Mapping violent conflict

The Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research has published its Conflict Barometer for 2013:

Violent conflicts 2013 HEIDELBERG

The full report can be downloaded here; it includes a detailed explanation of methodology and sources, many more maps, and a series of detailed regional surveys.

There are, of course, many other projects that attempt to monitor the macro-geography of armed conflict that also make their databases available for research, including the Correlates of War project (data from 1816 on), the Armed Conflict Dataset maintained by UCDP/PRIO (see also here; data from 1946 on) – both these are global – and the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) which provides a much more detailed, sub-regional mapping and claims to be ‘the most comprehensive public collection of political violence data for developing states.’  I’ve pasted an example of their sub-regional mapping below; the original is here, along with others for the DRC and Zimbabwe, while maps plotting the activities of Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army and other conflicts are available here and here.


I also greatly admire the Event Data on Conflict and Security (EDACS) produced by Sven Chojnacki and his colleagues in Berlin, and the disaggregated analyses they provide.  Like ACLED, this also includes a remarkably detailed time-space analysis of violence in Somalia:


You can find out more about the project from the special issue of International Interactions 38: 4 (2012) on Event Data in the Study of Conflict.

Urban guerrillas

I’ve noted David Kilcullen‘s adventures into geography before, and the entanglement of his vision of counterinsurgency with the humanitarian present – here and here – and over at Gizmodo Geoff Manaugh (of the always interesting and enviably imaginative BLDGBLOG) has an interesting commentary on Kilcullen’s new book, Out of the Mountains: the coming age of the urban guerrilla (Hurst/Oxford University Press USA, 2013.  An extended excerpt is available here, if you scroll down, and a presentation on “The city as a system: future conflict and urban resilience” from last year is available here.

KILCULLEN Out of the mountains

Back to Geoff:

Kilcullen’s overall thesis is a compelling one: remote desert battlegrounds and impenetrable mountain tribal areas are not, in fact, where we will encounter the violence of tomorrow. For Kilcullen—indeed, for many military theorists writing today—the war in Afghanistan was not the new normal, but a kind of geographic fluke, an anomaly in the otherwise clear trend for conflicts of an increasingly urban nature.

The very title of Kilcullen’s book—Out of the Mountains—suggests this. War is coming down from the wild edges of the world, driving back toward our lights and buildings from the unstructured void of the desert, and arriving, at full force, in the hearts of our cities, in our markets and streets. There, conflict erupts amongst already weak or non-existent governments, in the shadow of brittle infrastructure, and what Mike Davis calls “the nightmare of endless warfare in the slums of the world” in his blurb for Kilcullen’s work, becomes uncomfortably close to reality.

Strictly speaking, Geoff’s commentary derives from a talk Kilcullen gave at the World Policy Institute, one of a large number of public appearances to promote the book on both sides of the Atlantic; here is a transcript of his talk at Chatham House, and here is his presentation to the New America Foundation last month, introduced by Peter Bergen:

Geoff is not completely convinced by it.  Some of the themes will be familiar to most readers – the bleeding of war into crime has been a staple of the ‘new wars’ thesis, for example – and you can hear distant echoes of Saskia Sassen‘s ideas about cities and later modern war.  More particularly, Steve Graham‘s brilliant work on the new military urbanism addresses many of the same issues Kilcullen raises – as Kilcullen notes himself – though he does so in a markedly different vocabulary: Geoff and I have crossed swords over this before, but while he describes “feral cities” as ‘one of my favorite phrases of all time’ I think it’s dehumanizing – though I do understand that’s exactly not Geoff’s intention).

Geoff is also (I think rightly) sceptical about the aerial-algorithmic intervention that Kilcullen touted at the WPI:

‘During the Q&A, Kilcullen briefly mentioned the work of Crisis Mappers, who have developed tools for visually analyzing urban form using satellite photos. According to Kilcullen, they are able to do this with an astonishing degree of accuracy, diagnosing what parts of cities seem most prone to failure. Whether this is due to empty lots and abandoned buildings or to infrastructural isolation from the rest of the city, the factors that determine “ferality” in the built environment is a kind of aerial application of the Broken Windows theory.

The implication—conceptually fascinating, but by no means convincing, at least for me—was that we could, in theory, develop a visual algorithm for identifying environments tending toward failure, and thus find a way to intervene before things truly fall apart. Teams of architects with their own dedicated satellites could thus scan the cities of the world from above, algorithmically identifying urban regions prone to collapse, then intervening with a neighborhood redesign.’

Have we learned nothing from almost a decade of remote-surveillance ISR and algorithmic counterinsurgency in which maps and metrics substitute for meaning?  And while the attacks in Nairobi confirm the city as a continuing arena of military and paramilitary violence in the twenty-first century, they surely can’t be directly assimilated to a ‘feral city’ thesis (though Kilcullen does his best here)?  We’ll see: I’m part way through the book, and will post a more considered response when I’m done.

The new peace

The text of a lecture given by Mary Kaldor, Professor of Global Governance at the LSE,  at Tufts University on October 2012, when she was awarded the Dr Jean Mayer Global Citizens Award, named for Tufts’ former President and Chancellor.  The lecture also coincided with the publication of the third edition of Kaldor’s New and Old Wars: organized violence in a global era.

She emphasises that this lecture is a work in progress, a way-station en route to a book she is writing with Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law who is also at the LSE.  Building on her discussion of ‘new wars’, and on her collaboration with Shannon Beebe, The ultimate weapon is no weapon: Human security and the new rules of war and peace, Kaldor argues for a ‘new peace’ in these terms:

I am arguing for international law that prohibits the use of force, as in domestic contexts, except in the very limited case of individual self-defence. The only argument for the international use of force is the scaling up of individual self-defence, e.g. genocide or massive violations of human rights. But in this case, the conduct of force is not the same as war-fighting. It is defensive, aimed at protection. Those responsible for the attacks are to be arrested where possible rather than killed. Any international use of force would take place under the authority of a reformed United Nations Security Council. Such an approach would require something like international emergency services rather like in a domestic context, we have police, fire fighters and emergency medical services.

In case this sounds excessively utopian, it is worth noting that something along these lines has been developing in parallel with the War on Terror. All sorts of new techniques have been developed in wars in the Balkans and Africa – safe havens, humanitarian corridors, the establishment of courts to try war crimes. New types of security capabilities are being developed by the European Union and in the thinking about civilian protection in the United Nations. New commitments to humanitarian intervention or Responsibility to Protect have been adopted by the African Union. Many international missions, not all successful of course, have been taking place alongside the War on Terror and have involved a learning experience. We tend to focus on Iraq and Afghanistan because they are so visible but they may well turn out to be exceptions as a consequence of a more traditional war-fighting military intervention.

To put it more simply, in difficult situations like for example Syria, it is important to identify an alternative between old-fashioned military intervention where the aim is to win and where many get killed and there is a risk of escalation, and doing nothing. Or in the case of the War on Terror, it is about taking the problem of terrorism seriously. When terrorists are treated as enemies in a war, they are elevated and legitimised. In the case of the drone attacks, for example, it is not just a problem that mistakes are made and civilians sometimes get killed, more importantly, it escalates the violence. It provides an argument and justification for mobilising more recruits to extremist causes. What I worry about is that the combination of the economic crisis and what is happening the Middle East could portend a spreading protracted new war in large parts of the world.

I think there is a slippage between the first and last paragraphs of this extract: to claim that, in the circumstances Kaldor outlines, ‘the conduct of force is not the same as war-fighting’ is to ring-fence ‘war’ in ways that are increasingly problematic, as that last sentence concedes.  And to assume that a re-calibrated international law can somehow insulate the one from the other is utopian, isn’t it?