Conflict Trichotomy: Definition and Meaning

Traditionally, a clear distinction has been made between international and internal conflict. The first can be administered, for example, by international organizations such as the United Nations, the International Court of Justice and regional organizations. Internal conflict, in this view, is left to the states themselves and is beyond the jurisdiction of international bodies. Internal affairs can only become the work of the international community if the country's legitimate authority, i.e. its government, requests such intervention.

This fundamental principle of the Charter of the United Nations was considered inviolable during the Cold War. However, he does not deny the possibility of setting rules for internal conflict. The difference is drawn as a matter of practicality rather than principle. If it is possible to compare conflicts between nations, the same is true of internal conflicts.

The Conflict Analysis Trichotomy

The distinctions drawn are more practical than a matter of principle. If it is possible to compare conflicts between nations, the same is true of internal conflicts. Indeed, otherwise, it would be impossible to make a general distinction between internal and interstate conflict. The separation of interstate conflicts from other conflicts is inherent. It will be maintained here because it is a simple distinction that reflects the realities important to conflict resolution. However, it must be considered alongside other conflicts and within a larger framework to bring us to the big picture.

Territorial disputes have always been at the heart of interstate disputes. The military junta is necessary for territorial control. National security often depends on controlling specific areas. These areas are identified as strategic or essential and thus justify military action. Of course, the same goes for internal conflicts. If specific groups claim control over certain areas and want to change their status, this will affect the entire population of the State. This could mean drawing new borders and changing the established rights of all citizens. This affects access to specific areas.

This means resource control. Interest in maintaining existing territorial arrangements is strong in relations between states. International consensus is very resistant to territorial changes without the party's consent. State governments can be very conservative concerning the territory they are responsible for administering. The challenges are likely to be taken very seriously. Therefore, territorial issues also have a special meaning in internal affairs.

This also applies to the second incompatibility, government control, which refers to the existing central government agency control and composition of the government. The most bitter disputes in this category are those in which the opposition challenges the existing government and wants to eliminate it rather than simply seeking a change in a particular policy. Repression by governments is aimed at keeping a particular group in power. Criticism of government policy can be interpreted as a challenge to its authority.

Repression can set in at an early stage. Many incumbent governments have come to power through undemocratic means. Coups, revolutions, civil wars, and dynastic arrangements have always been the way to power, and they occur as often as democratic procedures. The struggle for government control is classic in politics and is an essential aspect of the conflict. As we have just seen, the State conceals such fascinating resources that many will find helpful in the struggle to maintain or hold power. It is therefore based on a different dynamic of territorial issues, focusing on specific regions or regions rather than the State as a whole. In domestic matters, this incompatibility makes sense.

This gives us three types of conflicts to consider, but we will merge the two into one, forming three. This creates a triad of conflict analysis.

  • The first category includes disputes between the states over territory and the government. It is considered a category, as it is an established group of conflicts defined by the criteria used in international law.

  • The second type deals with internal conflicts involving the government.

  • The third category contains internal conflicts over territory.

This triad follows the distinction of international law but develops it concerning internal conflicts. Interstate negotiations between sovereign states are similar regardless of incompatibility, but we will point out that this is not the case for internal conflicts. The triad is also significant because the number of conflicts between states is limited, and much of today's conflict content is intra-state. In a ddition, in the case of intra-country dispute resolution, there will likely be different arrangements depending on the incompatibility.

Conflict Triangle

ABC (Attitude-Behavior-Context) - The Conflict Triangle was first developed by Prof. Johan Galtung and provided a great basic concept for analyzing even very complex conflict situations:

  • First, there is the Attitude (A) of the parties to the conflict, which tends to become more defensive or even more hostile as the conflict escalates. To resolve the conflict, the parties must first be aware of their attitudes and perceptions towards each other.

  • Attitudes in conflict situations not only affect one's behaviour (B) but are greatly influenced by the behaviour of others. Insults or provocations make it challenging to end the conflict for the common good. Therefore, it is essential to find ways to address the negative behaviour to defuse the situation.

  • Finally, we must consider the context of the conflict. Context is the "objective" reality to which the conflict is concerned and the environment in which the conflict occurs. If we ignore the influence of context, any change in attitude and behaviour will be in vain. Various circumstantial factors can promote or prevent a conflict's positive and transformative development.

Anatol Rapoport's Classification of Conflict

Anatol Rapoport advocated categorising confrontations into three types: battles, games, and arguments. Their differentiating factors include the opponent's perception, the parties' intent, and the rational substance of the circumstance. The opponent is considered a nuisance in a battle, the objective is to injure him, and the situation is devoid of logic. In a game, the opponent is viewed as an extension of oneself, the goal is to outsmart him, and the scenario is entirely reasonable. And in a dispute, the opponent is seen as essential but in a different way. The goal is to persuade him, and the situation is considered reasonable. Rapoport's three conflict dynamics models may be expanded upon. He identifies three types of disputes using the four criteria listed below.


The premise or beginning point of the dispute differs in each of the three conflict models. There is mutual fear or hostility between the parties in fights; there is an agreement between the parties in games to strive for mutually incompatible goals within the constraints of specific rules, but not where the outcome can be predicted in advance; and there is a disagreement between the parties in debates about what is (facts) or what ought to be (values); i.e., clashes of convictions or outlooks.


The picture of the opponent (kept by each side) differs: in conflicts, the image maintained by each party is primarily a nuisance; ideally, the opponent should vanish or, at the very least, be decreased in size or importance. In games, each party's vision of the opponent is that of an essential partner, regarded as a mirror image of the self; preferably, a powerful opponent who will do everything in his power to win; and a logical entity whose inner thinking processes must be considered. In discussions, each party's picture of the opponent needs to be corrected or misinformed; ideally, the opponent should become a convert to one's point of view.


The goals of each side differ in the three types of disputes. In battles, each party's goal is to hurt, destroy, subdue, or drive away the opponent; in games, it is to outsmart the opponent; and in arguments, it is to persuade the opponent.


The style of engagement varies across all three categories. The form of employment in fights is a non-rational series of acts and reactions to the other's and one's actions; use of thrusts, threats, violence, and so on; and the path of interaction is not dependent on the opponent's aims.


The resolution to conflict over government may be aimed at achieving integration and thus some form of restoration and 'normality'. A negotiated settlement of the territorial dispute is unlikely to achieve such an outcome. The problem will not be a return to the conditions prevailing before the "troubles" but to various forms of division until the creation of new States. Relationships are fundamentally changed.

Therefore, there are strong arguments to make the distinction between government and territory significant in the face of internal conflicts.

Updated on: 14-Mar-2023


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