Balancing Belligerents or Feeding the Beast: Transforming Conflict Traps


Since the end of the Cold War, recurring civil conflicts have been the dominant form of violent armed conflict in the world, accounting for 70% of conflicts active between 2000-2013. Duration and intensity of episodes within recurring conflicts in Africa exhibit four behaviors characteristic of archetypal dynamic system structures. The overarching questions asked in this study are whether these patterns are robustly correlated with fundamental concepts of resiliency in dynamic systems that scale from micro-to macro levels; are they consistent with theoretical risk factors and causal mechanisms; and what are the policy implications.

Econometric analysis and dynamic systems modeling of 36 conflicts in Africa between 1989 -2014 are combined with process tracing in a case study of Somalia to evaluate correlations between state characteristics, peace operations and foreign aid on the likelihood of observed conflict patterns, test hypothesized causal mechanisms across scales, and develop policy recommendations for increasing human security while decreasing resiliency of belligerents. Findings are that observed conflict patterns scale from micro to macro levels; are strongly correlated with state characteristics that proxy a mix of cooperative (e.g., gender equality) and coercive (e.g., security forces) conflict-balancing mechanisms; and are weakly correlated with UN and regional peace operations and humanitarian aid. Interactions between peace operations and aid interventions that effect conflict persistence at micro levels are not seen in macro level analysis, due to interdependent, micro-level feedback mechanisms, sequencing, and lagged effects.

This study finds that the dynamic system structures associated with observed conflict patterns contain tipping points between balancing mechanisms at the interface of micro-macro level interactions that are determined as much by factors related to how intervention policies are designed and implemented, as what they are. Policy implications are that reducing risk of conflict persistence requires that peace operations and aid interventions (1) simultaneously increase transparency, promote inclusivity (with emphasis on gender equality), and empower local civilian involvement in accountability measures at the local levels; (2) build bridges to horizontally and vertically integrate across levels; and (3) pave pathways towards conflict transformation mechanisms and justice that scale from the individual, to community, regional, and national levels.