Ethiopia will be in greater risk of conflict in 5 and 40 years time – Study

By IndepthAfrica
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Nov 21st, 2012
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The world will be a more peaceful place in 2050
By Liat Clark,

An upcoming paper by a political scientist will claim that in 40 years world conflict will plummet, with the greatest decrease occurring in the Middle East.

Håvard Hegre, a professor in the department of Political Science at the University of Oslo, carried out a series of statistical analyses to come to the conclusion, in collaboration with the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).

The study reveals that in five years’ time India, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Uganda and Burma will be at the greatest risk of conflict, while in 40 years time it will be India, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania. The good news? Those conflicts ongoing in 2011, including in Iraq, Libya, Tajikistan, Syria, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Mauritania, will most likely be over.

Among other things, this will be attributed to war becoming financially pointless (or unfeasible), education increasing, infant mortality decreasing and the world’s youth populations becoming smaller.

The timing of the publication, which is due to appear in the next issue of International Studies Quarterly, may perhaps be a little troubling to Hegre, what with the world on tenterhooks watching the conflict between Israel and Gaza escalate, rhetoric growing more extreme by the day. Regardless, Hegre’s hypothesis is one we’d all like to believe in.

The analysis took into account things like historical conflicts from the past 40 years, economics, population growth and infant mortality projections and education. The information was fed into a simulation programme built by Joakim Karlsen, a computer scientist at Østfold University College, which was then run 18,000 times.

The resulting figures suggested that by 2050 armed conflict — defined as being “between governments and political organisations that use violence and in which at least 25 people die” — would be occurring in every 12th country. Currently, that proportion is every sixth country, so it will take four decades for us to halve the numbers.

War has become less and less popular since the Second World War, explains the paper, and that trend is set to continue because of a number of converging factors.

“War has become less acceptable, just like dueling, torture and the death penalty,” said Hegre. “Conflicts that involve a high degree of violence, such as Syria, are becoming increasingly rare.” However, he acknowledges that, despite land invasion losing gravitas as a reason for war, future “demands for democracy may be suppressed with violence and result in more violence in the short term — as in Libya.” In fact, the recent conflict in the Middle East caused Hegre and his colleagues to reassess their initial predictions.

“Prior to the Arabian spring, we expected five percent of the countries in the world to be involved in a conflict in 2050. This percentage has now risen to seven percent. The conflicts in the Middle East weaken the clear correlation between socio-economic development and the absence of civil war. The conflicts in Syria and Libya show that we also have to include democratisation processes in the model. To achieve this, we are now working on projecting democratic systems of government and regime changes.” So even the current model could need some serious adjustments. And, considering the impact of Israel’s current action against Gaza, it may need to be readjusted further to reflect the potential trickle affect across the Middle East and beyond, if Hegre failed to take this into account.

The socio-economic factors largely remain the same, however. For instance, high infant mortality rates have been linked to high probability of conflicts, according to Hegre, and the UN has predicted a steep decline in infant mortality everywhere. Factors contributing to future peace will be populations growing at a slower pace and the number of young people decreasing, except in African countries — consequently, the simulation has conflicts increasing in Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi, as well as China, and decreasing significantly in Colombia, Turkey and Thailand, as well as Algeria.

Education will contribute significantly to the decrease — it leads to fewer births, so there are less mouths to feed — as will economics, which of course contributes to how all the other factors progress.

“Economic changes in society have resulted in both education and human capital becoming important,” says Hegre. “A complex economy makes political violence less attractive. It has become too expensive to kill people. Modern society is dependent on economic development. It is too expensive to use violence to destroy this network. It has also become harder to take financial capital by force. It is easy to move capital across national borders. Therefore, a cynical leader will be less likely to choose violence as a strategy.”

It might be hard to trust any data with an optimistic outlook on world peace, however Hegre did verify its accuracy (as far as one can) by using the simulation data from the years preceding 2000 to predict conflicts occurring between 2001 and 2009. Those stats, which used data from as far back as 1970, estimated conflict would be more than 50 percent in 20 countries. It overestimated by four countries.

There are no doubt plenty of factors Hegre cannot possibly predict that will affect future global peace. However, the simulation is a good general indicator of the factors affecting conflict. Along with adding democratisation to the model, he may do well to add other facets of warfare. For instance, the model only includes “conflict between governments and political organisations”, and not tribal war or individual terrorists. Considering the latter has increased in some parts of the world in recent decades, its contribution to social stability should be considered significant, if only for how that impact drives foreign policy as well as institutional aggression and distrust.

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