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Impasse is a point at which parties to a conflict believe they can currently take no further action. They are, in essence, gridlocked. Although the word impasse itself may connote impossibility, impasse does not mean that action is impossible, only that no movement toward resolution is wanted or possible at the time. Sometimes, in fact, disputants may use impasse purposefully to exert power, look for alternatives, or stall the process. Refusing to engage further in negotiation can have very high stakes in some types of conflict, particularly international conflict, because often the escalation of such conflicts after impasse has been reached leads to economic sanctions or military action, both of which have the potential to be disastrous for citizens.

A famous example of international impasse is the Bay of Pigs Invasion (or Invasión de Playa Girón, as it is known in Cuba) instigated by the United States against Cuba, and the subsequent nuclear missile standoff between the two countries (with Soviet Union support for Cuba). After a miscalculated secret attempt to destroy Cuban military aircraft and train Cuban immigrants in the United States to lead a coup to overthrow then leader Fidel Castro, relations with Cuba became openly hostile. The United States was exposed for having lied to the United Nations about these efforts as well. Cuba responded by allowing the Soviet Union to build ballistic nuclear weapons on its island, thus providing an insurance policy against further U.S. attacks. Many of U.S. President Kennedy’s advisors recommended the missiles be destroyed before they were operational. Kennedy preferred to implement a naval quarantine to block Soviet vessels from reaching Cuba. The world waited, white knuckled, in apprehension of a nuclear war as the leaders of the two countries faced an impasse with catastrophic potential consequences for the planet. Kennedy remained committed to diplomatic solutions and privately agreed to disable U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey. He also pledged that the United States would not attack Cuba, to which Soviet Premier Khrushchev responded by agreeing to dismantle the arms program in Cuba. Never in history before or since has an impasse had such grave potential consequences.

For this Assignment, you analyze an international conflict that has stalled or reached impasse to determine why the impasse exists, why the parties were unable to reach Pareto optimality, and strategies or steps they might take to move beyond the impasse.

To Prepare:

  • Review Chapter 9 in your course text, The Dynamics of Conflict: A Guide to Engagement and Intervention.
  • Select one international conflict that you feel has reached impasse or otherwise stalled in the resolution process.

The Assignment (6–8 pages):

  • In two pages or less, briefly describe the relevant facts of the conflict you selected, such as sources, stakeholders, interests of each party, and interventions attempted.
  • In at least three pages, answer each of the following questions:
    • Prior to the conflict stalling, how did the parties deal with the integrative and distributive aspects of the negotiation?
    • Why were the parties unable to reach Pareto optimality?
    • Has true impasse been reached? How do you know?
  • Finally, in at least two pages, explain what steps can be taken for the parties to effectively work through impasse. (Refer to Chapter 9 of The Dynamics of Conflict: A Guide to Engagement and Intervention, and keep in mind that working through impasse sometimes means finding the next best step; do not force an agreement or push the parties out of impasse if that is their best option.)
  • The entire paper should be 6–8 pages and include a minimum of three outside peer-reviewed sources in addition to references to the Learning Resources from the course.
Explanation & Answer

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