Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Costing Latent Conflict

Carole Fotino headshot by Carole Fotino

Previous related articles:
Strategic Decision Making Program
Institutionalized, Inclusive Grievance Pathways (IIGPs)

Putting a number, a cost, to latent conflict over 1,5,10, and 20 year time frames and then including those numbers in the cost/ benefit analyses of today's decision making will help us to be able to readily see the option choice that actually is most profitable — monetarily or in security — versus the options that only appear profitable because real costs are not accurately modeled and represented.

Latent Conflict as a phenomenon is currently overlooked in setting policy, and in studies of security and international relations. Latent conflict can be created by policy implementation, by corporations, and in other ways. Once created, it can also become mechanized by the overlay of a second set of actions. Another turn the latent conflict can take once created, is that it can then be too easily co-opted by those with their own agendas, in the enlistment of footsoldiers for their, often violent, purposes.

Once the latent conflict becomes mechanized through policy or through co-option, the responses that follow include both war and terrorism. The decrease in security and profitability however, does not wait for the response nor is it dependent upon the type of response. The decrease in security and profitability occurred at the time of the original latent conflict. If there is a second set of actions or co-option occurring, the insecurity grows and again, does so simultaneously with the action and not with the response to the action.

In the private sector, results occur similarly and from the same phenomenon, but private sector examples and costs are addressed in the separate paper carrying the subtitle, Corporate Diplomacy and Establishing Norms of International Behavior.

The term latent conflict is not new to conflict scholars. However a definition of such is absent form the literature. A solid perusal of the work available to date turns up in fact, only a single article. What is new then is its usage as applied herein by this work. What is latent conflict then? Is it, as some have suggested, sort of a social license or to be resolved with stakeholder engagement? Is latent conflict, as others suggest, more akin to the term "root causes" of conflict? How do decisions made from incomplete models and world views create it? And how does it cost us money? The best way to address these questions may be through example so we will offer our definition to be then followed with category sub-headings and examples.

Latent Conflict as discussed here is defined as the existence of divergences, either real or perceived, which have not yet reached a level of cost at which motivation to attempt to remove perceived divergences is triggered.

Among other things, this means that window dressing won't cut it. Where there are real losses from one's actions, latent conflict exists. Actions that appear to be in our self-interest despite the negative impact on others and their social groups, are, because of latent conflict, not as much in our self-interest as they would appear to be.

The three categories are:

  1. Deprivations — absence of minimums

  2. Dissatisfactions — procedural injustices

  3. Perceptions — including escalation to aggression attribution

Historical & Current Examples: (Discussion to follow in later article)

  • Lesser-of-two evils choices
  • Colonial Baggage
  • Infrastructure systems of the state that don't work well together — primarily in countries formerly colonized by 2 or more countries.
  • Hasty Decolonization
  • Premature Aid Withdrawal
  • Inconsistent Aid Criteria
  • Self-Interest defined narrowly — and in such a way that our most greatly self-interested options, those most profitable and most security enhancing — are unavailable to us.

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