Picking Apart Conflicts, Seeking Resolutions

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Peace-Conflict-2014Our world seems to be dotted with conflicts, making peace-building process a perennial and challenging task for all the concerned stakeholders: state and non-state actors, policy makers,mediators and negotiators. Peace and Conflict 2014, while striving to offer a factual depiction of ground realities in as many as 26 conflict zones in 22 countries across the world, also throws light on the risks of inbuilt political and social instability. This book offers relevant insights.
The book is a treasure trove, methodically collated and analysed by a group of scholars of repute; striking for its applicability to various burning situations. Importantly, it focuses on the study of conflict and peace-building at the micro level; covering an array of key topics such as ethnicity, climate, foreign aid, sexual violence, mass atrocities and terrorism, as well as humanitarian and reconstruction responses.A biennial publication of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM) at the University of Maryland, Peace and Conflict 2014 lives up to expectations of making academic research on the issues such as terrorism, democratisation, peace-building and development more accessible to policy and decision makers.
The study notes that developments in the last two years have brought to the fore continuing problems arising from armed conflicts and the complexities of crisis management in post-conflict peace-building.Three of the study’s authors – David A. Backer, Paul K. Huth and Jonathan Wilkenfeld– in their introduction examine the political crisis in Egypt, which has thrown up larger questions about the prospects of democratisation during periods of leadership transition.
There are various other issues analysed methodically with the aid of numerous graphs, tables, maps, and appendices dedicated to the visual and summary presentation of information. Crisp narratives are highlighted with pull-quote extracts emphasizing major findings, which will help maximise the impact of the book’s focus and facilitate the readers’ understanding of the highlighted information. A unique but pertinent social issue relates to sexual violence that occurs during civil wars. This delicate topic is dealt sensitively yet in detail in the context of the Syrian civil war, which has witnessed massive attacks on civilians. However, there have been no reports of high levels of sexual violence. In the Chapter ‘Describing and Understanding Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict: The Role of Disaggregation’, Amelia Hoover Green writes about why the extent of sexual violence committed by opposing armed forces during civil wars varies in degrees. The analysis is quite revealing.
In a nutshell, Peace and Conflict 2014,as its authors explain in the introductory Chapter, follows a set pattern, as in the past. It comprises two main sections – the first, constituting dealing with recurring features of Peace and Conflict, along with analysis of global trends in political instability,armed conflicts, democracy and terrorism. The second is devoted to the special theme of “Disaggregation and the Microdynamics of Conflict and Peace building.”In this section, the authors discuss a decisive shift in research, offer new sources of data, detail the distinctive insights that associated analyses provide,and explain their implications with regard to policy-making and practice.
The book contains a fascinating review of active armed conflicts around the world. The Peace and Conflict Instability Ledger presents the ranking of countries across the world, an evaluation very useful for policy makers as well as researchers to focus on troubled spots where conflict preparedness and management are urgently required. The evaluation is determined against the backdrop of political instability or armed conflicts they had experienced during the three-year period of 2012-2014, employing the time-tested definition established by the Political Instability Task Force (PITF).
The ‘Instability Ledger’ looks at 5 factors– institutional consistency, economic openness, infant mortality, militarization and neighbourhood security to place countries in ‘high’ ‘some’ or ‘low risk’ categories.As per this table, 25 countries with the greatest risk include, not surprisingly,Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. A hard look at the origin, recurrence and end of conflict within or across states concludes that conflicts tend to reoccur in countries coming out of civil wars.
The findings once again point out serious vulnerabilities in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and in certain instances,political change as a result of the Arab Spring, and the book then analyses where they had worsened or improved. The study wisely advises that hope that dawns in the aftermath of the removal of autocratic regimes should be tempered by recognition of the challenges ahead. David A. Backer and Paul K. Huth present a sweeping review of ‘Global Trends in Armed Conflicts from 1946 to 2012,an almost six-decade period. According to Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO),the number of conflicts worldwide in 2012 was 26 as compared to 38 at the end of the Cold War in 1990.
The findings suggest that the number of armed conflicts worldwide has levelled off, which is encouraging news. While there have been fewer fresh outbreak of conflicts, recurrences have been more common preventing a sustained downward trend. If these patterns continue, the prevalence of conflict will be relatively stationary.
In ‘Trends in Global Terrorism 1970-2011’, Gary LaFree and Laura Dugan discuss the biggest threat the world is facing today. Drawing extensively from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) which is maintained by the National Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), the authors argue that both the total number of terrorist attacks–around 104,000 as recorded in the GTD – and fatalities increased dramatically from 1970 to the early 1990s. They declined until about 2000–2002, and then increased again during the past decade. The most common targets of terrorists continues to be private citizens and property, a pattern on the rise from 2009–2011. The rapid increase in terrorist attacks in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia since 9/11 also coincides with an emergence of civil conflict in these regions. Clearly,policies that address the sources of these conflicts may have impacted the sources of terrorism there.
Karsten Donnay, Elena Gadjanova, and Ravi Bhavnani provide an overview of recent research that disaggregates conflicts by actors, timing, and location. They highlight various topics, involving civilian targets,infighting and side-switching among rebel groups; and the relationship between sub-national inequality among them and the onset of conflicts. The authors strive to tackle policy-relevant issues such as the effectiveness of counter-insurgency strategies, the causes of civilian migration during armed conflicts, and the probability of rebel groups targeting civilian populations with violence.
In the chapter on ‘The Political Geography of Climate Vulnerability, Conflict, and Aid in Africa’, authors Joshua Busby,Clionadh Raleigh, and Idean Salehyan provide an overview of the design and applications of two newly created disaggregated datasets on conflict behaviourin Africa; the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED) and the Social Conflict in Africa Database (SCAD). They also discuss the Climate Security Vulnerability Model (CSVM), which has been developed to study the political and security consequences of climate change at the sub-national level in Africa.
Authors Lars-Erik Cederman, Luc Girardin,and Julian Wucherpfennig look at ethnic conflicts, employing the Ethnic Power Relations (EPR) research program under the title ‘Exploring Inequality and Ethnic Conflict. As part of their review, they take note of the comprehensive information on access to political power at the national level by more than 800 ethnic groups across the world; and their conflict behaviour from 1946 to 2009. They also look at a number of associated studies that provide strong evidence that patterns of political exclusion and discrimination suffered by ethnic groups, as well as high levels of economic inequality between groups, are related to the onset of civil-war violence.Hoover Green argues that the occurrence of sexual violence during armed conflicts varies considerably. Also, collecting such data remains a challenge. Findings indicate that patterns of sexual violence do not seem to closely follow patterns of lethal violence.
Under the title, ‘Localizing Peace, Reconstruction,and the Effects of Mass Violence’, authors Patrick Vinck and Phuongn Pham focus on challenges to successful post-conflict peace-building and reconstruction at the local level. Their central argument is that peace-building efforts often do not address the local dynamics of how civilian populations react to post-war reconstruction policies set by governments and intergovernmental institutions. Often,
individuals’ experiences of conflict are diverse,as are their views and preferences about peace-building efforts, which may often differ from priorities established by political authorities.
Patrick Meier in ‘Crowd sourcing to Map Conflict, Crises, and Humanitarian Responses’, highlights the recent use of information crowd-sourced from social media to monitor and address humanitarian crises. He argues that crowd sourcing from social media is a valuable new tool for improving crisis monitoring and humanitarian responses by governments and intergovernmental institutions. He reviews the impressive initiatives to track the onset and escalation of violence in Libya in 2011 and on an ongoing basis in Syria since 2011, as well as the application of similar approaches in the wake of two natural disasters in 2012-Typhoon Pablo in the Philippines and the Oklahoma tornado. He also reflects on the challenges of using social media as a source, including the volume, veracity, and representativeness of the information. In ‘Profiles of Active Armed Conflicts’,Jonathan Wilkenfeld provides descriptive histories of the 26 intermediate and major armed conflicts in 22 countries that were active as of 31 December2012. Each case is illuminated with details about the origins and evolution of the conflict and any change in status since the publication of Peace and Conflict 2012.
Overall, Peace and Conflict 2014 is an invaluable aid to policy-makers and global peace movements both as a fund of information and a tool that will help strategize their future course of action.

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