We know that many conflicts, which seemed resolved, recur once again over time. It is because the conflict was not really resolved and addressed the roots of the conflict. There are also many situations, which have been described as peaceful, and become violent once again and protracted. This is also because the conflict was not transformed by addressing the systemic failures and structural violence to guarantee compatible relations between the parties. Moreover, the kind of peace established was negative peace and positive peace was not built by meeting the needs even though interests of the parties are fulfilled. Positive peace can only be built by meeting Basic Human Needs. There are many intractable and protracted conflicts, which occur as basic human needs are not met.
Humans need a number of essentials to survive. According to the renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow (1954) and the conflict scholar John Burton (1990), these essentials go beyond just food, water, and shelter. They include both physical and non-physical elements needed for human growth and development, as well as all those things humans are innately driven to attain.
For Maslow, needs are hierarchical in nature. That is, each need has a specific ranking or order of obtainment. Maslow’s needs pyramid starts with the basic items of food, water, and shelter. These are followed by the need for safety and security, then belonging or love, self-esteem, and finally, personal fulfillment. Burton and other needs theorists who have adopted Maslow’s ideas to conflict theory, however, perceive human needs in a different way — as an emergent collection of human development essentials. Furthermore, they contend needs do not have a hierarchical order. Rather, needs are sought simultaneously in an intense and relentless manner. Needs theorists’ list of human essentials include: Safety/Security – the need for structure, predictability, stability, and freedom from fear and anxiety; Belongingness/Love – the need to be accepted by others and to have strong personal ties with one’s family, friends, and identity groups; Self-esteem – the need to be recognized by oneself and others as strong, competent, and capable. It also includes the need to know that one has some effect on her/his environment; Personal fulfillment – the need to reach one’s potential in all areas of life; Identity – goes beyond a psychological “sense of self.” Burton and other human needs theorists define identity as a sense of self in relation to the outside world. Identity becomes a problem when one’s identity is not recognized as legitimate, or when it is considered inferior or is threatened by others with different identifications; Cultural security – is related to identity, the need for recognition of one’s language, traditions, religion, cultural values, ideas, and concepts; Freedom – is the condition of having no physical, political, or civil restraints; having the capacity to exercise choice in all aspects of one’s life; Distributive justice – is the need for the fair allocation of resources among all members of a community; Participation – is the need to be able to actively partake in and influence civil society.
According to Johan Galtung (1969) one of the pioneers of Basic Human Needs Approach and who established the distinction between Negative Peace and Positive Peace, the basic human needs are categorized as – Survival, Well-being, Identity and Freedom. In other words, human needs to survive. With survival, human naturally needs to live with well-being. Human naturally needs identity to live with dignity. If a human cannot have his/her respectable identity, his existence is in question. Over and above these, the most critical is the freedom to determine how to survive, how can be well-being; and which identity to be embraced.
Why the Concept of Human Needs Matters?
John Burton, pioneer of human needs theorist and others argue that one of the primary causes of protracted or intractable conflict is people’s unyielding drive to meet their unmet needs on the individual, group, and societal level. For example, many conflict and peace theorists and practitioners agree that the Palestinian conflict involves the unmet needs of identity and security. Countless Palestinians feel that their legitimate identity is being denied them, both personally and nationally. Numerous Israelis feel that they have no security individually because of suicide bombings, nationally because their state is not recognized by many of their close neighbours. Israeli and Palestinian unmet needs directly and deeply affect all the other issues associated with this conflict. Consequently, if a resolution is to be found, the needs of Palestinian identity and Israeli security must be addressed and satisfied on all levels.
Human needs theorists further offer a new dimension to conflict theory. This approach provides an important conceptual tool that not only connects and addresses human needs on all levels. Furthermore, it recognises the existence of negotiable and non-negotiable issues. That is, needs theorists understand that needs, unlike interests, cannot be traded, suppressed, or bargained for. Basic human needs are uncompromisable and indivisible. Thus, the human needs approach makes a case for turning away from traditional negotiation models that do not take into account nonnegotiable issues. These include interest-based negotiation models that view conflict in terms of win-win or other consensus-based solutions, and conventional power models (primarily used in the field of negotiation and international relations) that construct conflict and conflict management in terms of factual and zero-sum game perspectives.
The human needs approach, on the other hand, supports collaborative and multifaceted problem-solving models and related techniques, such as problem-solving workshops or an analytical problem-solving process. These models take into account the complexity of human life and the insistent nature of human needs. Problem-solving approaches also analyse the fundamental sources of conflict, while maintaining a focus on fulfilling peoples’ unmet needs. In addition, they involve the interested parties in finding and developing acceptable ways to meet the needs of all concerned.
Human needs theorists further understand that although needs cannot be compromised, they can be addressed in a generally win-win or positive-sum way. An example of this win-win or positive sum process can be gleaned from the Kosovo conflict. When the Albanians obtained protective security, the Serbs also gained this protection, so both sides gained.
Nevertheless, most scholars and practitioners agree that issues of identity, security, and recognition, are critical in many or even most intractable conflicts. They may not be the only issue, but they are one of the important issues that must be dealt with if an intractable conflict is to be transformed. Ignoring the underlying needs and just negotiating the interests may at times lead to a short-term settlement, but it rarely will lead to long-term resolution. If basic human needs are not met, there cannot be positive peace. If basic human needs are denied, it is certain to use any means – violent or non-violent – available to them to meet their basic needs.