Analyzing Cases of Intractable Conflict
USIP Press Books
February 2005
432 pp., 6" x 9"
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Among the unwelcome legacies of the past century are a group of conflicts, both intrastate and interstate, that seem destined never to end. From Kashmir to Nagorno-Karabakh, Colombia to Sudan, the Korean Peninsula to the Middle East, these deeply entrenched, intermittently violent conflicts have so far resisted all outside efforts to resolve them.

What lessons—aside from the apparent futility of mediation—can such dismal situations possibly offer? As the distinguished contributors to Grasping the Nettle make plain, this is not a rhetorical question. Unyielding conflicts offer numerous insights—not only about the sources of intractability but also about such facets of mediation and conflict management as how to gain leverage, when to engage and disengage, how to balance competing goals, and who to enlist to play supporting roles.

The first part of this eye-opening volume identifies and analyzes the defining characteristics and underlying dynamics of intractable conflicts. The second part turns the spotlight on no fewer than eight current cases, in each instance chronicling the conflict's evolution, evaluating the internal and external factors that have conspired to prevent a settlement, and assessing whether past peacemaking initiatives have in fact only aggravated the conflict. The conclusion makes the point that even intractable conflicts eventually end and highlights the strategic approaches and tactical steps that have yielded success in the past for mediators and conflict managers from governments, international organizations, and NGOs.

Chester A. Crocker is the James R. Schlesinger Professor of Strategic Studies at Georgetown University and a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innnovation (CIGI). His teaching and research focus on conflict management and regional security issues. He served as chairman of the board of the United States Institute of Peace (1992-2004) and as a board member for many years thereafter. From 1981-1989, he was U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs. As such, he was the principal diplomatic architect and mediator in the prolonged negotiations among Angola, Cuba, and South Africa that led to Namibia’s transition to independence, and to the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola. Dr. Crocker served as a staff officer at the National Security Council (1970-72) where he worked on Middle East, Indian Ocean, and African issues and director of African studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (1976-80). He serves on the boards Universal Corporation, Inc., a leading independent trading company in tobacco and agricultural products; Good Governance Group Ltd, a business intelligence advisory service; and Bell Pottinger USA, a communications and public relations firm. Dr. Crocker is a founding member of the Global Leadership Foundation, the Africa-based Housing for HIV Foundation and member of the Independent Advisory Board of the World Bank. Dr. Crocker is the author of High Noon in Southern Africa: Making Peace in a Rough Neighborhood (1993), co-author (with Fen Osler Hampson and Pamela Aall) of Taming Intractable Conflicts: Mediation in the Hardest Cases (2004), and coeditor of Leashing the Dogs of War: Conflict Management in a Divided World (2007), Grasping the Nettle: Analyzing Cases of Intractable Conflict (2005); Turbulent Peace: The Challenges of Managing International Conflict (2001); and Herding Cats: Multiparty Mediation in a Complex World (1999).

Fen Osler Hampson is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI). He is also Chancellor's Professor at Carleton University. Hampson was a Jennings Randolph Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in 1993-94.

Pamela R. Aall is a senior fellow at Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the former vice president for United States Institute of Peace's domestic programs, Education and Training Center . Before joining the Institute in 1993, she was a consultant to the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and to the Institute of International Education. She held a number of positions at the Rockefeller Foundation. She has also worked for the European Cultural Foundation (Amsterdam and Brussels), the International Council for Educational Development (New York), and the New York Botanical Garden. She holds a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.A. from Columbia University and attended the London School of Economics, conducting research on political and economic integration in Scandinavia and Europe.


  • Introduction: Mapping the Nettle Field - Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall
  • Understanding Intractability
  • Comparative Studies of Long Wars - Roy Licklider
  • Analyzing Intractability - I. William Zartman
  • Nature, Dynamics, and Phases of Intractability - Louis Kriesberg
  • Mediation in the Most Resistant Cases - Jacob Bercovitch
  • Negotiating Intractable Conflicts: The Contributions of Unofficial Intermediaries - Diana Chigas
  • Cases of Intractable Conflict
  • Can Sudan Escape Its Intractability? - J. Stephen Morrison and Alex de Waal
  • Intractability and Third-Party Mediation in the Balkans - Steven L. Burg
  • Angola: The End of an Intractable Conflict - Paul Hare
  • Third Parties and Intractable Conflicts: The Case of Colombia - Cynthia J. Arnson and Teresa Whitfield
  • The Uses of Deadlock: Intractability in Eurasia - Charles King
  • Kashmir: Fifty Years of Running in Place - Howard B. Schaffer and Teresita C. Schaffer
  • "Intractable" Confrontation on the Korean Peninsula: A Contribution to Regional Stability
  • Intractability and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - Stephen Cohen
  • Beyond Resolution? The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict - Shibley Telhami
  • When Endless Conflicts End
  • Conclusion: From Intractable to Tractable-- the Outlook and Implications for Third Parties - Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall

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