared to engage with North Korea. USIP’s Frank Aum discusses the significance of the tests, the arms race on the Korean Peninsula, and what signals North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be sending to the United States with this latest test. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Thai Authorities Struggle to Understand a Conflict They Have Been Fighting for Decades

Thai Authorities Struggle to Understand a Conflict They Have Been Fighting for Decades

Monday, September 13, 2021

By: Don Pathan

In May 2021, Thai security forces were in a three-hour standoff with two Malay-Muslim separatist insurgents in a small remote village in the southernmost border province of Yala. As they stood their ground, the two combatants made video calls to family and friends to bid farewell. Someone began recording one of the calls on another cellphone. Soon, footage of the two men, who were killed in the operation, was circulating on social media. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

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