Civil Violence Project
In recent decades, civil conflict has become the principal source of global violence and is the arena where U.S. concerns about terrorism intersect most directly with the broader international security agenda. This project develops more sophisticated tools for analyzing the microdynamics of civil conflicts and explores how to address their root causes, when to initiate crisis response measures, and what to do in their aftermath to assure reconstruction.
Researchers have thus far found little conclusive evident that economic inequality is correlated to the outbreak of civil conflict. However, the absence so far of a demonstrated statistical relationship between equity and conflict does not conclusively indicate that the two are unrelated. The measures of conflict being used are not refined enough to record some of the more important determining dynamics, in particular, sub-national trends and norms and perceptions of fairness.
There are reasons to believe that civil conflict erupts as a result of the breakdown of legal order and that, under circumstances of globalization, such a breakdown in one location can readily spread. If so, then any area of sustained conflict is potentially dangerous as a reservoir for contagion. The defense of legal order will be an emerging vital matter for the international community. The need for sustained global engagement in civil conflict, by the United States in particular but not exclusively, is one of the enduring lessons of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq one that is not yet fully absorbed but is ultimately bound to be. If it is accepted that civil conflict is a serious international security concern, then more systematic efforts at prevention, intervention, and reconstruction should replace the current ad hoc approach.
This project works to stimulate new approaches to the analysis of conflict and, in particular, to the development of more sophisticated diagnostic tools that can help policymakers decide more quickly and authoritatively how to address the root causes of civil conflict, when to initiate crisis response measures, and what to do in the aftermath of a conflict to assure reconstruction. These tools include the development of novel, computation-based methods of analysis and new survey methods which aim to capture non-income- and income-based determinants of well being.
As the problem of civil violence forces security policies to expand beyond military operations to include broader questions of social and economic interventions, it will be just as important to strike the right balance between prevention and reaction as it is to find the appropriate balance between power and equity. It will be especially important to establish sufficient political legitimacy to manage the rebuilding of civil society in a conflict-torn region and to provide adequate economic resources to finance it. This will almost certainly entail substantially more advanced forms of international collaboration and lead to policy transformations. Successful reconstruction, as well as successful prevention or intervention, requires at minimum a sophisticated understanding of the microdynamics both of conflict in general and of a particular conflict at hand.