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Appendix 2C. Collective violence beyond the standard definition of armed conflict


I. Introduction

II. Limitations of the standard definition of armed conflict

III. Data beyond elements of the standard definition of armed conflict

IV. Data for broader concerns of peace and security policy

V. Conclusions: broad perceptions, narrow data


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The coverage of available quantitative data on armed conflicts as reported in the SIPRI Yearbook and elsewhere has been found inadequate for measuring trends in security and insecurity.


Data on armed conflicts are currently collected and analysed on the basis of well-established criteria—the participation of a state as one of the warring parties, a political objective and the exchange of violence in battles—which together constitute the standard definition of armed conflict. Recent trends in warfare have tended to reduce the importance of all three elements. There are today many instances of fighting between non-state actors; the objectives of warfare (or other forms of collective violence) are often economic or ideological and not purely political; and rather than fighting battles, violence targets unarmed civilians. Furthermore, there have been shifts in the perception of what constitute the major threats to peace and security. From a human security perspective, all kinds of violence are important; in most industrialized countries threats are often judged according to their potential impacts on the social fabric, such as those already caused by international terrorism.


These and other changes in perceptions of war and peace, insecurity and security, have given rise to requests for different kinds of data. Data collectors have responded by introducing new data sets, for example on non-state conflict, one-sided violence and terrorism. However, there are still major gaps in the data, for example on the total numbers of victims of almost all forms of collective violence. Data collection efforts are often partial, selective and without a clear focus. While different conceptions of conflict and security will require different data, a focus on collective violence can at least provide a common framework. This framework helps to identify where the major gaps in data collection are. Besides the numbers of victims, these gaps are particularly in the various fields of non-state violence, including crime. Such data are difficult to collect, both conceptually—because of the lack of good definitions—and technically—because of the lack of easily available sources. If the gaps were filled, these data would go a long way towards addressing the doubts of critics of the available data on armed conflict. Only then could it be determined whether the downward trend indicated in the available data on armed conflicts between the second half of the 1990s and into the new decade has to do with definitions or reflects a genuine decline in collective violence worldwide.


Dr Michael Brzoska (Germany) is Director of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg.