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Tuesday 2 September 2014

The more we collaborate the more we come into conflict: key questions to ask

It is not always appreciated that collaboration is a two-edged sword. The more effectively we collaborate with others the more likely we are to come into conflict with those with whom we are not collaborating.

Nations collaborating through alliance systems led to the outbreak of the First World War and contributed to the prolonged conflict of the Second World War. Nations collaborating to create the nuclear bomb led directly to the tensions of the Cold War between the West and the East, tensions that have never really gone away.

Today, collaboration between Ukrainian Separatists and Russia has brought both into conflict with not just Ukraine but also Europe (a collaboration within itself) and the USA (as its title suggests, yet another collaboration within itself, if slightly more merged than Europe). Almost wherever you care to look, the formation of committed, strong and effective collaborations creates and attracts conflict, either from existing collaborative groups, or collaborative groups that are created in response to the perceived threat of a collaboration.

An interesting 'slow-burn' of a conflict (potentially fuelled by collaboration) could be developing at the top of the world. The Arctic Council, responsible for the preservation and managed exploitation of the Arctic territories (a difficult balancing act if ever there was one), consists of Arctic states with the power to make decisions, indigenous Arctic peoples with a right to permanent seats on the Council and, interestingly, a growing number of observer states and organisations with no power to make decisions, but the ability to influence the Council through making investments and providing specialist expertise. Recently, a block of Asian states (China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and India) were admitted as observer states. At the moment, historical mistrust and grievances (especially between China and Japan), differing perceptions and competing and differing interests inhibit their effective collaboration with each other. (Indeed, India may well have a policy of impeding China's influence, especially where access to and control of energy reserves are at stake.) However, if some catalyst were to appear which made collaboration between the Asian states attractive or essential, for example an urgent and pressing need for resources and guaranteed access to them, old grievances and lesser interests could be put aside. The separate Asian state observers could form into a powerful 'Asian Collaborative' that could use the combined leverage of its investments and expertise to gain influence and power within the Council and open up access to the resources it needs. This would inevitably lead to even greater collaboration between the Arctic states and the indigenous peoples to counteract the Asian states growing influence. This would be a clear example of more collaboration leading to more conflict.

Key questions:

  • Who will our collaboration threaten? How can we reassure them, work with them or, if necessary, minimise and/or deal with the consequences of conflict with them? (Some of the Arctic states that sit on the Arctic Council felt threatened by the inclusion of five Asian states as observers. It was felt that their presence and increased influence on the council's work, which would be magnified if they began to work as a collaborating 'Asian Block', would weaken the sovereign authority of the Arctic states and begin to marginalise the influence of the indigenous peoples represented on the Council. The Asian states have sort to reassure the Arctic states by emphasising their willingness to abide by existing laws and conventions, making significant financial and specialist contributions in the ways requested by the Arctic Council, and emphasising their interest in environmental research and safeguarding both the Arctic environment and the welfare of the indigenous peoples who live there. Some of the Asian states have also sort to reassure the council by publishing their own Arctic policies, which clearly set out their vision, aims and intentions with regard to the Arctic.      
  • If we become stronger who could become (or perceive that they become) weaker? What are the implications of this over the short, medium and long terms? How could others' weakness (perceived or actual) adversely affect us? (Russia perceives an expanding European Union as threatening its influence and interests on its South West Border. This has contributed significantly to the current conflict between the Ukrainian Government and Russian backed Ukrainian Separatists and the economic tensions, through tit for tat boycotts, experienced between Russia and the European Union. The political situation is characterised by a slow pace of development and carefully planned, set piece moves from all players. This is because each player is carefully considering and analysing the consequences of each move they make, both for themselves and others. They are keen to avoid a situation where any player feels so weakened or threatened by the other that the conflict ignites and the tensions increase, which would create a situation where all sides are damaged politically, economically or even physically through increased conflict.)       
  • How much do we respect others' valued resources, knowledge and interests and do we do enough to help safeguard them? (The actions described above and taken by the Asian states to reassure the Arctic states of the Arctic Council illustrate a strong attempt to show respect for the interests of others. In this case, however, they may be a little undermined. This is because the reasons for taking the actions ever so slightly emphasise a preoccupation with enhancing national reputation and credibility, rather than taking them because they are intrinsically the right things to do. This is a point that will not go unnoticed by one or two of the Arctic states.)     
  • If our collaboration is beginning to encroach upon areas traditionally dealt with and perceived as owned by others, do we know the traditional tolls that need to be paid and are we willing and able to pay them? What would be the consequences of not knowing or paying them? (Seal hunting and making seal products are an important part of the traditional economy and way of life of a number of Arctic states. Part of the conditions of entry - part of the toll to be paid - for a place on the Arctic Council includes an acceptance of, or at least non-opposition to, these activities. The Asian states (and Italy) were willing to pay this toll and so were granted observer status on the Council. The EC, however, has banned products made from seals. This perceived opposition to a much valued and traditional practice was enough to block the EC's application to become an observer. The EC is currently merely an 'ad hoc' observer, which means that it has to request to be present at each and every meeting. Somewhere during the process of negotiation for entry to the Council the EC must have decided that lifting its ban on seal products was a toll it was not willing to pay, and that the consequences of not being fully present on the Arctic Council were manageable and acceptable. This makes sense when you consider that several of the Arctic states and official observers are also EC members, which means the EC is almost present by proxy anyway.)

To see the full post click Here.

For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition.

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