Trust, Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation

Modular value: 20 credits
Duration: 5 days

Coordinator: Professor Nicholas Wheeler

Trust, Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation is a unique five day training programme included as a core module for the MSc in Global Cooperation and Security. It provides students with the opportunity to learn about different approaches to the developing field of trust-building in International Relations and to better understand how practitioners wrestle with the dilemmas of trust/mistrust in practical negotiating settings.

This programme involves lectures delivered by internationally renowned academics and practitioners who have a wealth of experience of mediation and negotiation in deeply adversarial settings. We also equip participants with core mediation and communication skills through two days of intensive training in conjunction with the Birmingham-based NGO Responding to Conflict, a professional organisation actively engaged in conflict resolution efforts.

Teaching and learning approach

The module will be delivered through intensive workshops using a range of teaching and learning methods, including interactive lectures, group discussions, role-playing exercises, and case studies.

Day One: Trust-building and Diplomacy in Theory and Practice

Speakers: Mr Andrew Barlow (Counter-Proliferation Department, UK Foreign Office), Dr Ian Kearns (Director of the European Leadership Network (ELN)), Professor Nicholas Wheeler (Professor of International Relations) Professor Lynne Cameron(Professor of Applied Linguistics, Open University).

Do we need a minimum level of trust in order to achieve a successful outcome in diplomatic negotiation? What role can trusted intermediaries who act as mediators play in overcoming intractable conflicts? What leads two adversaries who are locked into a relationship of distrust and suspicion to make the first moves – take the first steps – that can begin a process of conflict transformation?

The first day of this innovative training programme introduces participants to these central questions and begins to expose them to the ideas, techniques, and strategies that can build the foundations of trust. Academics and practitioners will discuss the obstacles to cooperation and trust that so often lead to the entrenchment of conflicts, and the role that empathy and interpersonal dynamics between leaders and diplomats can play (and have played) in opening up new possibilities for cooperation and conflict-transformation.

A focus on leadership in trust-building, how this has played out in past nuclear negotiations, and the relationship between trust and empathy will be at the centre of our attentions. At the end of day one there will be a special guest lecture by a distinguished practitioner followed by a wine reception.

All training will take place on campus at the University of Birmingham. Refreshments and Lunch will be provided daily.

Day Two: Negotiating and Transforming Conflicts

Speakers: Professor Stefan Wolff (Professor of International Security, University of Birmingham), Professor Paul Jackson (Professor of African Politics, University of Birmingham), Dr Christalla Yakinthou (Birmingham Fellow, University of Birmingham).

The second day will explore in greater depth the obstacles to cooperation and possible pathways that might lead to successful negotiations at both the intrastate and interstate level. It will include a grounding in negotiation theory as well as lectures from academics at the University of Birmingham with a wealth of experience in conflict scenarios ranging from Cyprus to Nepal.

Participants will then get the chance to apply these insights and experiences into the negotiating process in a special India-Pakistan role play that will be led by Professor Wheeler in the afternoon. Briefing papers will be provided in advance. The simulation is designed to help participants better understand the security dilemma as an obstacle to cooperation; how misperceptions can fuel conflict spirals; and the role that empathy and trust might play in ameliorating such conflict spirals and promoting cooperation.

Participants will be split into groups and will simulate a future negotiation between the two states in relation to the intractable conflict over Kashmir as well as new Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs) in relation to India and Pakistan’s nuclear programmes.

All training will take place on campus at the University of Birmingham. Refreshments and Lunch will be provided daily.

Day Three/Four: Communication Skills and Mediation Training 

Training will be supplied by RTC under the supervision of:
Ms Joan McGregor (Specialist in Peace and Conflict, Responding to Conflict Consultancy Team).

Participants will receive specialist professional training by our partner organisation,Responding to Conflict, in communication skills and the process of mediation. This two day training session will consist of plenary presentations, small group activities, role-plays, simulations and case studies drawn from the extensive expertise of Responding to Conflict’s training staff.

On Thursday evening there will be a special guest lecture by a distinguished practitioner followed by a wine reception.

All training will take place on campus at the University of Birmingham. Refreshments and Lunch will be provided daily.

Day Five: Simulation: Crisis Diplomacy in the Iranian Nuclear Talks

The final day of the programme draws together all of the different skills developed over the week, culminating in a crisis simulation exercise of a contemporary global security event. In 2014 we will focus on the Iranian nuclear negotiations and participants will undertake a crisis simulation scenario based upon an imaginary series of events. Participants will be supplied with briefing papers on  ion the scenario on the Thursday evening.

This crisis simulation provides an opportunity for participants to test in a practical context the skills and knowledge they have gained during the week under the guidance and with the support of the game’s control team, led by Professor Wheeler. The role play will be modelled on Model UN and Model NATO simulations. There will be a final evaluation in the second part of the afternoon to reflect on the key lessons and experiences that each of the participants has learnt by taking this training programme. 

All training will take place on campus at the University of Birmingham. Refreshments and Lunch will be provided daily.


The assessment for the module will consist of:

  • A 5,000 word portfolio worth 100% of the module marks

On completion of the module students will be asked to reflect, through a 5,000 word portfolio, on all of the different approaches covered, and to assess the possibilities of promoting a global culture of non-violent conflict management.

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