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En librairie

Transformation de conflit, de Karine Gatelier, Claske Dijkema et Herrick Mouafo

Aux Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer (ECLM)


Brussels, novembre 2007

Actors and tactics of conflict interventions (civilian intervention and nonviolent intervention)

Looking at who intervenes in a conflict and approaches they can take


There are a multitude of possible interveners. The well-established differentiation between governments on the one side and all the others (to be found under track 2 diplomacy) does not give an adequate picture of what is actually going on in conflict transformation by external parties(1). Louise Diamond and Ambassador John McDonald have therefore introduced the concept of Multi-track Diplomacy which distinguishes 9 tracks: governmental; professional conflict resolution; business; private citizen; research, training and education; activism; religious; funding; and public opinion. Building on their concept, I would like to propose that there are two main types of actors with several subtypes each:

a. States/governments with two broad categories:

  • individual states

  • international organisations and interest-based coalitions (UN and its bodies and regional organisations, e.g. the OSCE or the OAS, other regional governmental organisations; World bank, NATO etc (2).

b. Non-state actors with four broad categories(3):

  • NGOs(4), social movements(5) , and

  • political parties(6)

  • religious bodies(7).

  • corporate sector (business)(8)

  • media(9)

This is an ideal picture; in reality many non-state actors have very clear connections and even dependencies to the state in which they live and work. In the table below, this relationship is only marked for two of them (media and parties) because the relationship is especially remarkable.

Table 1.5 See Associated Documents


It is probably impossible to draw up a complete list of means and tactics of conflict intervention (10)(such as attempted by Gene Sharp)(11) for the broad field of nonviolent action(12). Sharp distinguishes psychological, physical, social, economic and political tactics(13) .

Civil Intervention and nonviolent intervention

If the main criteria which distinguishes different forms of conflict intervention is whether direct deadly violence is being used or not, then the distinction between military and civil interventions becomes meaningful.

Consequently civil interventions are all those interventions which are being carried out by civilians (in opposition to military personnel), and which refrain from the use of personal deadly violence(14).

But there is another way to distinguish between conflict interventions: those using coercive means and those that do not(15) . There are coercive means (16)included in the category of civil interventions, e.g. economic sanctions or mediation with muscle. Some of them might actually cause a high rate of casualties - the economic sanctions against Iraq have, according to official figures by the UN, cost the lives of almost 600,000 children alone between 1991 and 1996, which is an outcome as bad or worse than those of many military actions (17).

Therefore I agree with those authors(18) who find it necessary to distinguish between civil interventions and nonviolent interventions, the latter being a sub-category of the first. I would like to propose(19) the following definition of nonviolent intervention:

Conflict intervention can be called nonviolent, when :

  • 1. the objective is conflict transformation, and the when the intervener, (either as a non-partisan external party taking the interests of all conflict parties into consideration, or as a partisan party supporting one side in the conflict), engages in conflict transformation and/or human rights and justice, and when

  • 2. there is no use of direct or indirect deadly violence (20).

This definition has two consequences that might be controversial:

  • First, it is nonviolent intervention may take place either at home of the interveners or at the home of those people where the conflict takes place.

  • Second, nonviolent intervention may be partisan (21). This topic has already been touched upon in the paragraph on nonviolent conflict escalation above. The argument goes like this: If there is a strong imbalance of power between the parties in conflict, (perhaps even to the degree that structural violence is so high that the conflict is latent and the underdog hasn’t even started to organise himself), then nonviolent intervention must mean strengthening the underdog. This is not a new argument. Johan Galtung made it early in the 1980s (22). But still in the bulk of the literature on conflict intervention the non-partisan character is automatically, and by definition, assumed.

Table 1.6 See Associated Documents


  • (1) : I prefer the term ‘external party’ to ‘third party’ because, as Galtung has pointed out, there are usually more then two parties to a conflict. (Galtung 1994)

  • (2) : Their commitment varies quite a lot. One of the most powerful regional organisation, the European Union, is concentrating primarily on building up its own military capacities. A Rapid Reaction Force of 50 to 60 thousand soldiers who can be deployed within 60 days is meant to be in place by 2003. The EU announced that it wanted to develop civil instruments of crisis prevention parallel with this, but there is very little co-ordination between the single member states (some of them are doing quite a lot on conflict resolution), as well as an imbalance in the distribution of funds, and the development of the usual EU bureaucracy. See Debiel/Fischer 2000, Schweitzer 2000

  • (3) : Funders (Track 8) do not easily fit into this categorisation because they might be governments, NGOs or business. Therefore I omitted them in spite of the doubtless importance they have in conflict resolution work.

  • (4) : Under NGOs, I have include the groups distinguished by Diamond/McDonald in their original Multi-Track Diplomacy concept from 1993: professional conflict proponents (track 2), private citizens (track 4), research/training/education (track 5)

  • (5) : Called ‘activism’ (track 6) in the Multi-Track approach.

  • (6) : Weiss considers political parties as members of civil society (Weiss 99:227). This might be typical for the Western understanding of civil society. Civil society is a term that comes from Eastern Europe (Konrad, Havel and others), and they certainly excluded political parties as they knew them, considering them part of the state system. To discuss the status of parties in the Western democratic system would detract too much from the issue here; therefore, I would just like to mark the role of parties as a contentious issue. A dotted line marks this connection in the table above.

  • (7) : Track 7. Of course, it may be argued that religious communities are part of civil society (see Weiss 99:207); however, in many countries they are a power on their own, and often have close links to the government that I think it better to make them a category of their own, but still marking them (in the diagram below) as part of civil society.

  • (8) : Track 3.

  • (9) : Track 9. Media in many countries belong mainly or exclusively the State. Therefore a dotted line describes the connection between media and state in the table above.

  • (10) : I once made an attempt (Schweitzer 1998 a) but the list of about 70 items presented there does not properly distinguish between means (e.g. economic sanctions) and strategies (e.g. “peace enforcement”).

  • (11) : Sharp 1973

  • (12) : Sharp distinguishes three types of methods of nonviolent action: methods of protest and persuasion, methods of social, economic and political non-cooperation and methods of nonviolent intervention. By intervention he means those tactics which target the opponent directly where he works, e.g. by using go-ins, sit-ins or strikes. (Sharp 1973). Theodor Ebert (1981 b:37) has elaborated on these putting them in a table of three escalation stages: stage of escalation subversive action constructive action

    • 1/ protest functional demonstrations

    • 2/ legal non-cooperation legal innovation of roles

    • 3/ civil disobedience civil usurpation

  • (13) : Sharp 1973:371, 416

  • (14) Muller 1995, Muller 1999, Ropers 1995 and others. Muller defines civil intervention as follows: “an un-armed intervention on the territory of a local conflict, by external missions, mandated by an inter-governmental, governmental or non-governmental organisation, coming to accomplish activities of observation, information, interpositioning, mediation and cooperation with the goal of preventing or stopping violence, to monitor respect of human rights, further the values of democracy and civil society, and to create conditions for a political solution of the conflict which acknowledges and guarantees the fundamental rights of each party present, and allows them to define the rules of a peaceful co-existence.” (Muller 1999:p5, translated by CS. This is also one sentence in the original.) Some other authors restrict the term of ‘civil intervention’ to those interventions being carried out by NGOs (e.g. Müller-Büttner 1998)

  • (15) : Lewer/Ramsbotham 1993, Burrowes 2000:45f

  • (16) : e.g. Cremer 1995 and Weiss 1996:61

  • (17) : Skidelsky/Mortimer 1996:173

  • (18) : Müller/Büttner write: “Nonviolent interventions do not wish to make use of a forceful ‘power intervention’ to separate the conflict parties.” (1998:25). Burrowes writes that nonviolent intervention should be accorded a separate category. He defines nonviolent intervention as follows: “Nonviolent intervention is action that is carried out, or has impact, across a national border, 2. by grassroots activists, 3. with the aim of preventing or halting violence, or facilitating social change for the benefit of ordinary people or the environment, 4. by applying the principles of nonviolence.” (2000:50). I did not include his second criteria in my intervention.

  • (19) : First in Schweitzer 1998 b

  • (20) : See the well-known distinction made by Johan Galtung of the different kinds of violence: Galtung 1996:30 f. Speaking of “indirect” violence I am mainly thinking of possible consequences of embargoes which usually are counted as “civil” means but which, as the case of the embargo against Iraq has shown, may cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

  • (21) see Burrowes 2000. This concept derives from George Lakey’s definition of Third Party Nonviolent Intervention (TPNI). Lakey distinguishes nonviolent action for change, for defence and TPNI, the latter being a nonpartisan use of nonviolent struggle with the intention of reducing the level of violence.

  • (22) Galtung 1982: 59