The objective of these coding procedures is to distinguish conflict phases and their sequential order in conflict narratives and chronologies for the purpose of making them comparable for further research and providing a common form for the creation of an extendable database.
We distinguish six conflict phases:
Phase 1: Dispute Phase
The opposition underlying a crisis phase is expressed in ways that use the existing institutional processes, but their substitution with violence is openly threatened or expected. Contrary to a dispute phase in which not the use but the threat of using violence is expected, a crisis phase is characterized by the expectation of a regular and systematic use of violence. In fact, incidental and sporadic violence can already occur and give further reason to believe that the way in which the underlying opposition is expressed might soon involve the regular and systematic use of violence. Phase 3: Limited Violence Phase
The regular and systematic use of violence implies that the underlying opposition is no longer expressed within the existing institutional processes to peacefully accomodate diverging claims. In fact, the legitimacy or usefulness of these processes is called into question, and the systematic and regular use of force is considered justified and permissible. However, even if the regular and systematic use of force is justified, not all uses of force are equally justified. For instance, a government might engage in selective military actions against a group of rebels without unduly implicating the civilian population in that region, or unduly interfering with the everyday activities of the rest of the population. We can therefore distinguish a form of conflict that is characterized by a restrained use of force from another form of conflict that is characterized by the unrestrained use of force. We call the former a limited violence phase and the latter a massive violence phase. They usually, but not necessarily, coincide with lower and higher numbers of casualities. The defining characteristic of a limited violence phase is that an unrestrained use of force, and thus a massive violence phase, can be expected. Phase 4: Massive Violence Phase
A massive violence phase is characterized by the regular, systematic, and unrestrained use of force. Institutional processes for peacefully accomodating diverging claims are disabled or avoided, and the opposition underlying the conflict is expressed in using the full range of violent means available. For instance, a government might feel compelled, and could thus justify, that its military actions do not discriminate between the group of rebels against which the actions are directed from the civilian population among which the rebels operate. Notice that our definition of an underlying opposition is sufficiently broad to not only include conflictual behavior that involves the mutual use of violence but also the exclusive use of violence by one group against another. If such violence is used in an unrestrained manner not only war but also genocide and politicide can be characterized in this manner. The unrestrained use of force gives rise to the expectation of destruction or elimination of a party. Phase 5: Abatement Phase
Each of the previous conflict phases is characterized by particular values attributed to the three defining elements - opposition, use of violence, and expectations - and an abatement phase is characterized if certain actions or events temporarily suspend these defining features. Phase 6: Settlement Phase
A settlement phase is characterized by the resolution of the opposition underlying the conflict which establishes or re-establishes mutually recognized institutional processes in which opposing claims are accomodated peacefully.
We hypothesize that three elements are constitutive of conflicts, that is, a particular configuration of these elements defines a situation as a conflict. The three constitutive elements are:
1) Conflictual Opposition:
2) Use of Violence:
A forth element - which is not constitutive - takes account of divergent perspectives on the conflict.
Depending on the values attributed to these elements different forms and types of conflict can be distinguished. They are represented in Table 1.
Table 1: A Typology of Conflicts
The nominal distinction of forms of conflicts can be translated into conflict phases in order to capture the temporal unfolding of conflicts. This translation is represented in Table 2.
Table 2: Translation of Forms of Conflict into Conflict Phases
An abatement phase is characterized not only as a transitional stage in each of the four forms of conflict, but also demarcates the end of an escalatory trajectory and a potential turning-point in a conflict. Whatever follows an abatement phase it is not simply a continuation of what preceded it. We therefore distinguish conflict episodes as phase sequences that are demarcated by abatement phases. The distinction of conflict episodes is a useful way to represent some of the larger themes of a conflict history, and to connect them to the more detailed aspects of a conflict trajectory. In other words, a more context-sensitive representation of conflict is produced if the history of a conflict is structured in terms of thematically coherent conflict episodes which are not simply recorded as a timeless sequence of previous conflict phases, but whose re-interpretions can be traced and their effects on the further unfolding of a conflict trajectory can be explained.
The sequential composition of conflict phases into conflict episodes is graphically represented in Figure 1:
Figure 1: Graphic Representation of Possible Conflict Phase Sequences