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Curve of Conflict

Conflict has its own dynamic, and it tends to escalate and recede over time. The curve of conflict helps us to visualize how conflicts typically evolve over time and how different phases of conflict relate to one another. It is one way in which we can deconstruct the dynamic of conflict and seek to understand it and handle it more effectively.

Different Phases of Conflict

  • The first phase of the curve shows an escalation from stable peace to growing hostility, increasing tension, and then the outbreak of violence.
  • The mid-phase of the curve is where violent conflict peaks and then begins to subside.
  • The back-end of the curve shows the de-escalation of conflict.

Along the curve, we can identify discrete stages where action can be taken to prevent, manage, or resolve conflict, using peacebuilding tools.

Understanding where a conflict falls in the cycle is essential to developing effective strategies for these interventions. It is also critical to determining the best timing of those strategies as part of the process of peacebuilding.

*A concept introduced by and adapted from Michael S. Lund, who was a 2011-2012 USIP Senior Fellow.