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Numerical modelling/empirical analysis of civil conflict

7 March 2012

Lucy Burton

Civil wars are highly complex. They create large-scale humanitarian crises and result in economic instability, retarded economic growth and development failure. Policy-makers have focused their efforts on how best to deal with civil unrest and it is clear that the study of global security and conflict is vital. The multi-factorial aspects of conflict make its study amenable to a range of disciplines. For example, the damaging effects of civil conflict can diffuse into both neighbouring regions and internationally, thus making political violence a concern within the fields of geography and international relations. If wars are viewed as systemic failures in domestic political processes, they are also of much concern to political scientists and since conflict destroys productive capacity and retards economic growth, it is of similar interest to economists.

The economic theories attempting to quantify the motives for rebellion are divided into two main categories, namely ‘greed’ and ‘grievance’. Recent academic findings have strongly influenced the popularity of greed-based explanations for civil conflict. This has led to a consensus among policy-makers that grievance-based rebellion is relatively insignificant. However, there is an increasing body of opinion that suggests it is too soon to dismiss inequality-based motives.

The aim of this research is to assess how grievances assist in the formation of rebellion/terrorist groups. The intention is to apply methods and theories from the physical sciences (such as numerical modelling, complexity science and network approaches) to the study of rebel/terrorist group formation.