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.