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Introduction. An economist’s perspective on security, conflict and peace research

Contents

Contents

  • I. The drivers of insecurity, conflict and fragility
  • II. Trends in security, conflict and peace
  • III. The consequences of violent conflict and insecurity
  • IV. Interventions and institutions for security and peace
  • V. Looking beyond 2015: developing new data and a global system of security accounts

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Summary

The use of physical force is, unfortunately, one of the key elements in the repertoire of human behaviour. Given the persistence and prominence of the intentional use of force, or violence, for human interactions, group behaviour and state actions, it is surprising how limited the degree of understanding of this topic still is.

Many of the policies dealing with potential or actual group-based violence therefore remain imperfect. For example, not one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have shaped the development aid discourse since 2000, refers to peace or security. This silence on security, conflict and peace is overdue to be remedied.

The SIPRI Yearbook aims to fill existing knowledge gaps: it provides information on and endeavours to enhance understanding of conflict, peace and security, thereby enabling better policies to be made in the pursuit of a more peaceful, secure and equitable world. Social science has identified at least four further significant fields that exhibit knowledge gaps concerning the strategic use of force by groups in areas with weakened state institutions, including in undemocratic states. These four fields are

  • the drivers of insecurity, conflict and fragility;
  • trends in security, conflict and peace;
  • the consequences of violent conflict and insecurity; and
  • interventions and institutions for security and peace.

 

Taken as a whole, these gaps imply the absence of a comprehensive system of security data tying together the different strands of peace research, which may be the most fundamental and systematic knowledge gap presented thus far.

This lack of understanding greatly complicates peacebuilding and conflict prevention. It makes interventions in conflicts much more ideological, much less an issue of actual common interests and ultimately less successful—leading to self-fulfilling prophecies or ‘narratives’ of failed interventions, seemingly demonstrating the limitations of such actions.

If so many other issues in an individual’s life or in society can be measured, it should be possible to develop metrics for peace and security, both at the individual and the aggregate, national levels. However, measuring perceptions of insecurity, counting the war dead, tallying incidents of weapon smuggling, developing proxies for peace and estimating security indicators is not sufficient. Despite these and many other developments referenced in the SIPRI Yearbook over the years, at least two important challenges remain.

The first challenge is to define the remaining data needs to advance the study of security, conflict and peace. The second will be to develop a ‘global system of security accounts’, which brings together in a consistent framework the many variables measuring flows of security and peace.

The SIPRI Yearbook has for almost five decades provided a narrative on global security developments, building on SIPRI’s unique ability to gather, collate and interpret relevant trends. The time may be right to ask how this narrative can be formalized to further develop knowledge on and policies for security and peace.

 

Professor Tilman Brück (Germany) is Director of SIPRI.

English