Costs and Benefits of Intractable Conflict

Heidi Burgess

January 2004

The costs of intractable conflict are well documented: death, destruction, humiliation, anger, fear, homelessness, famine... the list goes on and on. Many outsiders and intervenors focus on this (which, of course, is hugely important) and do not see the benefits the conflict brings. But conflicts do bring benefits. Sometimes those benefits only come to leaders, which may be why they continue the conflict even when others -- ordinary citizens and/or outside observers consider this to be folly. And sometimes those benefits come to groups as a whole, as they become more cohesive, more empowered, and more effective in defending their own interests and rights. It is actually the benefits that conflicts bring that cause them to be intractable: if disputants did not believe staying in the conflict was better than resolving it (considering both emotional and material factors), they would be more likely to resolve it.

Additional insights into costs and benefits of intractable conflicts are offered by Beyond Intractability project participant

This section includes many essays on the costs of intractable conflict, and only one on the benefits, as we, as outsiders, view the costs as overwhelming the benefits in most cases. Therein lies the key to conflict transformation: parties and intermediaries need to work to acheive the benefits the conflict brings in ways that avoid the very high costs. More information about costs -- and benefits -- can be found in the following essays:

Violence - Overview
War Crimes
Interpersonal Violence
Refugees and Diaspora
Relationships Damaged / Destroyed
Benefits of Constructive Conflict

Use the following to cite this article:
Burgess, Heidi. "Costs and Benefits of Intractable Conflict." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: January 2004 <>.

Additional Resources