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

Border Clash Between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Risks Spinning Out of Control

Border Clash Between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Risks Spinning Out of Control

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

By: Gavin Helf, Ph.D.

A dispute over irrigation water triggered a clash between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan last week that quickly spread along the border, resulting in the death of more than 40 people and displacing 30,000 on the Kyrgyz side — the worst such incident in the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union. While such flare-ups, albeit less deadly, are a regular occurrence in the region, this time the situation could get out of hand as the leaders of both countries are incentivized to stoke a crisis that distracts from the domestic unrest caused by their mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Iran Nuclear Talks Open a Window for Broader Middle East Security

Iran Nuclear Talks Open a Window for Broader Middle East Security

Thursday, April 29, 2021

By: Ambassador Hesham Youssef

Since the end of World War II, there have been several attempts that ultimately failed to establish a regional security framework in the Middle East. These attempts have historically fallen short, undermined by distrust, power politics and conflict. Today, a new window of opportunity may be emerging to establish a stable, broadly accepted mechanism for deescalating conflicts, setting norms and building confidence and cooperation between states in the region. World powers should consider the ongoing Vienna talks — aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal that the Trump administration withdrew from — the first step in this direction. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Sidestepping Great Power Rivalry: U.S.-China Competition in Africa

Sidestepping Great Power Rivalry: U.S.-China Competition in Africa

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

By: Joseph Sany, Ph.D.; Thomas P. Sheehy

If the early months of the Biden administration are any indication, the U.S.-China rivalry shows no signs of dimming anytime soon. Initial meetings between top Biden administration and Chinese officials in March were heated and appear to have done little to reduce tensions over many divisive issues. There is growing bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for “hardline” policies against Beijing. Meanwhile, China is increasingly active worldwide, including in Africa, where its expanding presence is concerning to the United States.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

Russia Pulls Back Troops—But Not Its Threat to Ukraine

Russia Pulls Back Troops—But Not Its Threat to Ukraine

Monday, April 26, 2021

By: Donald N. Jensen, Ph.D.

Russian ships and trains are moving back the tens of thousands of troops massed on Ukraine’s border because, Russia’s defense minister said last week, their “surprise inspection” had “demonstrated their ability to ensure the reliable defense of the country.” In reality, the Kremlin stood down after its saber-rattling failed to unnerve the Ukrainians—and after President Biden warned President Vladimir Putin directly to drop the military threat, effectively...

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

View All Publications