This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Arai, T. (2022). Functional coexistence in intractable conflict: A decades-long view of conflict intervention. Peace & Change, 47(2), 118–151. https://doi.org/10.1111/pech.12523
In the context of intractable conflict:
- A decades-long process of conflict intervention reveals that conditions that appear to be unchangeable can change over time, even in conflicts with no resolution in sight and where no mutual recognition exists between parties.
- Parties and intervenors need to stay engaged in conflicts that cannot be resolved, adopt a comprehensive approach to intervention, and remain patient while consistently looking for tangible, practical steps to manage the ongoing state of nonresolution.
- In a decades-long approach to resolving conflicts, both conflict parties and intervenors should aim to understand the history of the conflict and the potential for change.
- In a decades-long approach to resolving conflicts, being strategic about systemic change means understanding that functional coexistence within and across societies in intractable conflict is most salient among top state leaders, whereas social divisions are less severe at the middle range and grassroots levels.
- In long-standing conflicts where both sides do not recognize each other but still manage to coexist, it is essential not to rush into finding a solution too soon.
- To adopt a decades-long perspective on conflict intervention, both conflict parties and those trying to help should find ways to thoughtfully combine various timeframes of change (short-term projects and actions; long-term processes and patterns) in their conflict resolution strategizing.
Key Insight for Informing Practice
In implementing interventions, peace advocates should address historical injustices, promote gender and racial equality, and create inclusive spaces where all parties value the voices of different genders and historically excluded communities—beyond shallow inclusivity—as genuinely crucial to the peace process. They should actively consider how gender and racial inequalities intersect with functional coexistence strategies.
For several decades, the field of peace and conflict studies has provided valuable knowledge for addressing and resolving conflicts between individuals, groups, organizations, or nations using nonviolent methods. However, sometimes, the highest conflict resolution aspirations cannot be met, especially when historical adversaries refuse to recognize each other. In such cases, Tatsushi Arai argues, functional coexistence can be a practical strategy for managing intractable conflicts, thereby broadening the range of viable intervention methods.
is “a sustained negative peace which enables conflict parties and intermediaries to resist premature settlement and stay constructively engaged in an enduring state of nonresolution.” Negative peace is a condition in which there is an absence of direct violent conflict between the parties, but the underlying causes of the conflict remain unaddressed.
is “an enduring conflict that resists all forms of resolution attempts because of the nature of the issues, goals, identities, relationships, dynamics, social structures, and other drivers of conflict perpetuation.”
The author presents two case studies to examine the concept of functional coexistence: Taiwan-China relations and a divided Germany and Europe during the Cold War. Both case studies take a decades-long view of conflict intervention, examining dynamic conflict systems where functional coexistence evolved.
China and Taiwan have been in a state of conflict since the end of the Chinese Civil War, which lasted from 1927 to 1949. While the People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims Taiwan as part of its territory, Taiwan, having undergone a nation-building experience, claims independence and a distinct Taiwanese identity. The author highlights five elements of China-Taiwan relations that point to elastic boundaries of interaction despite mutual nonrecognition, such as cross-Strait tourist and business visits, cross-Strait civil society dialogues, semi-official exchanges, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, and the cross-Strait summit.
Germany during the Cold War provides another example of functional coexistence. While the Eastern and Western Blocs averted large-scale armed conflict in Europe, the two sides were locked in a military standoff. The factors that contributed to the materialization of mutual nonrecognition were West Germany refusing diplomatic ties with any state with diplomatic relations with East Germany and East Germany prohibiting its citizens from crossing the East-West German border. Five elastic boundaries exemplified functional coexistence in a divided Germany and Europe: the establishment of bilateral commercial missions, Warsaw Pact member states entering bilateral normalization negotiations with West Germany, East and West Germany’s accession to the United Nations, the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), and the evolution of the CSCE into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
In both cases, a decades-long (a generation or even longer) analysis of these conflicts reveals that conditions that appeared to be unchangeable can change over time, even in conflicts with no resolution in sight and where no mutual recognition exists between parties. This insight forms the foundation for examining shifting boundaries (acceptable behavior between conflict parties, which parties negotiate and adjust over time) as starting points for systemic change. The author presents four essential recommendations for the parties involved and those intervening to initiate systemic conflict resolution and bring about social change.
The first recommendation in a decades-long approach to resolving conflicts is to encourage the parties involved in the conflict and those intervening to understand the history of the conflict and the potential for change. This recommendation entails providing training and facilitating discussions to raise awareness and to identify opportunities and effective ways to intervene in the conflict.
Second, conflict parties and intervenors need to be strategic about systemic change when building historical awareness. This means understanding that functional coexistence within and across societies in intractable conflict is most salient among top state leaders, whereas social divisions are less severe at the middle range and grassroots levels.
Third, in long-standing conflicts where both sides do not recognize each other but still manage to coexist, it is essential not to rush into finding a solution too soon. Instead, it is critical to consistently look for tangible, practical steps to deal with the ongoing state of nonresolution.
Finally, to adopt a decades-long perspective on conflict intervention, both self-reflective conflict parties and those trying to help should find ways to thoughtfully combine various timeframes of change in their conflict resolution strategizing. A practical approach is to connect short-term actions and projects ranging from months to years with long-term conflict transformation processes and patterns spanning decades.
In conclusion, this article emphasizes the importance of taking a decades-long view when addressing conflicts marked by mutual nonrecognition. The case studies illustrate how limits in interaction between parties in intractable conflict can change over time. The key takeaways are that parties and intervenors need to stay engaged in conflicts that they cannot resolve, adopt a comprehensive approach to intervention, and remain patient while consistently looking for tangible, practical steps to manage the ongoing state of nonresolution.
In this article, Tatsushi Arai offers highly relevant, practical insight into how to manage intractable conflicts without violence. A significant and distinct contribution here is the acceptance of enduring nonresolution as a premise of intervention. Functional coexistence, as pointed out by Arai, is potentially relevant in cases such as Arab-Israeli relations, Saudi-Iranian relations, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, Cyprus, the divided Korea, Kashmir, Tamil-Sinhalese relations in Sri Lanka, Rohingya-Rakhine-Burman relations in Myanmar, the relationship between the Afghan Taliban regime and the United States, and U.S.-Cuba relations.
Arai’s four main recommendations provide an excellent basis for drawing practical implications related to these cases and beyond. We want to explore how a feminist and anti-racist sensibility can be integrated into the recommendations to account for conflicts defined by unequal power relations.
- Understanding conflict history and the potential for change:
This recommendation includes uncovering the experiences of different genders, individuals of diverse racial backgrounds, and historically excluded communities impacted by the conflict.
This approach involves critically examining how gender and race intersect with conflict dynamics, shedding light on the violence-producing systems and structural injustices that may lay at the root of the conflicts or sustain them. By adopting this perspective, we can identify opportunities for addressing the visible manifestations of the conflict and the underlying power imbalances, structural inequalities, biases, and prejudices.
- Adopting a strategic approach to systemic change
This approach scrutinizes how top-down power structures can perpetuate gender disparities and racial inequalities. It means acknowledging that such power dynamics can disproportionately affect those of marginalized genders and racial backgrounds.
By embracing this feminist and anti-racist perspective, we aim to bring about systemic change and dismantle structures that have historically disadvantaged particular segments of society. This approach ensures that our pursuit of functional coexistence prioritizes equity, inclusivity, and social justice.
- Not rushing into solutions too soon
In this context, it is vital to consider the unique experiences and perspectives of different genders, people of diverse racial backgrounds, and historically excluded communities affected by the conflict. Rushing into solutions may overlook the gendered and racial aspects of the situation. It is critical to ensure that these practical steps are sensitive to these groups’ specific needs and concerns, allowing their voices and experiences to guide the path toward a just and equitable resolution.
- Combining various timeframes of change
An inclusive approach recognizes that conflicts often impact women and other marginalized genders, individuals of diverse racial backgrounds, and historically excluded communities differently over short and long durations.
This means considering the immediate needs of these affected groups while also addressing the structural and systemic issues that may have historically perpetuated gender disparities and racial injustices.
In implementing interventions, peace advocates should address historical injustices, promote gender and racial equality, and create inclusive spaces where all parties value the voices of different genders and historically excluded communities—beyond shallow inclusivity—as genuinely crucial to the peace process. They should actively consider how gender and racial inequalities intersect with functional coexistence strategies. This, in turn, paves the way for a more equitable approach to conflict resolution. [PH]
What are some of the triggers that could disrupt functional coexistence and lead to violent conflict?
How can conflict parties and intervenors maintain patience and support for long-term approaches that recognize functional coexistence?
When is the right time to move from functional coexistence to active resolution efforts?
Examples that show the adoption of functional coexistence:
Arai, T. (2017, April 24). Conflict-sensitive repatriation. Conflict Trends 2017/1. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from https://www.accord.org.za/conflict-trends/conflict-sensitive-repatriation/
Gamaghelyan, P. (2022, September 23). What next for Armenia and Azerbaijan? LSE Europe Blog. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2022/09/23/what-next-for-armenia-and-azerbaijan/ [Note: This article predates the 2023 escalation in the Nagorno Karabakh region.]
Key Words: conflict resolution, conflict management, nonresolution, functional coexistence