How can long-running conflicts be solved?


Remembrance Day is not only for remembering and acknowledging the sacrifices made by the brave men and women that went to war for us. It is also a reminder of the great tragedy that is war: all the lives that have been lost or ruined, and all the animosity that has been bred between us. If only we could use discourse and empathy to resolve our conflicts, the resources we dedicate to ruining each other could be better used to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues: environmental destruction, disease, and poverty.

Fact: According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the world spends 1.8 trillion dollars each year on military budgets (top 3 are US $610 billion, China $216 billion, Russia $84.5 billion).

However, one of the major barriers to conflict resolution is that people just won’t listen to what the members of other groups have to say. Because of this, researchers have been trying for many years to find ways of encouraging people to think more favourably about the “other” group, and be more willing to reach a deal.

One way may be through self-criticism. In one experiment done by Professor Eran Halpern at the School of Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Centre, Herzliya, Israel, a group of Israelis was given a fake newspaper article. It described a Palestinian leader criticising his own society – corruption in Gaza and the West Bank or shortcomings at schools. A group of Palestinians was likewise exposed to Israelis being self-critical. Halpern found that both groups were suddenly much more open to hear what the other group had to say about issues related to their conflict. The effect seems to be achieved by disrupting the idea of monolithic blocs, the idea that the other group is overwhelmingly dominated by a single identity, a single value system, a single political objective.

Another potential solution is described by “Contact Theory,” which is the idea that you can reduce prejudice by members of different groups by bringing them together under positive conditions. The basis of this theory is that segregation of groups results in the perpetuation of conflict.  In parts of Northern Ireland, for example, the two main communities, Protestant and Catholic, have virtually no contact with each other. What contact they do have is often hostile: for example, during the summer marching season. But whether the walls are in West Belfast or the West Bank, lack of interaction can make one side blind to the humanity of the other.

To conclude, the path to harmony is by no means simple. Often times, conflicts have run for so long that we cannot even imagine what peace/resolution would be like. However, this must not dissuade us from seeking peaceful resolutions.

This Remembrance Day, I will be remembering my great-grandfathers and my great-great-grandfathers – who died fighting in WWI and WWII – and the hardship their families endured after the war. I will also be praying for peace in the world, so that we may never see a Great War ever again.


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