Settlement Stage

Louis Kriesberg

September 2003

As an intractable conflict comes to an end, the components of the conflict start to change. New or greatly changed collective identities become dominant; for example, with the waning of apartheid in South Africa, the South African identity rose in prominence and changed to incorporate all the peoples of South Africa. Similarly, the transformation of France-German enmity after World War II was aided by the increased prominence of the European identity.

Grievances underlying the conflict are often reduced for one side, but to resolve the conflict, the other side's grievances must be minimized also. It doesn't work to satisfy one side, but increase the harm to the other. Thus, after World War II, the American and West European governments tried to avoid creating the kind of grievances that arose in Germany after World War I, which were attributed to the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and which contributed greatly to the rise of the Third Reich and World War II.

Goals also change as intractable conflict's end. Thus, after de-escalation, neither side's new goals include the destruction of its adversary. This change may reflect the separation of a few leaders on one side from their now-transformed constituency. The members of a communal or ideological organization may repudiate the organization leaders upon their defeat, and the victorious other side may accept the repudiation as genuine.

Significantly, the methods of struggle also change as an intractable conflict comes to an end. Often, a political process is established that provides legitimate regulated processes for dealing with contention. Groups that had been excluded from effective participation in making decisions of central concern to them may gain access to effective engagement in such decision-making.

If most or all of the underlying causes of the conflict are finally remedied, the conflict may be resolved permanently or at least for a long time. (For instance, though there are still racial tensions in South Africa , it seems hard to imagine Apartheid returning.) If some grievances remain, however, the conflict may be simply "settled" for the time being, but may develop again later as grievances again become significant. Thus, even at the supposed "end" of an intractable conflict, the path to resolution is not always smooth and linear, but may fall back into previous stages if conditions change. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gone through several such cycles, most notably after the Oslo Accords, in which it really appeared as if settlement was very close, if not achieved, yet the accords were rejected, and the conflict re-escalated with the second Intifada. At other times peace accords "hold" for a while, but break down later as old grievances arise or "spoilers" succeed in re-kindling old fires, as occurred in Cambodia, Angola, and Rwanda.

Use the following to cite this article:
Kriesberg, Louis. "Settlement Stage." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <>.

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