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The who, where and how of international conflicts:

Cataloguing armed conflicts

Why do armed conflicts arise in some countries but not others? How can conflicts be resolved? The Advanced Conflict Data Catalogue developed at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) will furnish researchers around the world with many of the answers they need.

Far more is known today about armed conflicts and conflict resolution than just 10 years ago. Unfortunately, much of this knowledge revolves around what does not work well. For nearly a century, researchers on peace and conflict issues have dreamed of actually preventing the outbreak or escalation of armed conflicts. To achieve that, researchers need to ask an entirely new set of questions, which in turn means they have to redefine the factual basis on which their work rests.

GROZNY, CHECHNYA: Why are there violent conflicts in Chechnya but not in Murmansk? PRIO will compile data from the world’s conflict researchers to analyse which groups resort to insurrection, why they do it and where. Photo: Fredrik Naumann/Samfoto GROZNY, CHECHNYA: Why are there violent conflicts in Chechnya but not in Murmansk? PRIO will compile data from the world’s conflict researchers to analyse which groups resort to insurrection, why they do it and where. (Photo: Fredrik Naumann/Samfoto)

Why the violence?

The indispensable tool is data: catalogues of information about the world’s armed conflicts. Until recently, researchers have had to rely on speculation, but comprehensive catalogues are enabling researchers to actually analyse empirical cases.

Håvard Strand. Photo: PRIO Håvard Strand (Photo: PRIO) Thus far, the bulk of research that is being offered to decision-makers has been based on understanding why countries and governments are involved in conflicts. “But we also need to focus on which groups resort to insurrection, why they do it and where,” explains Håvard Strand, Senior Researcher at PRIO. “Why are there violent conflicts in Chechnya (Russia) and in Assam (India) but not in Murmansk or Kerala?”

An end to waste

To find more answers, conflict researchers need a more comprehensive data catalogue in which information from the entire world is structured in a way that makes the data more compatible and, thus, more comparable.

Now, researchers at PRIO have been awarded NOK 8 million in funding from the Research Council of Norway (RCN) to build up the research infrastructure around the Advanced Conflict Data Catalogue (ACDC).

“Researchers at a variety of sites around the world collect data on individual aspects of armed conflicts. Often, however, this knowledge is used only to answer very specific questions – and is of little use otherwise since its format is not compatible,” laments Strand, who is project manager of ACDC.

PRIO intends to change all that. “We are providing an infrastructure for encoding new datasets, making it possible to coordinate and compare data from different sources.” This, says Strand, is how PRIO plans to put an end to what the institution sees as an enormous waste of time, money and opportunity in the social sciences.

International cooperation

ACDC is one of 23 projects on the Research Council’s Norwegian Roadmap for Research Infrastructure. The roadmap presents national and international large-scale projects in which the Research Council recommends investing in the near future.

PRIO has long collaborated with Uppsala University on compiling a database of the world’s conflicts. Internationally recognised for its high quality, this database is virtually an industry standard among those around the globe who work with quantitative conflict analysis. There is still a great need, however, for compiling conflict data on more minor parties and smaller geographical areas.

“The Research Council’s infrastructure allocations enable us to discuss how to create an overarching international solution for collecting data with international partners. Common standards will rationalise everyone’s efforts. For instance, we will be able to assign an identity code to every insurgent group and each leader. Also, local natural resources will be represented as a grid, then superimposed over a map of the world for analysing the extent to which hostilities occur in areas with valuable natural resources, or whether local environmental changes (such as droughts and floods) lead to local conflict.”

Less war?

Is war declining in the world? This is perhaps the key question in research on peace and conflict, but the experts diverge in their answers, separating into two schools of thought. One comprises researchers who base their findings on available statistics, seeing a clear drop in the number of post-Cold War armed conflicts and an even larger decrease in the number of fatalities. The other school believes that the statistics are too unreliable to draw such conclusions and that developments are in a transitional phase from “old-style” to “new-style” wars.

“More quantitative data would give us clearer answers to precisely this question,” concludes Strand. “Although better statistics cannot be the solution to every challenge in conflict research, they will without a doubt enable us to detect correlations and trends we otherwise would not have discovered.”

Findings from quantitative conflict research
  • Poor countries are more prone to conflict than large countries.
  • There has been a marked drop in the number of armed conflicts after the Cold War.
  • Large countries are more prone to conflict than small countries, but the chances of being killed in a conflict are higher in small countries.
  • Civil wars are often waged along ethnic, linguistic or religious dividing lines (making it simpler to distinguish between friend and enemy).
  • Conflicts that conclude with a clear military victory for one party are more likely to be followed by lasting peace.


Written by:
Siw Ellen Jakobsen/Else Lie. Translation: Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann

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