This guide from the 1999 National Peace Essay Contest uses case studies from Poland in 1815 and Czechoslovakia in 1938 to examine the effectiveness of the international diplomacy in preventing violent international crises. It also contains a review of basic concepts and bibliographic materials.

Teaching Guide on Preventing Violent Conflict


In this teaching guide students examine two cases of preventing violent conflict, Poland in 1815 and Czechoslovakia in 1938, as a means of developing an understanding of conflict and conflict prevention. The teaching guide is designed specifically to help students develop analytical writing skills on this topic.

The objective of this guide is to provide lessons aimed at helping students to:

  • Develop an understanding of principal concepts regarding conflict and conflict prevention.
  • Formulate thesis statements to inform the structure of an essay.
  • Use primary source materials in addition to secondary sources.
  • Reinforce analytical writing skills in sample case studies.

This guide will fulfill these objectives through five suggested lessons:

Lesson I acquaints the students with the writing prompt, presenting crucial concepts used in the writing prompt with exercises designed to activate student understanding.

Lesson II presents two case studies with background information and primary sources to illustrate success and failure in preventing violent international conflict. Teachers can use this lesson to explain how to use primary source materials as evidence to support or refute a thesis statement.

Lesson III reinforces the analytical skills developed in the previous lesson through small group and class discussions. the writing prompt is reintroduced in Lesson IV, allowing class members to compose sample essays integrating the concepts and case study materials.

Finally, Lesson V prepares students to write individual essays on "Preventing Violent International Conflict."

Lesson I: Concept Development

Lesson I will take approximately two class periods. Have the students read the writing prompt, "Preventing Violent International Conflict" and list any questions students have pertaining to concepts, themes, or tools contained in the writing prompt.

The objective of this lesson is for students to acquire an active understanding of key concepts beyond rote memorization of definitions. Victor Rentel developed a five-step system for concept development that will be adapted to the key concepts in the writing prompt. Students will learn to label, compare and contrast, categorize, and apply information inherent in each concept to the particular context in which the concept is used in individual essays. To reinforce key concepts and integrate them successfully into essay composition, students will apply various approaches to thoroughly understand each concept. The following outline of these approaches uses the concept "balance of power" as an example.

Establish a label for the concept. Connect the concept with particular word associations for clarity and understanding. For example, balance of power, defined as a "relatively equal distribution of military power between states, allowing no single state or coalition of states to dominate the others," can be associated with the European power system resulting from the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), called the Concert of Europe.
Emphasize attributes of the concept. Identify the characteristics of a concept that make it similar to or different from other concepts. To develop attributes of a balance of power, one might compare and contrast the characteristics of the Concert of Europe with those of the hegemonic system of Napoleonic Europe.
Provide both positive and negative examples of the concept. Through examples and counter-examples, discuss state systems that represent a balance of power or an imbalance of power (such as a state of chaos or hegemony), and explain how certain historical and contemporary alliances represent positive and negative examples of the concept.
Discover the essence of the concept by categorizing it and relating it to other concepts. By categorizing various forms of balance of power arrangements, link the concept to collective security systems and coalitions, and to other concepts mentioned in this lesson or brought up by students.
Apply the concept to historical topics or current issues. Once the students understand the key concepts in the writing prompt, integrate each concept into issues discussed in class. For example, did the balance of power agreed upon at the Congress of Vienna ensure peace in Europe (with only isolated bilateral conflicts) between 1815 and 1914? If so, why did it fail in 1914?

Key Concepts

The following concepts are taken from the writing prompt "Preventing Violent International Conflict" and are intended to give the students a better understanding of the topic.

Power: The ability to influence or control the behavior of others, events, outcomes, or the rules of the game. Strength, resources, leadership, and moral persuasion are attributes necessary to exercise power.

Balance of Power: A relatively equal distribution of military power between states, allowing no single state or coalition of states to dominate the others.

Coalition: A group of states that cooperate with each other on a short-term basis to achieve a common goal or work against a common threat.

Hegemony: The possession by one state of a preponderance of military and economic power in the international system. This state can create and enforce rules and impose its will on other states.

Alliance Systems: A formal commitment between states to coordinate a political or military response against a specific enemy or specific contingencies.

Low-level disputes: Conflicts between independent political units in which the violence is below the threshold of all-out military combat but above peaceful competition between states.

Escalation: An increase of military or political efforts to achieve one's goals by raising the stakes and expanding the existing or perceived limits of the conflict, often making it harder to control any resulting violence.

Violent International Conflict (War): A major armed conflict between organized military forces of independent political units to achieve political advantage over other combatants.

Preventive Diplomacy: Measures taken to keep low-level or long-festering disputes from escalating into significant violence between parties and to limit the spread of violence if it does occur.

Preventive Measures
: Specific actions taken to keep disputes from arising or escalating.

  • Early Warning System: A set of indicators based on information and intelligence to help identify where and when the most harmful conflicts and crises might occur.
  • Hot-line: A direct and open communications link between heads of state in order to facilitate fast communication during emergencies or crises.
  • Economic Assistance: Bilateral or multilateral aid to provide resources for economic development, hasten economic recovery or transformation, or supply basic humanitarian needs.
  • Economic Sanctions: The limitation or interruption of economic relations between countries to bring about a change in the policies of the target country.
  • Diplomatic Sanctions: Actions such as denial of visas, withholding of political support, and lessening of military commitments, taken by governments against other states in order to bring about a change in the policies of the target country.
  • Fact-finding Mission: Representatives of international organizations dispatched to an area of conflict to establish the facts and root causes of the conflict in order to assist with conflict prevention.

Coercive Measures: The use of threats or limited force to compel an adversary to take a course of action it might not otherwise take.

Deterrence: The use of threats or limited force to dissuade a state from taking a particular course of action.

International Organizations: Intergovernmental structures that develop cooperative activities among states and create agreed rules, norms, and procedures for specific state behavior.

Diplomacy (Diplomats): The management of international relations in general and, specifically, the conduct of relations between states through communication and negotiation, as well as promises, threats, and force.

Mediation (Mediators): The use of an outside party to help disputants to resolve differences without violence by facilitating communication, re-framing the discussion, or offering incentives or disincentives to negotiate or come to agreement.

Preventive Deployment: Deployment in a conflict area of military or police personnel representing the United Nations or a regional organization such as NATO in order to prevent an outbreak of violence.

Peacekeeping (Peacekeepers)
: The use of military forces under United Nations or regional organization auspices to function as a buffer between disputants to prevent fighting or enforce a cease-fire.

Demilitarized Zone: An area in which parties to a conflict agree after a cease-fire that military weapons and personnel will not be permitted, in particular as a means to separate potential belligerents or create a buffer zone that will make attack less likely by a neighboring country.

Lesson II: Building Analytical Skills through Sample Essays

Lesson II will take two class periods, and requires an overnight homework assignment. Now that the students have a better understanding of the concepts and tools found in the writing prompt, apply this new understanding to writing analytical sample essays. Review two historical case studies: Poland in 1815 and Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Divide the class into two groups. One group will write an analytical essay that illustrates success in preventing violent international conflict: the case of Poland in 1815. The other group will write an analytical essay that illustrates failure in preventing violent international conflict: the case of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Each essay should have a clear thesis, a statement of the problem and efforts made to prevent violent conflict, a concise presentation of the evidence as found in the primary source documents, an original analysis explaining why peaceful preventive measures were successful or unsuccessful, suggestions of efforts that might have been successful, and concluding remarks.

At this point, the students should remain focused on primary source documents. Do not allow the students to conduct any additional research on the topic they are assigned. Students may look up terms they do not understand (for example, Third Reich) in the glossary of a history book, but beyond term clarification, no other materials should be used in this exercise. Students should write the essays individually, preferably as a homework assignment. The essays should be no longer than two pages. The emphasis here is on analytical writing, not description.

Case Studies

Have selected students read the writing prompt and apply it to the case study of Czechoslovakia. Hand out the background materials and primary source documents for Poland and Czechoslovakia. Make sure the students include the following concepts and tools in their essays.

Success in Preventing Violent International Conflict: Poland, 1815

  • Balance of Power
  • Hegemony
  • Alliance System
  • Diplomacy
  • Coalition
  • Collective Security

Failure to Prevent Violent International Conflict: Czechoslovakia, 1938

  • Balance of Power
  • Hegemony
  • Diplomacy
  • Mediation
  • Diplomatic Sanctions
  • Fact-finding Mission
  • Preventive Measures
  • Coercive Measures


Lesson III: Group Discussions of Analytical Essays

Lesson III builds on the analytical skills developed in Lesson II by focusing on small group class discussions. Group discussions will last one to two class periods.

After the students have completed their assigned essays on Poland, 1815, and Czechoslovakia, 1938, divide them into small groups of two, four, or six, with half the members of each group having done Poland, the other half, Czechoslovakia.

Have the students read and discuss thesis statements with their peers, asking questions such as why they chose particular pieces of evidence to support their thesis statements. Have the students discuss the analytical aspects of their essays, sharing original ideas. The purpose here is to illustrate the discipline of the thesis statement and primary source evidence, but also to reward original analysis. Analysis must, however, be based on evidence. Have students make the leap from primary sources to analysis without depending on pre-digested secondary source analyses to do the hard work of thinking through questions and answering them.

In the course of small group discussions, students should discuss their choices of concepts, noting the use of some of the same concepts in each case study.

Make sure students understand how evidence and concepts are used to make each case, and how one learns from failures in thinking about future successes.

Gather the students together as an entire class and discuss the two essays, constructing on the black/whiteboard for each case study a class thesis statement, suggestions of the strongest evidence, and collective analyses.

The notes collected during this class discussion should be recorded and distributed to class members for use in Lesson IV of this guide.

Lesson IV: Writing a Sample Essay

Lesson IV revisits the writing prompt "Preventing Violent International Conflict," allowing students to compose sample essays and integrate concepts and case study materials. The lesson will take one to two class periods in either a full-class or small-group arrangement.

Now that the students have reviewed concepts and tools crucial for understanding the writing prompt, and have written and discussed case studies illustrating the success and failure of preventive diplomacy, they are ready to re-examine the writing prompt and write a sample outline and essay with the case study information already presented and analyzed.

To participate in this lesson, the students should have their initial notes after they read the writing prompt, their case study essay, and a copy of the collective notes assembled by teacher and students in discussions of the sample case study essays.

Diagram the writing prompt on the blackboard, with student input. The objective here is to make sure the writing prompt is understood and to build student confidence in writing an essay on the topic.

Re-read with the class the first two paragraphs of the writing prompt. Use the examples of Poland and Czechoslovakia to address the issues discussed. Remind the students of the partitions of Poland and the rights allotted the Poles by Napoleon. What were the objectives of Congress representatives? What problems were festering in the Polish issues, and how did the diplomats approach these problems? Do the same in the discussion of Czechoslovakia, discussing the Versailles Treaty and the notion of "self-determination" to understand the emergence of the Czech crisis. This should be a quick discussion, as the students already possess this information. The objective here is to apply already-known information to the writing prompt.

Discuss the second two paragraphs of the writing prompt, using the knowledge accrued through the study of concept development in Lesson I. The students should feel confident in discussing the terms and should be able to categorize the concepts and tools useful to writing an essay on the topic.

Develop a sample outline of an essay, using the case studies of Poland, 1815, and Czechoslovakia, 1938. Have the class develop a thesis statement. The presentation of the evidence should be straightforward. The emphasis here is the value of primary source documentation. The students should have a vigorous discussion of the analytical features of an essay. Encourage creativity in thinking, while reminding students of the importance of linking creative analysis to evidence.

Lesson V: Choosing an Essay Topic

Lesson V is the starting point for students to write individual essays. The time frame for this lesson can be adapted to fit your course schedule. The objective of this lesson is to prepare students to write individual essays and encourage original thought and analysis.

As a homework assignment, have the students make a list of case study topics they might choose to pursue when writing the individual essay. Students should think creatively and can use cases and tools that are not detailed in the writing prompt. Instruct the students to list the concepts and tools relevant to each case study as they note why they have chosen each case study. Keep in mind that one example of preventive action must be a success, one a failure, and one of the two cases must be post-World War II.

Discuss student case study choices in class, emphasizing student-proposed concepts and tools to be integrated into the research and outline of the question.

Guide students to bibliographic sources, including primary source materials. The U.S. Department of State series Current Documents and American Foreign Policy, as well as the Department of State's Bulletin, are useful starting points.

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