Curve of Conflict

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Conflict has its own dynamic, and it tends to escalate and recede over time. The curve of conflict* helps us to visualize how conflicts typically evolve over time and how different phases of conflict relate to one another. It is one way in which we can deconstruct the dynamic of conflict and seek to understand it and handle it more effectively. Along the curve, we can identify discrete stages where action can be taken to prevent, manage, or resolve conflict.

Earn a stamp for your Virtual Passport by clicking on the three phases of the Curve of Conflict below to learn more about prevention, crisis management, and peacebuilding and answering the associated question! For a glossary of related terms, see USIP’s Peace Terms.

Conflict Prevention
When dealing with international conflicts, it is our objective to prevent them from turning violent in the first place; to control and de-escalate the situation before violence breaks out. Acting early saves lives and saves money, too.
Crisis Management
Crisis management describes efforts – by the parties to the conflict as well as outside parties – to limit, contain, or resolve conflicts, especially violent ones. While conflicts can rarely be eliminated entirely, there are measures that can be used to manage them and prevent their escalation into violence.
Even after the worst violence has subsided, the long-term effort to rebuild a society and ensure a lasting peace has many important aspects. It can involve the implementation of agreements reached by the parties to conflict, as well as broader efforts to reform or strengthen the government and other institutions to ensure stability in the future. Post-conflict measures can also encompass the rebuilding of damaged communities, and steps to promote justice in the aftermath of war.


The first phase of the curve shows an escalation from stable peace to growing hostility, increasing tension, and then the outbreak of violence. The mid-phase of the curve is where violent conflict peaks and then begins to subside. The back-end of the curve shows the de-escalation of conflict.

Understanding where a conflict falls in the cycle is essential to developing effective strategies for intervention, crisis management, and for controlling violence. It is also critical to determining the best timing of those strategies.

Even when conflicts de-escalate, they can recur, and the curve can turn back up. At any point in time, a number of the active conflicts in the world are old conflicts re-ignited; they were resolved only to fall back into old patterns of violence.

Peacebuilding is a process and not an end-state. Managing conflict takes constant work, but it can solve problems, save lives and money, and it is worth our best effort, particularly in an era of weapons of mass destruction.

*A concept introduced by and adapted from Michael S. Lund, who is a 2011-2012 USIP Senior Fellow.