To investigate the drivers of conflict in Thailand, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded and DAI-led Together activity supported the design and implementation of a mixed-methods research project from November 2018 to June 2019. In partnership with five Thai universities—Maejo University, Khon Kaen University, Yala Rajabhat University, Prince of Songkla University–Pattani Campus, and Princess of Naradhiwas University—the project explored issues of latent and violent conflict in the north, northeast, and deep south regions of Thailand to provide a better understanding of the drivers of conflict and the pathways through which individuals become influenced to participate in destructive or violent actions, such as arson or physically harming other people.
Factors that showed a significant relationship with support for extreme actions and ideas, and which confirm assumptions about drivers of conflict, include: lack of self-efficacy, community marginalization and discrimination, revenge, and corruption.
To foster a peaceful, secure Thailand, Together supports civil society organizations and the Royal Thai Government to deepen constructive dialogue between citizens and government, and improve ways to address citizens’ priorities and reduce drivers of latent and violent conflict.
Through its partnerships and activities in the Deep South, North and Northeast regions of Thailand, Together aims to expand the space for dialogue and reconciliation, and facilitate the growth of attitudes, networks, and mechanisms that nurture peace, tolerance, and responsive governance. Together works with the Royal Thai Government to increase government efforts to communicate more effectively with its citizens, address citizen concerns, and strengthen social cohesion. Together also collaborates with civil society organizations to improve their ability to advocate for public interests and work with the government to develop solutions to common challenges.
The research findings help us re-evaluate our understanding of drivers of conflict in Thailand and, subsequently, our strategies and actions to reduce vulnerabilities to these drivers in areas where our project works. Some of the more important implications include:
- Programs seeking to address latent and violent conflict must understand the local social and political context, but also clearly identify and understand the most significant drivers and how they form pathways to extremism. As this research indicates, it is important to test consensus opinion before designing interventions to ensure that assumptions regarding drivers of conflict are correct and to enable the design of indicators and evaluation methods that allow for effective measurement of program impacts related to these drivers.
- The research shows the significant impact that a community can have on an individual’s propensity to support extreme ideas or actions. It is critical that interventions are inclusive of the community as a whole rather than focusing exclusively on a few individuals that are perceived to be at-risk. As indicated in the case studies, the pathway to extreme ideas and actions is a social process supported and reinforced by feelings toward and connections with one’s family, community and local leaders. Family and community can also provide a positive formative influence, which can be leveraged to reduce both community and individual vulnerabilities to the drivers of conflict. At the same time, activities should include close interaction and partnership with leaders that communities trust and who provide productive guidance and encourage positive interaction, particularly with communities having different backgrounds or perspectives.
- Interventions must involve the whole community and provide members with incentives and rewards like, but in place of, those offered by extreme individuals and groups. For example, through increased and higher quality participation in community affairs and development, community members can strengthen their sense of self-efficacy and belief that they are supporting their community and making their leaders proud. This is further reinforced by seeing the actual impacts of their engagement on their community.
- The acceptance of revenge and unexpectedly broad support of violence to protect communities and their way of life highlight the need to address latent conflicts and strengthen social cohesion and local capacity to mitigate conflict. Interventions will be more effective if initiated and led by established and trusted individuals from within communities who can use their influence to mediate disputes and offer peaceful and effective alternatives to revenge seeking.