Protracted conflicts or protracted social conflicts (PSCs) constitute Edward E. Azar’s seminal works on the topic. His work has gained a lot of prominence in analyzing conflicts during the Cold war era. Many of the large scale and long term conflicts during this time took place within states instead of between or among states. Azar’s theory has addressed the reasons and characteristics associated with them.

1 Protracted social conflicts have been referred to by Azar as situations of long term conflicts, which are characterized by prolonged struggles by groups and communities. These struggles can often be violent, and concern basic human needs such as security, recognition, and acceptance of their identity, equitable access to political and economic institutions (Ramsbotham, 2005).

Azar has provided ten propositions of protracted social conflicts based on his over a decade of research. An attempt has been made to provide simplified versions of these propositions, as a complementary version of his original work.

Protracted social conflicts are prolonged because of certain traits these conflicts share. These include features that stay unchanged and cannot be solved easily, such as,

a. Economic and technological underdevelopment

b. Unintegrated social and political systems

They also include features that can change only when the situation allows people to change them, such as,

Distributive injustice – To address this, removal or massive changes to the economic, social, and political opportunities need to be made. If solutions do not address any of these features, then these solutions must depend on coercion based on law enforcement, threats, or political power and control by the ruling government.

2 .Some visible features often make the building blocks for protracted conflicts, such as,

a. Multi-ethnic cleavages

b. Communal cleavages

c. Multi-ethnic disintegrations

d. Communal Disintegrations

However, when conflicts start again in the same situation, analysis suggests that a deep-rooted reason is involved. This deep-rooted reason involves denying peoples’ certain basic human needs that people of all societies need to develop, prosper, and progress, and the basic human needs that people strive to achieve. These human needs include,

a. Security,

b. Distinctive identity,

c. Social recognition of the distinctive identity,

d. Effective participation in political and economic processes that ensures the social recognition of the security distinctive identity.

3. Sense of insecurity, distributive injustice, and related deprivations are subjective, and thus difficult to measure. On the other hand, ethnic divisions and communal antagonisms are more visible, as well as the institutions that allow these to spread. This does not make ethnicity a special case. This only shows us that ethnicity or ethnic identity is just one of the few basic human needs which people should not be deprived of. Otherwise, conflicts will ensue across all areas.

4. Protracted social conflicts are not unique events, even though they seem unique when they happen in the same place but at different times. This is due to the different local conditions and historical contexts at different times. They are, however, often connected across a long period of time. Protracted conflicts in general, are considered as situations that occur due to attempts at struggling against victimizations, perceived or real. These victimizations are caused by,

a. Denial of the separate identity of the parties involved in the political process;

b. Absence of security, culture, and valued relationships; and

c. Absence of effective participation in the political process that can resolve this victimization.

5. Analysis suggests that the basic human needs and long-standing cultural values cannot be negotiated for any kind of trade, exchange, or bargain. Only personal interests and opportunities may be negotiated in this way. If resolutions involve personal interests, then they do not last long. This is because the benefits of these solutions only reach the elites and not the wider population.

6. People both cooperate as well as go against one another in even the harshest conflicts. However, the conflictual events (i.e., going against one another) have more severe consequences than cooperative events (i.e., cooperating with one another) in protracted conflicts. If protracted conflicts need to be resolved, simple cooperation will not be sufficient, and will require a more complex solution.

7. In protracted conflicts, the ‘identity group’ is the most useful unit of analysis. This is because power ultimately rests within them, and not the nation-state. Identity groups include groups with their own racial, religious, ethnic, cultural, and other such identities. This is because these groups are far more cohesive than the nation-state, and their needs and situations are more homogenous in character and composition. On the other hand, the individual is too vague of a unit for the needs and situations to be analyzed comprehensively in protracted conflicts.

8. Nations and interstate relations are formed for the purpose of serving the needs of these identity groups. Therefore, domestic and international conflicts stem from the same unit, but in different areas or platforms. Thus, international and national conflicts are misleading distinctions and are often connected across geographic space.

9. For the effective resolution of protracted conflicts, centralized structures are not the solution. The solution requires decentralized structures. This can be seen as power-sharing in various states. These decentralization strategies turn out to be far more stable solutions than the traditional monopoly of power by the centralized state structures, in handling basic human needs effectively.

10. If we mistakenly take the nation-state as the unit of analysis instead of the identity group, we would not be able to see that protracted conflicts are connected across geographic space. However, we would also not be able to see that they are connected across time. The same protracted conflict can span over years and decades with periods of violence, and periods of temporary peace. If the identity group is not the unit of analysis, these would seem as if they are separate and disconnected events (Azar, 1985).

These simplified versions of the ten propositions of protracted conflict by Edward E. Azar are not complete without the original source material.


Azar, E. E. (1985). Protracted International Conflicts: Ten Propositions. International Interactions, 12(1), 59-70. doi:10.1080/03050628508434647

Ramsbotham, O. (2005, January). The analysis of protracted social conflict: a tribute to Edward Azar. Review of International Studies, 31(1), 109-126. doi:10. 101 7IS02602 10505006327

Further Reading

Azar, E. E., Jureidini, P., & McLaurin, R. (1978). Protracted Social Conflict; Theory and Practice in the Middle East. Journal of Palestine Studies, 8(1), 41-60. Retrieved October 2020, from