Between war and peace: a dynamic reconceptualization of “frozen conflicts”

Abstract

Frozen conflicts, situations in which war ended yet stable peace did not materialize, trouble both Asia and Europe. Despite the clear policy relevance of this problem, the notion of frozen conflicts remains surprisingly blurred in peace and conflict studies literature. In this paper, we seek to provide a rigorous conceptualization of frozen conflicts. We situate frozen conflicts into a broader debate about enduring rivalries in international politics and demonstrate the theoretical relevance of the term vis-à-vis existing concepts. Furthermore, we outline a theoretical model of frozen conflict dynamics, which portrays frozen conflicts as dynamic configurations undergoing a periodical “thawing” in relations between the opposing sides: either toward diplomatic negotiations (“peaceful thawing”) or re-escalation toward use of armed force (“violent thawing”). We illustrate the usefulness of our model with empirical observations from other articles in this special issue and conclude with possible avenues for further research.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Notably, Dembinska and Campana (2017) employ a theoretical perspective grounded in political sociology to examine internal processes of frozen conflicts in the context of “de facto states,” mentioning a number of empirical examples that spatially extend beyond the post-Soviet space.

  2. 2.

    In our own dataset (forthcoming), we operationalize this frozen conflict starting point using the Correlates of War (COW) threshold of 1000 battle-related deaths per 12 months.

  3. 3.

    As a part of our research project “Early Warning Indicators of Escalating Frozen Conflicts,” we conducted several interviews with senior-level diplomats between 2015 and 2017. The interviews demonstrated that policy makers are not only generally interested in these conflicts but also interested in them particularly because they see them as dynamic, fearing that the development on the ground could eventually lead to the resurgence of major violence and regional destabilization.

  4. 4.

    For a review of conflict transformation literature and its relationship to the concept of conflict resolution, see, for example, Botes (2003), Mitchell (2002), or Reimann (2004).

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the reviewers and our colleagues, Harald Müller, Vojtech Bahensky, Kamil Klosek, Pavlina Blahova, and Marie Nemeckova, for their constructive comments and recommendations. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2017 International Studies Association (ISA) Annual Convention in Baltimore and the 2017 ISSS-ISAC Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. We are grateful to the chairs, discussants, and participants in individual panel sessions for their insightful remarks and ideas.

Funding

We acknowledge funding by the Charles University Research Centre program UNCE/HUM/028 (Peace Research Center Prague/Faculty of Social Sciences) and by the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic, grant project VI20152019011.

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Correspondence to Michal Smetana.

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Smetana, M., Ludvík, J. Between war and peace: a dynamic reconceptualization of “frozen conflicts”. Asia Eur J 17, 1–14 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10308-018-0521-x

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