ADAPTATION AND LEARNING IN CONFLICT MANAGEMENT, REDUCTION, AND RESOLUTION
This study maintains that shifting from war to peace can be explained
by processes of adaptation and learning. The latter are cognitive processes
where by decisionmakers perceive their conflict environment differently
and decide to change their policy toward conflict. The use of adaptation
and learning as explanatory variables does not ignore the structural,
situational and ripeness conditions of conflict, which may bring about
changes. The study focuses on perceptual of these conditions by the
The question of how self-interested actors in a protracted
conflict can cooperate so as to manage, reduce, or even resolve their
conflict is one of the most interesting ones in the literature of conflict
and resolution. This literature essentially suggests situational and
ripeness conditions that reflect developments in the real conflict environment
and changes in the parties' perceptions in the wake of crucial developments.
The situational and ripeness conditions are what determines the appropriate
time for conflict reduction and resolution. Specifically, the following
relevant conditions come into play: (1) the conflict environment (the
relationship between the parties, the intensity of the conflict, and
the balance of power); (2) the external environment (regional and global
developments, the relationships between the adversaries, and external
powers); and (3) internal environment (internal political and economic
developments on each side, such as new elections, new leadership, economic
crisis or difficulties). Generally, the views with respect to propitious
situation fall into two further categories. First are those asserting
that such conditions arise only at a certain stage of the conflict,
such as at its inception or after its escalation (into a severe crisis
or war). Second are those focusing on an appropriate mix of external
or internal conditions that may develop at any stage of a conflict,
and that arise from changing relationships between the adversaries and
external sides, from developments in the global or regional system,
or from internal developments involving the sides to the conflict (Zartman,
1985, 1999, 2000; Haass, 1990; Kriesberg, 1991; Rubin, 1991; Stedman,
1991; Kleiboer, 1994; Mitchell, 1995).
The ripeness condition is a necessary though not sufficient for conflict
reduction and resolution. The rival parties can consider resolving their
conflict only when the appropriate time or, more accurately, the appropriate
set of conditions arrives. At the ripe moment, however, the adversaries
must jointly perceive themselves to be in a costly hurting stalemate,
and that unilateral military means are not only ineffective to accomplish
their goals but also costly and risky. This may happen after an indecisive
war or a series of such wars. The appropriate conditions are defined
in terms of the conflict costs that are experienced by the rivals and
their failure to gain any significant military or political advantages
from existing strategies. In addition, the adversaries have some sense
that there is a way out of the conflict via a negotiated solution (Zartman,
1985, 2000; Rubin, 1991; Kleiboer, 1994; Mitchell, 1995).
Both situational and ripeness conditions induce the parties to reconsider
and modify the conflict. But because decisionmakers are the first to
be influenced by changing conditions in the conflict and are responsible
for reevaluating policies and adopting new ones, "it is the interpretation
of these conditions by those leaders that determines whether the time,
is indeed ripe" (Mitchell, 1995: 10). Explanations dealing with
ripeness and initial processes of conflict reduction or resolution should
focus, therefore, on the decisionmakers themselves. The question, then,
is what leads decisionmakers to undertake a major change of policy in
a conflict? The ripeness theory stresses the role of cost-benefit analysis,
based on the assumption that the extended cost and pain entailed by
a hurting-stalemate situation is the most important factor inducing
a reevaluation by decisionmakers. This implies that leaders learn and
change their minds mainly through experiencing the pain of damage and
loss (Mitchell, 1995; Zartman, 2000). However, it is not clear why certain
crises or wars trigger this kind of required learning whereas others
do not, and how much pain over damage and loss is necessary for the
learning that leads to conflict reduction or resolution. For example,
we are not sure why four wars in the Arab-Israeli conflict (1948-1949,
1956, 1967, 1969-1970) failed to induce such learning and only the 1973
war did so. Was it because of the extent of the cost and pain? Was it
because both sides' leaders at that time were more sensitive to the
cost and pain than their predecessors? Was it because of the indecisive
outcomes of the war? Or was it because of an energetic mediator (Kissinger)?
We can assume that decisionmakers' learning is a major factor that mediates
between hurting stalemate and ripeness for a change in a conflict. Since
decisionmakers experience and react differently to extended pain because
of their different beliefs and personalities or their different perceptions
and interpretations of the conflict conditions, their learning processes
are a main key to understanding how conflicts deescalate.
This study utilizes of theories of adaptation and learning, which recent
studies of foreign policy have applied from social psychology in order
to understand foreign policy shifts, and specifically the role of cognitive
processes in major turning points in international conflict (Nye, 1987;
Haas, 1990, 1991; Breslauer, 1991; Tetlock, 1991; Levy 1994a, 1994b;
Stein, 1994). Adaptation and learning may mediate between structural
and ripeness conditions, and are processes of evaluating conflict developments
by decisionmakers that may lead them to change their attitudes, beliefs,
and even behavior in the direction of conflict reduction and resolution.
Adaptation and Conflict Management
According to Haas, an adaptation process takes place when
an actor changes its behavior in response to new events but without
questioning its beliefs about basic causation or underlying values.
Adaptation involves a realization that a previous set of measures or
strategies are no longer effective in attaining one's aims. Although
the ultimate goal remains the same, new paths of action are sought (Haas,
Adaptation, then, does not require a basic change of outlook. So long
as a decisionmaker is reasonably successful in carrying out his policies
through an adaptation process, there is little incentive to learn (i.e.,
change attitudes and beliefs). But even when the new means still prove
ineffective in terms of the original aims, a further adaptation may
occur: "If the decision makers then conclude that an alternative
set of ends ought to be considered, without at the same time questioning
the underlying cognitive schemata that establish a belief in cause-and-effect
relations, we are still encountering adaptation" (Haas, 1991: 73).
An adaptation process in a conflict may explain the shift from an unmanageable
stage (zero-sum, or military and political decision) to a more manageable
one (mixed-motive, or limited war or violence), or even to different
manageable stages (shifting from one type of limited war to another),
in which the parties use war and violence as a political means and a
bargaining tool rather than as way of eliminating each other from the
An adaptation process is a change in the sides' behavior so as to meet
the new military and political challenges following an unsuccessful
war or a crisis, without seriously redefining their basic objectives.
New political and military objectives are adopted without concern for
their coherence with the original ones.
Adaptation is a rational adjustment of political and military means
and objectives because of changes in the conflict environment; it stems
from a perceived need to match means and ends more effectively. This
requires an improved understanding of the nature of the conflict, and
of how one can achieve one's objectives, leading to the selection of
new military means and strategies. Adaptation is a process of changing
one's problem-solving behavior that avoids a thorough reevaluation of
one's attitudes and beliefs in the conflict. The parties, however, still
believe that ultimately the only way to accomplish their respective,
incompatible goals is through unilateral and militarily means, and they
still await the right moment to do so.
Adaptation may result from repeated failures to accomplish one's objectives,
or from new external or internal constraints that limit the rivals'
freedom of action and make the accumulation of costs and risks undeniable.
Repeated disappointment may be a necessary, though not sufficient, condition
for adaptation. A failure in a war may constitute an incentive or a
constraint toward changing one's behavior so as to function more effectively
in the conflict or meet new challenges. However, one or both parties
may ignore failures or constraints and persevere in old conflict patterns.
On the other hand, repeated failures after a process of adaptation may
lead to a new and more ambitious form of adaptation, where, for example,
a side adopts a new military strategy, but still without questioning
the underlying cognitive schemata. Thus, a side might shift from static
war to offensive war.
Adaptation may also lead the parties to perceive the conflict more realistically
and to limit their political and military objectives. The sides may
realize that in the given circumstances, especially taking into account
external or internal constraints or limited capabilities, it is not
possible to achieve conclusive results but only partial ones. War should
be only a political means to promote limited objectives. Sometimes the
rivals to a conflict may enter the adaptation stage for asymmetrical
reasons. Whereas one side may do so after a failure in a war and because
of limited capabilities, the other may do so after winning the war and
because of internal or external constraints on fully exploiting its
capabilities in the conflict.
Although this change in behavior entails a shift to a limited war or
low-intensity conflict, there is still no change in the belief that
war and violence are the only effective means to advance one's political
goals. When adaptation takes place, the aim of conflict management is
not to prevent violence but to ensure that it will remain limited (Bar-Siman-Tov,
1994). The main characteristic of conflict management at this stage
is regulation (Mitchell, 1981), which refers to developing internal
or external mechanisms to keep war limited. The most important factors
likely to influence the limitation of the conflict are the following:
the balance of power between the parties, the balance of means of punishment
in case of violations, the balance of advantages of keeping the war
limited, the degree of autonomy of the parties, and third-party intervention.
The balance of power and the balance of punishment are probably the
most important factors in the entire adaptation process. If the parties
are relatively equal, they will be more interested in regulation of
the conflict because the prospects that unilateral attempts will attain
the sides' objectives are minimal, if not nonexistent, and entail great
risk. As for equalization of advantages, it depends on the assumption
that the nonuse or control of certain military means will not favor
one party over the other in terms of increasing the probability of achieving
its objectives in a less costly way. The degree to which the limitations
are maintained depends mainly on their success in equalizing the cost-benefit
tradeoff of violating versus upholding the limitations for both parties
(George, 1958). The parties' degree of autonomy and the factor of third-party
intervention are linked. When the sides fail to observe limitations
and are dependent on external actors for expanding or limiting the conflict,
then the role of a third party (generally a power or superpower) in
the adaptation process becomes crucial.
Given the realities of protracted conflicts, such as the Arab-Israeli
conflict, it is reasonable to assume that adaptation is not possible
without external intervention or support. Because of difficulties in
keeping the conflict limited, the adversaries need help from an external
party. The third party's role is mainly to influence the rivals to reduce
the violent intensity of the conflict. To encourage an adaptation process
in the conflict, the third party can use various approaches. It may
act directly or indirectly (via another power) to persuade one or both
sides of the limitations of using military means to resolve or achieve
substantial unilateral gains. The third party may also stress the risks
involved in resorting to violence, which may include not only the dangers
of limited local war but also its possible expansion into a less limited
war, including military intervention by an external power. The third
party's main task at this stage is to make clear to both sides that
they will not be permitted to attain a total victory in the war (Bar-Siman-Tov,
In acting as a patron, the third party may resort to threats or inducements
to get its client to keep the conflict limited. On the one hand, the
third party may threaten to suspend military aid or deprive the client
of other vital resources, and to disassociate itself from the client
in case of noncompliance. On the other hand, it may promise military
supply and economic aid, and even a military umbrella, to reward the
client's self-restraint. The third party may act to strengthen the client's
deterrent capacity against its rival in order to avoid it from preemption
Even if adaptation is limited to regulation of the conflict (i.e., containing
conflict behavior rather than preventing it), adaptation is an important
technique of management that is based on some degree of mutual interest,
understanding, and cooperation. Adaptation can succeed not only in keeping
violence limited but also in making the parties realize the low effectiveness
of military options for overcoming their incompatible interests. The
limited outcomes of limited war, which reflect mutual concern about
escalation or about constraints imposed by third parties, encourage
the parties to seek a shift in the conflict.
The question is to what extent, and how, adaptation can modify a protracted
conflict. The common assumption is that successful regulation transforms
the means by which incompatible goals are pursued, rather than preventing
all attempts to attain them (Mitchell, 1981). In this case, the modification
of a conflict involves means rather than substance; the fundamental
differences between the parties may remain unaltered. It may also be
possible, however, to affect the substance of a conflict by gradually
modifying the conflict discourse and transforming some of the underlying
attitudes. A modification of this sort can sometimes be achieved through
Learning, Conflict Reduction, and Conflict Resolution
For the purposes of this study, which maintains that learning
is necessary for conflict reduction and resolution, I find useful Levy's
definition of learning as "a change of beliefs (or the degree of
confidence in one's beliefs) or the development of new beliefs, skills,
or procedures as a result of the observation and interpretation of experience"
(Levy, 1994a: 283). Use of this definition means that learning is restricted
mainly to cognitive change (beliefs) on the individual level (decisionmaker)
resulting in a different understanding of a certain reality, though
not necessarily in changes in policy or behavior. Learning generally
involves a basic transformation in a mode of thinking, including a thorough
reassessment of fundamental beliefs and values (Tetlock, 1991: 45).
Learning may occur for such reasons as the following: (1) a negative
experience involving repeated failures, unexpected failures, disappointments,
or an outright disaster; (2) the failure of adaptation to solve a crucial
problem; (3) a new understanding of how to solve a crucial problem;
(4) the attainment of new information that may call into question current
beliefs and policies; or (5) past policy successes (Haas, 1991; Nye,
1987; Tetlock, 1991; Levy, 1994a). Such developments may lead to two
kinds of learning: causal or diagnostic. In causal learning, people
change their beliefs about "cause and effect, the consequences
of actions, and the optimal strategies under various conditions";
in diagnostic learning, they change their beliefs about "the definition
of the situation or the preferences, intentions, or relative capabilities
of others" (Levy, 1994a: 285).
The reevaluation of a situation, or a change in attitudes and beliefs,
has great potential to lead to a behavior or policy change. However,
personal, institutional, political, and economic obstacles may prevent
the translation of learning into such a change. Learning may also strengthen
decisionmakers' current attitudes and beliefs and actually discourage
a policy change (Levy, 1994a).
Learning may lead to a policy change in a four-stage, causal process:
(1) the observation and interpretation of experience lead to a change
in decisionmakers' attitudes and beliefs; (2) attitude and belief change
may lead to consideration of a policy change when decisionmakers acknowledge
that this is necessary to reach their objectives; (3) adopting and implementing
a policy change then depend not only on decisionmakers' willingness
to do so, but also on their effective coping with potential obstacles
to the change, as well as on building a wide consensus for it; and (4)
institutional and political processes must mobilize the political support
for translating decisionmakers' learning into a policy change (Levy,
1994a: 291).1 Since policy changes do not necessarily result because
of belief changes, a claim that this has occurred needs to be demonstrated.
Learning is not necessarily linked to effectiveness or to positive connotations.
The effectiveness of cognitive change sometimes becomes evident only
much later, or sometimes not at all; alternatively, learning may bring
liked and disliked changes. The question of whether decisionmakers learn
rightly or wrongly, positively or negatively, from a particular experience
is one of subjective judgment (Nye, 1987: 379-380).
Learning is necessary (though not sufficient) for a change in a conflict,
but only when it is translated into a policy or behavior change; otherwise,
learning remains only a potential factor. Learning in a conflict involves
three types of belief change: about oneself in the conflict, about the
other side, and about the conflict itself. Only mutual learning makes
possible a change in a conflict. In this regard, the relevant questions
are: (1) What changes in a conflict require changes in attitudes and
beliefs? (2) What attitudes and beliefs need to be changed? (3) When
are these cognitive changes translated into policy changes that are
necessary for an overall change in the conflict?
Learning takes place at different levels and at different stages in
the conflict process. Simple or tactical learning may bring about a
shift from conflict management to conflict reduction and institutionalization;
for a shift to conflict resolution, complex or strategic learning may
be required (Nye, 1987: 380).2
Simple or Tactical Learning and Conflict Resolution
Simple or tactical learning is a low-magnitude change
in the attitudes and beliefs of the sides in a conflict that amounts
to a high-magnitude change in their behavior. Although the parties have
not yet redefined their fundamental attitudes and beliefs and are not
yet ready to resolve the conflict by peaceful means, their attitudes
toward conflict management have seen a substantial transformation. Simple
or tactical learning occurs when the parties begin to realize that war
is no longer an effective means for achieving military and political
This may occur not only when the parties internalize the potential costs
of a new war, but also because they conclude unilateral gains are not
feasible, and only by some cooperation in conflict reduction is there
any chance not only of avoiding mutual damage but of achieving some
of their incompatible goals. Such understanding is likely to develop
after a crisis or an indecisive war that fails to achieve its minimum
objectives or whose costs cannot be justified, with the sides finding
themselves in a hurting stalemate. When the rivals are hurting, they
may realize that while their military means can thwart the other side,
making victory impossible for it, they are not effective for achieving
victory for their own side.
When, however, a mutually hurting stalemate continues over time, both
parties may realize that maintaining the conflict in its nature and
intensity will make them worse off both in absolute and relative terms,
so the most rational alternative is to find a way out of the conflict.
Mutual simple or tactical learning may lead the sides to ripeness for
conflict reduction. On the other hand, sometimes the very painfulness
of the stalemate may stymie the development toward ripeness, because
it intensifies the parties' mutual distrust, creates a sense that there
is no prospect of deescalation, and hence may impel them to consider
Because the adversaries expect the conflict will continue for a long
time, they assume only conflict reduction and institutionalization can
secure some degree of stability in their strategic relations. Their
concordance is limited to security issues in a way that will not necessarily
require a major shift in attitudes and beliefs, while at the same time
assuring each side that its concessions are being reciprocated.
Institutionalization refers to formal or informal attempts to put conflict
relations between the parties on "a more stable basis and predictable
footing in order to reduce the magnitude, scope, and possibility of
armed confrontation" (Hampson and Mandell, 1990: 194). The functions
of institutionalization are the following: (1) to prevent crises; (2)
to remove or reduce incentives for escalation; (3) to promote and facilitate
deescalatory measures; (4) to establish new patterns of behavior leading
to the development of more durable norms of conflict management; (5)
to establish confidence-building measures or security regimes; and (6)
to encourage expectations about resolution of the conflict (Hampson
and Mandell, 1990: 196).
Institutionalization, therefore, has the potential not only to foster
a better stabilization of the conflict but also to prepare the ground
for its resolution. To institutionalize the conflict, the sides must
accept the restructuring of their security relations, which requires
some tacit or even explicit cooperation (Mandell, 1990). In order to
manage their security relations, the sides need to create new norms
and mechanisms. The new norms will define the limits of the sides' behaviors
in their new conflict system, and the mechanisms will provide the means
to enforce those limits (Mandell, 1990; Mandell and Tomlin, 1991).
The most important factors that can influence the degree of institutionalization
are, the balance of power (current and future) between the parties,
the degree of shared interests, the issues at stake in the conflict,
the degree of autonomy of the parties, and third-party intervention.
The balance of power between the parties may influence institutionalization
in different ways. If the parties are relatively equal, they will be
more interested in institutionalization because the prospects for unilaterally
attaining their objectives are more doubtful and risky. In cases of
power inequality, the dominant party may try to impose its preferred
mode of institutionalization, whereas the weaker side may bargain to
avoid this or seek to manipulate its alliance or its patron-client relationship
so as to achieve a more favorable mode of institutionalization. The
prospective power balance may also influence the degree of institutionalization.
The party that expects to increase its power in the future tends to
resist an unfavorable mode of institutionalization in the present; whereas
the side that believes the balance will change to its disfavor will
seek a high degree of institutionalization in the present (Kriesberg,
The degree of shared interests also plays a role. When the parties share
only a concern to avoid undesirable outcomes, such as a crisis or war,
institutionalization will be limited to minimal military arrangements
for monitoring behavior and reducing uncertainties. The sides choose
to cooperate not because it offers substantial gains but because it
prevents losses. However, when the parties have mutual interests in
extending their cooperation beyond military issues to the political
sphere, this will augment institutionalization (Stein, 1992).
The types of issues involved in the conflict also affect institutionalization.
When parties are dealing with military and security issues that they
believe require immediate and clear-cut solutions, this poses an acute
security dilemma. Therefore, institutionalization is likely to be more
formalized so as to minimize problems of defection, violation of the
understandings, and uncertainty. When cooperation is limited to security
issues, while political issues remain untouched, cooperation is easier.
In terms of autonomy, parties that belong to a coalition or depend on
external powers for arms supply, guarantees, or economic assistance
will prefer less autonomous forms of institutionalization than parties
that are more independent. Even in the latter case, however, external
patronage may encourage a more stable institutionalization.
Third-party intervention can be important in determining whether simple
or tactical learning will occur and in influencing the degree of institutionalization.
In situations where the parties fail to begin the learning process by
themselves, the role of the third party may be particularly important.
The third party's role depends on the sides' relationships with each
other and with the third party, the sides' willingness to cooperate
with the third party, and the third party's willingness and ability
to help the parties modify their relationship.
The third party can employ three strategies to change a conflict in
the direction of reduction: pressing, integration, and compensation.
Pressing refers to attempting to create a perception by the sides that
the moment is ripe for changing the conflict by reducing the set of
nonagreement alternatives available to them, while emphasizing the costs
and risks of continuing the conflict. Integration is an effort to identify
a solution in the context of common ground between the parties, while
stressing the benefits of an agreement. Compensation means trying to
induce the parties to make the necessary concessions by offering them
guarantees and tangible aid so as to reduce the uncertainty associated
with security cooperation and to reward them for their sacrifices (Carnevale,
1986; Mandell and Tomlin, 1991).
The third party can help the sides to create new norms and mechanisms
for managing their security relationship so as to prevent undesired
escalation and reduce the conflict. The third party may help the sides
reach an agreement that is limited to security issues and will not threaten
basic interests and core values on the one hand, and not necessarily
require a major shift in basic attitudes on the other. The third party
may also play an important role in convincing each side that its concessions
are reciprocated by the other side, or that there is not necessarily
a symmetrical reciprocity.
Security regimes are the most important outcome of simple or tactical
learning. Once are they formally institutionalized, they may not only
prevent war but also reduce the conflict. Effective security regimes
intensify the learning process, helping each side to change its mode
Complex or Strategic Learning and Conflict Resolution
When actors question original, implicit, and explicit
attitudes and beliefs about a conflict, they may enter a process of
complex and strategic learning. This may lead to a change in their beliefs,
or the development of new beliefs about the conflict. In particular,
the actors thoroughly reevaluate their beliefs about the basic causation
of the conflict and/or diagnostically examine the conditions under which
causal generalizations about the conflict apply (Haas, 1991; Larson,
1994). Complex or strategic learning also involves change in the parties'
images of the conflict environment, which prompts new thinking about
the conflict. This type of learning fosters changes in leaders; schemata
that shape, in turn, a new policy direction for the conflict. When such
learning occurs, a new understanding of the conflict issues emerges,
new solutions are identified, and ultimately the goals in the conflict
are redefined (Campbell, 1969; Hedberg, 1981; Sitkin, 1992; Levy, 1994a;
Stein, 1994). The parties become ready to give up some of their goals
so others can be achieved. National interests are redefined so that
higher-order national values can be attained. For negotiations to succeed
in resolving a conflict, complex or strategic learning is a necessary,
though not always sufficient condition.
It has been suggested that complex or strategic learning results from
failure, especially unexpected policy failures, crisis, or past policy
successes. However, a notable success in conflict reduction as a result
of simple or tactical learning may foster a process of further learning
to the point that the nature of the conflict is affected and possibly
even transformed. Effective security regimes may convince parties with
incompatible goals to find some peaceful solution to their conflict.
On the other hand, sometimes effective conflict reduction can form a
serious obstacle to conflict resolution. Because the need for alternative
political outcomes is not urgent enough and the costs of resolving the
conflict may appear higher than those of continuing it under controlled
conditions, as in a security regime, the incentives to attempt conflict
resolution may disappear. The costs of conflict resolution are usually
not only territorial, political, or economic but also ideological and
The need to change attitudes, beliefs, and values often creates a situation
of cognitive inconsistency, which causes distress to decisionmakers
because it involves inconsistency in their value systems. People usually
want their beliefs and values to be interconnected and mutually coherent.
In peacemaking, a certain threshold of inconsistency is often crossed.
The need to change attitudes and beliefs explains why complex or strategic
learning, and the shift toward conflict resolution, are so psychologically
difficult for decisionmakers. Rather than moving toward conflict resolution,
the sides often prefer to stay at the conflict reduction stage. In this
case the situation that emerges is what Galtung (1967) calls "negative
peace," (i.e., the relations between the parties are limited to
conditions of maintaining and balancing power, freezing the status quo,
and preserving security rather than seeking conflict resolution).
Certain conditions are, however, conducive to the emergence of complex
or strategic learning: (1) The parties realize conflict reduction, even
if it stabilizes the security and strategic relationships between them
and minimizes the risks of war, lacks the potential to secure even some
of the goals in the conflict, and these can be achieved only by conflict
resolution. The parties, in other words, must reach a stage where conflict
resolution seems to offer a better alternative than a continuation of
conflict reduction. In this situation the parties are motivated not
only by loss avoidance, as is the case with security regimes, but also
by expectation of relative gains (Stein, 1992). (2) The parties realize,
because of the success of the security regime, there are no immediate
or even long-term opportunities for unilateral gain by war, or more
limited violence. (3) The parties are aware that because of the success
of the security regime it will be very difficult, if not impossible,
to gain domestic and/or external legitimacy for the resort to military
means. (4) There is an apprehension that without progress toward resolution,
the conflict may revert to its violent stage. (5) There is a change
in governmental leadership. New leaders are relatively free to undertake
new initiatives, both because there is some domestic expectation that
they will do so and because they are less committed to their predecessors'
beliefs and policies. Furthermore, a change in leadership may well signal
a change in orientation to adversaries (Breslauer, 1991; Kriesberg,
1991; Stein, 1994). (6) A significant change occurs in the international
or regional system (such as the resolution of another major conflict,
a change in the structure of the system, the withdrawal of a major ally
or patron, or a dramatic change in its international orientation) that
forces the sides to reconsider the cost/benefit of effective conflict
reduction versus that of conflict resolution. Such external events usually
help to legitimize the elite in power and to reinforce a prevailing
set of new ideas (Stein, 1994). (7) An energetic and powerful third
party induces or coerces the parties to settle the conflict.
In essence, the third party's role in the complex or strategic learning
process is to create the perception among the parties that the moment
is, indeed, ripe for conflict resolution and, at the same time to convince
them that certain possible solutions are preferable to the existing
situation. In other words, the third party has to generate complex or
strategic learning by altering the preference structure of the parties
(Mandell and Tomlin, 1991). The latter need to realize that the stabilization
of their security relationships is not enough to attain even part of
their political goals in the conflict, whereas conflict resolution has
the potential to do so; moreover, without progress toward resolution
the conflict may revert to its violent stage.
The third party also may alter the nature of compensation to make conflict
resolution more attractive, such as by substantial financial and military
aid. By committing itself to guarantee compliance with all agreements
reached between the sides and by assenting to be a signatory to agreements,
the third party makes the shift toward resolution less costly (Mandell
and Tomlin, 1991).
From Adaptation to Learning
For effective deescalation and eventual resolution of
a protracted conflict, the sides must pass from the unmanageable stage
of the conflict to adaptation, simple or tactical learning, and then
to complex or strategic learning. The three processes may occur sequentially
or out of sequence; nor do the parties necessarily pass through all
of them (though, as observed below, simple or tactical learning may
be a necessary condition for complex or strategic learning). There is
also, in a protracted conflict, a high potential for regression to former
Such factors as changes in the balance of power, destabilizing domestic
forces, or changes in the perception of interests may cause regression
to a less advanced stage. Any regression may result in the preference
of conflict reduction to resolution, the preference of war to reduction,
or a failure to prevent a war. Generally when a regression occurs, the
parties fail to shift to institutionalization and find themselves again
in a regulation situation that precedes adaptation. A failure in complex
or strategic learning does not necessarily mean a reversion to simple
or tactical learning or even to adaptation; the reversion may be more
drastic. Concern about regression may restrain the sides from undertaking
initiatives that will endanger the positive shifts in a conflict.
Whereas the emergence of adaptation and simple or tactical learning
may result from repeated failure in war or an indecisive war, the emergence
of complex or strategic learning may result mainly from past success.
Effective simple or tactical learning may encourage the emergence of
complex or strategic learning. Adaptation and simple or tactical learning
aim to avoid unilateral or mutual damage; complex or strategic learning
also aims to achieve mutual gains.
Since complex or strategic learning demands far-reaching change in decisionmakers'
attitudes, beliefs, and goals, the common assumption is that it is a
rare phenomenon, whereas adaptation is more common. Although actors
tend to adjust their policies in response to repeated failure so as
to avoid damage or to match means and goals more effectively, far-reaching
redefinition of the basic nature of a conflict, or of the national interest,
is indeed extremely rare. Haas (1991), for example, maintains that learning
occurs only when conditions of perceived urgency, feasibility, and desirability
of the necessary change converge. Similarly, Weber (1991) argues that
a "critical learning period" is required for a significant
change to take place.
The shift of a conflict toward resolution indeed requires a perception
of urgency, feasibility, and desirability by the sides. The parties
should perceive resolution as crucial to the national interest and its
feasibility as very high. Simple or tactical learning may, via institutionalization
of the conflict, provide a critical learning period.
Complex or strategic learning as an outcome of a linear development
in a conflict is assumed to secure the shift toward resolution. But
learning is also important in internalizing the norm that peace is better
than war, not only because it provides some goods that war cannot provide
and because war is too risky, but because war and violence are not appropriate
means for resolving conflicts. The internalization of that norm is crucial
for stabilizing peace agreements. Although ideally complex or strategic
learning will ensure peaceful change, it need not subordinate all differences
in values, culture, and identity. Compatibility of interests, of attitudes
and beliefs, does not entail compatibility of political orientation
and political institutions.
The Institutionalization of Learning
Given the realities of a protracted conflict, it is reasonable
to assume that complex or strategic learning (defined as changes in
core attitudes, beliefs, and goals) is a necessary condition for conflict
resolution. Nevertheless, when we use learning as the main independent
variable to explain significant change in a protracted conflict, there
is a danger, as Breslauer (1991: 843-845) notes, of inadequate appreciation
of the political bases of policymaking in a conflict, and overestimation
of the importance of learning in how a conflict develops, as opposed
to explanations that stress the origins of a conflict in deeper, objective
conditions that constrain or impel actors to undertake different policies.
Although objective conditions, both external and internal, must not
be ignored, learning by individuals and by the leadership in general
plays an important role in understanding those conditions and translating
them into concrete policies that effectuate change in a conflict. Indeed,
greater understanding of the conflict environment (learning what) is
distinct from greater willingness to take steps toward conflict resolution
(learning how). Even though personal, economic, or political constraints
may prevent implementation of the preferred policies based on what leaders
have learned, it is difficult to suppose that without such learning
(i.e., change in beliefs) leaders can undertake dramatic changes. Learning
is, therefore, a necessary condition for contemplating a change in a
conflict, but insufficient for implementing a policy of change.
The question, therefore, is how an individual's learning is transformed
into foreign policy initiatives that dramatically change a conflict.
As Stein (1994: 180) points out, "institutional and political processes
must intervene to build the political support to transform individual
learning into changes in foreign policy behavior.
At a minimum,
learning must be institutionalized in the central political agencies,
a dominant political coalition must be committed to the new representations
of problems, and new policies must be created". Institutionalization
of learning, in turn, requires systematic analysis of such political
and institutional variables as type of regime, type of leadership, leadership
skills, coalition building, legitimacy for peacemaking, and so on.
However, for transformation of learning into effective change in a protracted
conflict, institutionalization of learning in only one party is insufficient.
Learning in one side may trigger learning in the other side; in any
case, only mutual learning has the potential to change the conflict.
Learning in one side that is not recognized as such by the other side
may even prevent learning by that side. Therefore, each side needs to
signal to the other via positive declarations or actions that its learning
is sincere and not a manipulative act to gain domestic or external support.
A third party may also be helpful in convincing both sides that learning
is taking place.
The Rate and Scope of Learning in Different Dyadic Conflicts
Learning in each dyadic conflict may develop separately,
independently, and differently from other dyadic conflicts in the same
conflict system, such as the Arab-Israeli framework. The Egyptian-Israeli
conflict, for example, was resolved long before the beginning of the
resolution process of the other dyadic conflicts in the system. The
assumption is that different rates and scopes of learning in each dyadic
conflict influence the shifts in each conflict toward resolution (the
rate of learning refers to its extension and scope refers to its depth).
What determines the rate and scope of learning in each dyadic conflict?
The following variables may be important: type of conflict; issues in
the conflict; history of violent interaction; mutual trust or mistrust;
the sides' interests in the conflict; hurting stalemate; balance of
power; type of leadership; domestic environment; external environment;
and existence of a third party.
The type of conflict relates to the kinds of actors who participate
in the conflict. In a conflict in which the actors are states, the rate
and scope of learning may be faster and deeper than in conflicts where
the actors are not states, or where one is a state and one is not. The
issues at stake in the conflict refer to its substance together with
its territorial, security, economic, political, and ideological dimensions.
The rate and scope of learning in a territorial or security conflict
are usually slower than in an economic or political conflict, because
of the difficulty of changing attitudes and beliefs on issues perceived
as the most momentous by the parties. Moreover, questions of deception
and uncertainty are more critical in this kind of conflict.
The violent history of a conflict may induce bitterness and diminish
the rate and scope of learning. Conflict reduction that eliminates or
decreases violence may be required to enhance confidence and encourage
greater learning. Mutual mistrust is also an obstacle to learning; in
such cases, trust between the sides must be strengthened if the learning
process is to be improved. The more vital the sides' interests in the
conflict, the greater their difficulty in making painful concessions;
so the rate and scope of learning tend to be low.
A hurting stalemate may induce faster and deeper learning so as to ease
the parties' difficult situation. However, this kind of situation may
impel the sides only toward simple or tactical learning, which is sufficient
only for conflict reduction. In terms of balance of power, when the
parties are relatively equal they will be more interested in speeding
up the learning process, mainly because unilateral attempts to attain
their objectives are less likely to succeed. Both rivals realize that
not only this kind of balance of power does not enable them to wipe
out the other side by force but any employment of force will be costly
and risky. Moreover, a stable balance of power may serve better security
The type of leadership most likely to accelerate and deepen the rate
and scope of learning is a leadership that, for reasons of accountability,
has the utmost interest in reducing or resolving the conflict. Accountable
leaders are those who believe that they are obligated to their people
and to history to reduce or resolve a conflict. Such leaders will try
to institutionalize their learning, so that ruling and competitive elites,
pressure groups, and the public itself will adopt their learning and
become oriented to conflict resolution.
The domestic environment also affects the rate and scope of learning.
Domestic factors are broadly defined to include the basic political
conditions, such as the political system and processes. The political
system includes both the type of regime and the political actors who
play a role in formulating and implementing foreign policy. When domestic
actors are concerned about a conflict's negative effects on the state,
the society, and their own interests, the rate and scope of learning
will be greater than in a case where they perceive the conflict as serving
their interests. A strong, motivated leadership may manipulate a hurting
situation to deepen the learning among domestic actors.
The external environment may indirectly influence the rate and scope
of learning. A movement toward peace in the regional or global system,
or successful cases of conflict resolution in different areas, may encourage
further progress toward learning. An energetic third party that is willing
and able to help change the conflict may encourage a greater rate and
scope of learning by the parties.
Complex or strategic learning in one of the dyadic conflicts in a multiparty
conflict system may develop independently and separately from the other
conflicts, because of different influences of the variables surveyed.
Nevertheless, such a learning process, especially if its outcomes are
successful, may spill over to the other conflicts in the system. But
because of different influences of the relevant variables, the parties
in the other conflicts may face different difficulties in advancing
This study maintains that shifting from war to peace
can be explained by processes of adaptation and learning. The latter
are cognitive processes whereby decisionmakers perceive their conflict
environments differently and decide to change their policies toward
conflict. The use of adaptation and learning as explanatory variables
does not ignore the "objective" conditions of the conflict,
which may also bring about changes; the study has focused on the perceptual
consideration of these conditions by the decisionmakers. The assumption
is that leaders are primarily responsible for shifts in a conflict,
and that shifts are made only following a cognitive process. Adaptation
is a change in behavior that results from observation and interpretation
of experience in a conflict. Adaptation stems from failure to achieve
one's aims in the conflict, which mainly means failure in a war. Adaptation
does not involve change of attitudes, beliefs, and values; it is primarily
an attempt to employ means and strategies in the conflict more effectively,
in the hope that better understanding of constraints may lead to better
Adaptation may lead to a more realistic understanding of the conflict
in general, and this may lead to different management of the conflict.
Consideration of the limitations of military means, because of limited
capabilities or domestic and external constraints, may lead the parties
to use violence as a more restricted, political means. Limited war and
its regulation may then be the net result of the adaptation process.
Ineffective limited war may lead the sides to a new observation and
interpretation of experience, which may lead in turn to simple or tactical
learning; the latter does entail a change of attitudes. Simple or tactical
learning may lead to a dramatic change in the conflict. Although the
sides are not yet ripe for conflict resolution, they realize that war,
because of its limited benefits and high costs, cannot accomplish their
objectives; hence their immediate aim is to prevent war which means
they must cooperate militarily.
Simple or tactical learning may lead to the institutionalization of
the conflict, which takes the form of security regimes that may restructure
the security relationship between the sides. Simple or tactical learning
may be a necessary condition for the emergence of complex or strategic
Complex or strategic learning entails a change of beliefs and is a necessary,
though not sufficient, condition for shifting the conflict from reduction
to resolution. Individual learning seems to be necessary but not sufficient
for conflict resolution, especially in democratic states where leaders
need to convince others in the political echelon and in the society
at large before they can translate this learning into operational terms.
In other words, learning must be institutionalized.
The institutionalization of learning is necessary for a transformation
of national interests and values that will enable peacemaking. The rate
and scope of learning in a conflict may explain why different conflicts
move differently toward conflict resolution.
1. I have extended Levy's schema from three to four stages.
2. I have borrowed the terms simple and complex learning from Nye (1987,
p. 380), while elaborating them differently.
3. This definition of simple or tactical learning differs from that
suggested by Nye (1987, p. 130), who defines it as adapting the means
"without altering deeper goals in the end-means chain".
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