Limiting Violence and Intimidation - For Researchers

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Heidi Burgess

Current Areas of Research:

Research is ongoing in all areas of interest discussed in the education and practice pages including the causes of violence and war, failed states, war crimes, and genocide, with particular attention being focused on the role of non-state actors, the problem of insurgencies, terrorism, and other forms of assymetrical warfare. On the positive side, research is investigating better strategies for early warning, what strategies are most effective for violence prevention and limitation, and how peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding can be done more effectively. Additional areas of attention include civilian-military cooperation in post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction, transitional justice, and DDR--disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants. The "more information link" to the right includes links to hundreds of studies on these topics and more, but for people wanting a more succinct listing of some of a few of the many useful studies, we list some highlights below.

Causes of Violence and War:

Responses to Violence and War:

Some of the leading research organizations on these topis include:

Topics that seem particularly in need of further attention include the following:

Despite a great deal of scholarly and practical work on peace processes, a lot of questions remain unanswered. Among these are:

  • When should outside actors intervene in "internal" conflicts? This is, of course, both a normative and an empirical question. It is known that it is much easier to prevent violence from occurring than to stop it after it starts. But when outside actors should get involved is by no means clear. It can certainly be argued that outside involvement can make matters worse, rather than better, depending on who they are and what they do. Even if intervention is likely to be beneficial, outsiders cannot, either morally or practically, get involved everywhere they might be useful. So scholarship is necessary to determine what factors make intervention more or less likely to be successful. If more were known about that, then outside parties could be more informed when they make decisions about whether or not (and how) to intervene to prevent or stop violence.
  • Who whould these actors be? Usually, only large states are in a position to intervene, especially if military intervention is what is being considered. But there are roles for other actors to play--in early warning, conflict resolution training, development assistance, etc. Again research showing what works best under what circumstances is needed.
  • What form should the intervention take? (Are there non-military options? What are they?) There are certainly many options, both military and nonmilitary. Case-studies of particular interventions are useful, as is comparative research that looks at multiple interventions to try to develop some guidelines about what is most effective when, and at what cost.
  • What is the role of civil and commercial society in preventing or ending violent conflict?
  • Increasing the use of nonviolent action to address grievances. Considerable research has shown that nonviolent direct action can be at least AS effective, and often more effective at getting grievances addressed than is violence. Yet, nonviolent direct action is not often used: violence often seems to be the strategy of first and last resort. The Governance Commons would like to see additional research which addresses what factors determine when disputants are willing to try nonviolent approaches, and what can be done to encourage more use of nonviolent strategies instead of violence in both international and inter-group (ethnic, religious, tribal) clashes.
  • Responding to violent insurgencies. One particularly widespread use of violence is political insurgencies, which pit violent non-state actors against sitting governments and, at times, outside intervenors. To some extent this is a military strategy question, which is far beyond the scope of this website. But it is also a question of governance and peacebuilding. Governance theory asserts that if governments are effective and legitimate, insurgencies are much less likely to occur. Similarly, when and where insurgencies do occur, part of the necessary response to them is to establish effective and legitimate governance that will gain the support of the general population at the expense of the insurgents. Diplomats and peacebuilders thus need to focus on the governance aspects of civil conflict just as much (or perhaps even more) than the military focuses on security aspects and research is needed to determine how this is best done. The United States has been experimenting with a variety of approaches to addressing such insurgencies, ranging from the highly violent "shock and awe" used at the beginning of the second Iraq invasion to much "softer" SSTR--security, stabilization, transition, and reconstruction--approaches that focus not only on "destroying the enemy," but also building up infrastructure to provide for fundamental needs, building trust between parties, and developing collaborative approaches to joint problems. While it can, perhaps, be argued that the SSTR approach has been more successful than the shock and awe approach, especially in Iraq, SSTR has not been nearly as successful as hoped. Progress is transient, at best, in Afghanistan, and while significant in Iraq, its longevity after the final US troops leave is unclear. SO, the issue in need of much further study is: how can violent insurgencies be affectively prevented, and if not prevented stopped from becoming particularly destructive or strong? Failing that, how can they be coopted or defeated so that legitimate grievances are addressed, but in legitimate, nonviolent ways.
  • Preventing and dealing with spoilers. A common result of peace negotiations is that some people get hurt (or perceive that they are being hurt) by the peace process. Whether they be arms dealers, warriors, or people with ideals that seem to be compromised in a peace agreement, some turn into "spoilers"--people who engage in violence after an agreement is being negotiated or signed for the primary purpose of "spoiling" the peace and returning to war. Although some research has been done on (a) how to limit the creation of spoilers and (b) how to limit a spoiler's ability to re-ignite war, this is still an area in need of a lot more creative work.
  • Preventing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Many times since the holocaust, the world has asserted that it must "never again" let such an event happen. Yet, genocide, crimes against humanity, and other war crimes continue to occur over and over again as the world watches, at times sending inadequate "peacekeepers," or at other times arguing about whether a particular event is or is not "genocide," if there is a "responsibility to protect," and if there is, how and by whom should it be carried out. As these debates occur, thousands, or even millions of people have died. Much research is needed to determine, among other things (1) what spurs genocide (2) how such tensions and triggers can be reduced and/or avoided, (3) what can be done more effectively to quickly stop war crimes and genocide once they begin.
  • Dealing with refugees and IDPs. One of the common results of violent conflict is large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who need to be cared for as the violence is occurring, and repatriated after the violence ends. This repatriation process often leads to renewed conflicts, as property ownership is contested, Also, with the destruction the war caused, there is often not enough housing or employment to provide for the returning population as well as the people who remained in the war-torn area. Research is thus needed on the types of problems refugees and IDPs face in the refugee and IDP camps, how these problems can be successfully addressed, problems the individuals and the societies face when refugees and IDPs return "home," and how these problems can be successfully addressed without re-igniting conflict.
  • Violence prevention through successful DDR (disarmament, demobilization, and re-integration of ex-combatants.) Another cause of recurring violence is the unsuccessful ddr of returning soldiers. Combattants must be successfully integrated into a society now focused on peace, not war. They must be able to receive an education or a job, and have a place where the "fit" into the newly forming political, economic, and social structure. If there is no such "place," the chances that they will take up arms again is highly increased. Research is therefore needed on what makes DDR efforts more and less successful, and what can be done under various conditions to improve the likelihood of success.