Solutions to Violent Conflict

Policy Uses of Peace and Conflict Data

In Peace Accords on May 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Peter Wallensteen

In January 1990 I received a phone call from the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. The island was experiencing an intensive armed conflict, a war that was small by international standards, but which we included in the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP). The caller had seen an article on conflict resolution based on our database and assumed that we had information that might play a role in the settlement of the conflict.

When the call came, it was possible for me to relate immediately to the issues. The parties in Bougainville listened with interest to the autonomy settlement for the Åland islands situated between Sweden and Norway and the demilitarization that preceded it. Today, Bougainville has autonomous status within Papua New Guinea. Perhaps what the local parties learned from academia was helpful.

Tested in real life

The Bougainville episode demonstrated the uses of peace and conflict data collections. In today’s world, such information is as available as an application on any smart phone.
Real-world examples in the database help convince leaders that a new path has been actually tested in real life. Each conflict is unique, but it is reassuring to know that a particular solution has been tried elsewhere.

Real-world examples can convince leaders that a new path has been tested. While each conflict is unique, it is reassuring to know that a solution has been tried elsewhere.

Systematic conflict data has important policy uses. It provides valuable information that is otherwise not easily available. Because it is assembled by an academic institution, it has credibility as non-partisan and transparent. Policymakers can use conflict and peace databases as elements in their analyses and as background information for decisions. The databases point to factors not traditionally integrated into strategic analysis. They make it difficult for policymakers to ignore long-term consequences.

During armed conflicts the warring parties normally are concerned entirely with ‘their’ conflict. They regard the dispute as unique and not comparable to any other. However, they may be interested in hearing about solutions from other cases. Data can help to broaden their understanding.

UCDP currently lists more than 200 peace agreements since 1975, and many of them include elements that are relevant in other contexts. The Peace Accords Matrix (PAM) has data on more than 30 comprehensive agreements with respect to 50 different dimensions that often appear in peace agreements. The databases have information on possible solutions to many thorny issues, as well as the implementation of agreements.

Databases can be used to show that solutions to conflict are available, and setbacks in peace processes should only be regarded as temporary.

The information contained in these databases can be useful for policymakers in formulating strategies for peace and for persuading others to join in. For instance, policymakers have used UCDP data about the decline in the number of conflicts to convince skeptics about the value of supporting the United Nations. Similarly, PAM can be used to show that solutions are available and setbacks should only be regarded as temporary. Data demonstrates that it is possible to overcome obstacles to peace, as has happened in other circumstances.

Information from databases may also help to set the policy and academic agenda. Research built on data archives such as PAM and UCDP can demonstrate what may work and what may not work in peace accords. For instance, there is a lively discussion and debate on the role of power sharing, as well as on the impact of amnesty on peacemaking. Some experts argue that the issue of military integration is among the most important to consider.

Another topic is the question of sequencing the peace process. PAM identifies 50 elements in a peace process, but they cannot be handled at the same time. Some have to come earlier, but in such a way as not to prevent other elements of the peace process coming later. Information contained in the data collections can help decision-makers determine what to prioritize when facing a peace process.

With the advent of UCDP and PAM, the chances of building a lasting peace after war have increased.

Peter Wallensteen is the Dag Hammarskjöld Professor of Peace Research at Uppsala University in Sweden, and the director of the Uppsala Conflict Data Program. He also is the Richard G. Starmann Sr. Professor of Peace Research at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute.

Wallensteen, Peter 2011 Peace Research: Theory and Practice (Routledge)
Susan Allen Nan, Zachariah Cherian Mampilly, and Andrea Bartoli, Eds. 2011. Peacemaking: From Practice to Theory (ABC-Clio)