Please note: currently TUP does not take any new orders.
A Theory Of Conflict
ISBN: 978-82-300-0556-9
Year: 2010

Price: 25 €
(+ 10 € postage)

A Theory Of Conflict

Overcoming Direct Violence

In conflict theory there is a mainstream narrative I:

  • Problem: there are evil forces out there waiting for their time
  • When time comes their evil is articulated as violence
  • Remedy: be strong enough to deter evil and to crush it if needed
  • If strong enough there is a gift: security

This book challenges that and argues an alternative narrative II:

  • Problem: there is a difficult unresolved conflict out there
  • Conflicts lead to frustration leading to aggression-violence
  • Remedy: conflict resolution with empathy-nonviolence-creativity
  • If acceptable-sustainable-equitable enough there is a gift: peace

About the author:
Johan Galtung, born 1930 in Oslo, Norway, lives in Spain, France, Japan and the USA, mainly engaged in mediation and research. He has so far published about 150 books and over 1500 articles on peace and related issues. 40 of his books have been translated into 33 languages, for a total of 134 book translation. He founded TRANSCEND: A Peace Development Environment Network in 1993 and was founding rector of Transcend Peace University 2003-2007 and again from 2011 (see


Johan Galtung

A Theory of Conflict:
Overcoming Direct Violence

Table of Contents

Preface 7

Dedication 10

Introduction 12

Prologue: Conflict and Direct Violence:
Terrorism vs State Terrorism:
Why, How, and Why so Difficult? 13

1. What Is in a Word: Conflict as Challenge 24
2. A Theory of Conflict: Polarization, Energy, Entropy 33
3. Conflict Dimensions 43
4. Conflict Negations 47
5. Conflict Complexity: Simple, Complex and Structural 51

6. Introducing Simple Conflicts 60
7. The TRANSCEND Simple Conflict Transformation
Approach 72
8. A Comparison With Other Conflict Transformation
Approaches 93
9. A Comparison With the Security Approaches 99
10. And When It Does Not Work? 105

11. Introducing Complex Conflicts 116
12. The TRANSCEND Complex Conflict Transformation
Approach 125
13. Simplification, Complexification, Reductionism,
and [3,3] 139
14. Isomorphisms: Similarities, Self-similarities, Symmetries 148
15. And When It Does Not Work? 155
16. Introducing Structural Conflicts 158
17. The TRANSCEND Structural Conflict Transformation
Approach 163
18. Contradictions and Life-Cycles 170
19. An Early Warning to Early Warners 180
20. And When It Does Not Work? 186

21. Micro Conflicts: Intra-Personal, Inter-Personal 190
22. Meso Conflicts: Social Fault-Lines 204
23. Macro Conflicts: State and Nation Fault-Lines 209
24. Mega Conflicts: Region and Civilization Fault-Lines 223
25. Meta Conflicts: The Real World in All Spaces 229

Epilogue: Conflict Transformation as a Way of Life 236

Appendix 1: Conflict Transformation Indicators 239

Appendix 2: Bourdieu, Foucault, Habermas on Conflict 241

Literature 259

Notes 265

Index 302


Chapter 9 - A Comparison With the Security Approaches

The Mainstream Security Approach is based on:
  • An Evil Party, with strong capability and evil intention;
  • A Clear and Present Danger of Violence, real or potential;
  • Strength to deter or defeat the evil party, in turn producing
  • Security, which is the best approach to "peace".
The approach works through deterrence-crushing of evil.

And then the present Peace Approach, also based on four ideas:
  • A Conflict, which has not been resolved-transformed;
  • A Danger of Violence to "settle the conflict once and for all";
  • Conflict Transformation empathic-creative-nonviolent producing
  • Peace, which is the best approach to "security".
    • The approach works through acceptable-sustainable solutions.
      The security approach presupposes superior strength (of whatever kind, Sun Tzu or Clausewitz), implying inequality, superiority. The peace approach presupposes sustainable conflict outcomes acceptable to all parties, implying equality, also in the process. They are worst and best case approaches. The security approach is self-fulfilling if Other does the same, meaning war, and the peace approach is Self-denying, meaning empty, or a switch to the security approach if Other does not.
      At best security is self-denying and peace self-fulfilling; both conditioned by the structural-cultural context.
      What might favor a preference for the security approach?
      ï‚· A deep culture of Dualism-Manicheism-Armageddon, a hard reading of the abrahamic religions. The security approach is a secular version of Good-God-Christ vs Evil-Satan-Antichrist, with war as final arbiter, Judgment Day.
      ï‚· Construction of Other as evil with no legitimate goal, driven by greed-envy, with no grievances to negotiate or mediate, inviting extermination-crushing, containment or conversion.
      ï‚· The absence of "diversity with equality" as category, A vertical social code projected on gender, generation, race, class-caste, nation, territory, excludes the combination "different, yet equal", different meaning unequal.
      ï‚· A vested topdog interest in maintaining a status quo of inequality; maybe an underdog interest in overturning it.
      ï‚· A preference for structures of inequality; a reading of social order with such expressions as "dangerous classes" or "dangerous genders-generations-races-nations-territories" updating evil-Satan.
      ï‚· Monopoly on the "ultima ratio regis/regum", concentrating means of coercion in the state or communities of states--like NATO, EU, UN--defined through their monopoly on force to uphold inner "law and order" and deter-crush outer threats to security.
      ï‚· "To He Who Has a Hammer the World Looks Like a Nail", making the security machinery self-reinforcing with police spying and arresting, with covert and overt operations to preempt, extra-judicial execution, and overwhelming force to deter and defeat.
      And what might favor a preference for the peace approach?
       A deep culture of unity of human beings, soft readings of abrahamic religions, mainstream readings of hinduism-buddhism-daoism and others, like the African ubuntu or women focused on compassion; and ideologies like liberté, egalité, fraternité. There is no Armageddon as final arbiter, but the ever-lasting effort of human beings to transcend conflicts.
      ï‚· "There is that of God in everybody", meaning that however violent and repulsive the party, there are always legitimate goals that can be identified through mutual inquiry, dialogue, direct or via mediators.
      ï‚· Diversity as a source of mutual enrichment, presupposing curiosity, respect for mutual exploration, dialogue, learning. Diversity with inequality is mutual impoverishment, and so is equality with uniformity. Diversity with equality spells peace.
      ï‚· Vested middledog interests in neither top- nor underdog aggression.
      ï‚· A preference for a structure of equality, which locates "peace" to the left on the political spectrum, and "security" to the right. Peace is an equality-oriented, even revolutionary, proposition. Democracy and human rights are great equalizers, making reciprocity a general norm: if you want peace, then give to others what you want for yourself, if they also want it.
      ï‚· A culture and practice of nonviolent countervailing power, based on strong identity, high self-reliance, much courage and fearlessness, to counter brainwashing, bribery and threats. Power-over-self is a key part of nonviolent power-over-others.
      ï‚· A culture and practice of conflict transformation as healthy life styles for everybody to emulate by identifying legitimate goals in all parties, bridging creatively contradictions between the goals, building peace; preferably by the parties themselves.
      There is an element of paranoia in the security and of naivete in the peace approach. The personalities of the leaders may matter.i
      The peace argument against the security approach is strong: a bandage over a festering wound. Conflict formations with incompatible goals must be transformed into peace formations by bridging legitimate goals lest untransformed conflicts reproduce violence, sooner or later, leading to spirals of violence.
      But the security argument against the peace approach is also strong: parties are not only driven by legitimate grievances but also by illegitimate greed, coveting the property of others, or speculating with their resources. They must be stopped lest they destroy us. After "peaceful conflict transformation" the greedy may get at everybody, making neither security, nor peace.
      This conflict between security and peace can be transcended, however, by soft peacekeeping; by soft strength, with mediation:
      ï‚· peacekeepers basically with defensive hand weapons;
      ï‚· also trained in police methods, nonviolence and mediation;
      ï‚· with at least 50% women with adequate peace culture; and
      ï‚· very large numbers, a blue carpet, not only blue helmets-caps.
      Actually, there are moves in this direction today. Thus, with women in peacekeeping forces men "tend to behave".ii
      Above the tendency by some states to use an incomplete conflict analysis was explored. When combined with a tendency toward security approaches, how would state action tend to differ from the TRANSCEND approach in Chapter [7]?
      States are, indeed, no strangers to conflict, often referred to as "disputes", even "situations". Such words may soften encounters, but also open for distorted conflict analysis. Nor are they strangers to mediation by bringing parties to the table to negotiate and search for compromises. The TRANSCEND approach is based on mediators meeting the parties one-on-one searching for new realities that would accommodate conflict transformation. Only then comes the Table.
      States are not triggered into action by conflict but violence, by the first stone thrown, by the first shot fired in anger. The anger may have been observed for a long time and they know that Step 7 may get out of hand and lead to Steps 8 and 9 (Table 10).
      The remedies are military intervention as second party, or as outside "third" party, to stop the violence. Depolarization then comes up front, bringing the parties together around a negotiation table, presumably with no anger, for a settlement which, with third party military victory, may be a dictate rather than a compromise. With that the conflict is closed.
      In this model of state system peace processes only four of the nine steps are used, in the opposite order: 7-6-5-4; logical as from their angle violence (7), not conflict (4), is the problem. Military intervention, ceasefire and peace-keeping are followed by depolarization at the top, attention to anger control, and settlement, with monitoring and review conferences.
      Left out are Step 8, trauma and conciliation, Step 9, creation of virtuous peace cycles, and Steps 1-2-3. Prognosis: negative.
      Overview of omissions when using only the security approach:
      ï‚· Leaving out underlying conflicts, focusing only on violence, looking unmotivated, irrational, autistic, fundamentalist.
      Example: "Terrorism" as explored in Chalmers Johnson's Blowback.
      ï‚· Confusing conflict arena with conflict formation of all the parties with a stake in the outcome.
      Example: Ulster focus on violent parties, not on 85% moderates.
      ï‚· DUALISM, reducing the number of parties to 2, and issues to 1 disregarding parties posing as mediators and underlying issues.
      Example: missing Germany as major party in Yugoslavia and class and gender as major issues, missing USA in Israel-Palestine.
      ï‚· MANICHEISM, casting one party as evil and the other as good, (re)enforcing polarization, denying "evil" a voice.
      Example: North Korea-Serbia-Iraq-Iran-Afghanistan-Al Qaeda.
      ï‚· ARMAGEDDON, presenting military intervention as the only solution, omitting alternatives.
      Example: NATO war against Serbia in Kosovo, denying any alternative.
      ï‚· Disregarding structural and cultural conflict and violence, reporting only the direct violence.
      Example: 125,000+ dying daily from hunger and curable diseases.
      ï‚· Omitting the bereaved, easily 10 per victim, and their sentiments of revenge and revanche, fueling spirals of violence.
      Example: 100,000 killed in Iraq may mean 1 million revengers.
      ï‚· Failing to explore causes of protraction and escalation, like war journalism keeping violence going by normalizing it.
      Example: arms supply to the parties during ceasefires.
      ï‚· Failing to explore the goals of intervening parties, how big powers move in when a system is shaken by conflict and violence, picking up morsels, getting footholds like bases and contracts.
      Example: the "international community" in Yugoslavia, missing Camp Bondsteel story and German de facto protectorate policy.
      ï‚· Failing to explore peace proposals and nonviolent action.
      Example: missing Pérez de Cuéllar's proposal December 1991 for the Yugoslavia conflict; downplaying citizen action DDR 1989.
      ï‚· Confusing ceasefire and meeting at the table with peace, with exaggerated expectations when warring parties meet; standard government agendas with ceasefire->talks->negotiation->peace.
      Example: Afghanistan, with no regard to Taliban peace ideas.
      ï‚· Leaving out reconciliation, as opposed to pacification.
      Example: with no solution in Iraq, only process, the seeds of renewed violence are intact, and reconciliation is meaningless.
      There is learning so some points may gradually be waning, but largely an unintelligent approach promoting perpetual violence.
      Leaving mediation, there are also four logical flaws which security experts are aware of, but have not handled adequately.
      First, the approach is, as mentioned, not universalizable. The Kant criterion, always act in such a way that the maxim of your action can serve as a universal law, is not met. One party may see its security enhanced by an attack in Hindukush. But if people in Hindukush are convinced that their security is enhanced by attacking WTC and the Pentagon on 9/11 2001, the stage is set for a major war. Security is seen as a one way, not a two way street, hoping that the other side does not embrace the security discourse, but the peace discourse. And that approach is not only universalizable, but depends on that.
      Second, the focus on strength is a focus on destructive, killing and demolition, capacity, D. Up against that capacity comes the level of invulnerability, I, known theoretically, but difficult to operationalize. The balance is not in D1 vs D2, but in D1-I2 vs D2-I1, all of them multi-dimensional, hence complex. A modern society is generally more vulnerable than a traditional which is more vulnerable than a primitive, one reason why USA did not beat a Viêt Nam that did not even exploit the enormous vulnerability of the USA (9/11 did). So-called "asymmetric conflict" is so not because D1>>D2, but rather because I2>>I1.
      Third, the word "balance" is ambiguous: does it stand for mechanical equality or book-keeping superiority? If both go for superiority there will be arms race; if only one no deterrence. We are talking about perceptions, not about facts: if both see the other as superior deterrence may work, based on a mistake. MAD, mutual assured destruction, very risky, may also work. Can a security approach be based on either a mistake, or potential genocide? Did it get out hand with the post-feudal doctrines of Jomini, Mahan, Clausewitz got out of hand?iii
      Using offensive-defensive twice we get four basic doctrines:
      DD: Defensive defensive fighting on Self's territory as second strike
      OD: Offensive defensive fighting on Other's territory as second strike
      DO: Defensive offensive pre-emptive-preventive attack as first strike
      OO: Offensive offensive attack to attack, aggression, as first strike
      DD, the Swiss 1971 doctrine--all weapons and platforms have too limited mobility to be used offensively abroad--is universalizable. If arms are long distance they will provoke even if the intent is DD, as observed capability weighs more than declared intent. The arms and deployment pattern for DO will be so similar to OO that no paranoia is needed to suspect that OO is the doctrine to be enacted. The moment there are long range weapons-carriers there is provocation. Only DD with corresponding, credible, capacities is universalizable.
      Conclusion: most combinations are unstable and-or provocative.
      Most stable and universalizable is the peace approach, possibly combined with high invulnerability and defensive defense. Most unstable and not universalizable is the security approach, combined with vulnerability and offensive offense. "Security for peace" is an oxymoron and may be a cover for the real intention: keeping the option of aggression intact, like in general Anglo-American-Israeli postures.
      Much of this flows from how conflict has been conceptualized. The mainstream security approach uses A for Self and B for Other, intent for Self and capability for Other, worst case analysis for Other and best case for Self; and all of that at the expense of the forgotten C. That approach is contagious. Other will tend to do the same, and the crisis is there with "capabilities" doing their dirty jobs, protected by best case intentions on both sides. Which is why the peace discourse focuses on C, sometimes maybe at the expense of A and B; a mistake to be avoided. Being universalizable that is the discourse carried by this book.
      However, there could be some other basis for the undeniable universality it enjoys: business, profit, wealth. Capability can draw on public funds for private benefit, worth some intention hypocrisy. Better win than lose, but better lose than lose war as an institution.

© 2024 TRANSCEND International