This article addresses complex identity-based conflicts, such as those associated with the ending of the Cold War (e.g., Bosnia). It suggests that in many identity-based conflicts, historical memories of outrage and victimhood ("chosen traumas") have persevered across centuries, thereby keeping the conflicting parties "in history." The paper examines the role of virulent ethnocentrism in such intractable conflicts. It also examines the role of "nature" and "nurture" in embedding the universal tendency for humans to divide their species into "them" and "us" within a highly charged emotional context. The paper argues that the complexity of these conflicts has at least four dimensions which challenge the skills and good intentions of third parties: 1. Under stress parties' affective level (limbic brain) tends to override their cognitive level (neocortical brain), thereby enhancing the likelihood of experiencing "feeling is believing" instead of "seeing is believing." Parties may then not be susceptible to the efforts of third parties which often occur at the cognitive level. Such efforts do not necessarily "trickle down" to the affective level where "chosen traumas" are buried. 2. Third parties may have to first deal with an original, historical conflict (e.g., Turkey-Armenia, 1915) before they can deal with one of its more recent variations (Azerbaijan-Armenia, 1990s). 3. Analytically, third parties should employ comprehensive approaches to "capturing the complexity" of historically-/identity-based conflicts. Otherwise their intentions to "do no harm" may not only fail, but may make matters worse. 4. Effective third party intervention may then call for coordination among "multitrack" actors performing different roles at the same or at different points in time; in effect, the collaboration and "co-evolution" of approaches corresponding to otherwise competing paradigms (e.g., Political Realism, Idealism, Marxism, Non-Marxist Radical Thought [NMRT})

Author Bio(s)

Dennis J.D. Sandole received his Ph.D from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland in 1979. He is Professor of Conflict Resolution and International Relations at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) at George Mason University. A founding member of ICAR, his research and practice in conflict resolution deal with the violent ethnic conflicts of post-Cold War Europe, and the role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in dealing with these. His most recent book is Capturing the Complexity of Conflict: Dealing with Violent Ethnic Conflicts of the Post-Cold War Era (1999).


conflict intractability, identity-based conflicts, third-party intervenors, virulent ethnocentrism

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