About the Armed Conflict Programme

Building on the study of Armed Conflict

The IISS is launching an Armed Conflict Research Programme that will aim to provide a conceptual foundation for the specific conflicts and statistical data, which are the focus of the Armed Conflict Database (ACD) and the Armed Conflict Survey. The Programme will provide rigorous analysis and in-depth examination of the dominant processes and trends in armed conflicts globally. It will do so by drawing on and challenging the key intellectual traditions in comparative conflict and security studies.

In an age of growing security challenges, the intensification and increasing severity of armed conflicts around the globe presents important intellectual and policy challenges. Understanding the implications that the activities of non-state armed actors may have on governance and conflict prolongation or resolution in a host of conflict-affected territories is vital to adequately address a number of increasingly pressing problems. These include regime instability, political disorder, and the proliferation of Islamist movements as well as violent insurgencies and human insecurity.

Armed conflict analysis had for a long time been dominated by ideas that considered states the main and most relevant actors in instances of violence, and that consequently saw national boundaries as ‘naturally’ relevant for delimiting the investigation of such conflicts. In the contemporary era a wide variety of non-state actors are increasingly engaging in violent conflict, dramatically changing the state’s role in monopolising the means of coercion.

Intrastate armed conflict has had major political and social effects in terms of the building and rebuilding of states and territorial boundaries, political organisation and human suffering. It is a key driver of political, economic and societal change.

Armed conflicts today are distinctly influenced by two seemingly contradictory but in fact complementary processes that have operated simultaneously. They have become increasingly transnationalised, not least under the influence of globalisation. Fighting rebel groups often operate and recruit across borders; in many instances, neighbouring states intervene in an ongoing conflict; diaspora communities play a vital role in many armed conflicts. Increasing refugee flows and forced migration contribute to this detachment of conflict from specific national and territorial boundaries. Non-state actors involved in armed conflicts explain and legitimate their goals and strategies through public communication activities aimed at connecting loose networks of individuals that transcend national boundaries.At the same time territory often remains the focal point of armed conflicts. Conflicts that involve struggle for control over territory and strong attachments to that territory by participants tend to escalate quickly and be especially protracted. The intensification of armed intrastate conflicts around the globe has also led to a blurring of the boundary between individual, societal and state security, as new actors who are difficult to categorise gain prominence in the making or breaking of the global security landscape.

States attempting to tackle violent insurgencies are increasingly faced with a multitude of strongly fragmented groups that are divided on strategy, ideology, the distribution of power and resources. A multiplicity of armed organisations with no clear hierarchy, affiliation, and highly diffuse command and control structures pose policy dilemmas in terms of international engagement, counter-terrorism efforts, conflict resolution and post-conflict state-building.

The key areas to be covered by the Armed Conflict Programme are the following:

Transnational Actors and Armed Conflict Diffusion
Globalisation creates transnational flows and offers trans-boundary opportunities for accessing resources and mobilising support. These flows have unleashed a whole range of material and non-material assets at the disposal of both state and non-state actors. The overall aim of this aspect of the research programme will be to analyse and better grasp the various means through which conflicts spread or diffuse across borders and the impact of different participants on this process. Diffusion will be understood as a complex and multidimensional dynamic that involves the strategic spread of military tactics, ideas, social and cultural practices across borders, engaging different actors. While conflicts were rarely entirely isolated from each other in the past, there is a renewed urgency to study conflict diffusion now, not least due to the growing use of terrorist tactics and the constantly fluctuating formation of hybrid networks of participants employing terrorist means. In the economic realm, non-state actors frequently resort to violence to secure markets, networks of trade and resource accumulation, and the supply of goods for economic survival and enrichment. Their activities reveal alternative structures of power, authority, independence and self-governance on scales both larger and smaller than the nation-state. This aspect of the programme will, thus, consider the ‘alternative economies’ of conflict. This strand will also include an examination of the role of diaspora in the onset, duration and termination of violent armed conflict. In particular, the processes and pathways through which diaspora organisations manage to mobilise ideational resources and channel them to zones of conflict will be investigated. Diasporas’ role in moderating or radicalising conflicts will be assessed.

Human Security and ‘Non-traditional’ Agents of Political Violence (women and children)This aspect of the programme will examine in detail the human security dimension of armed conflicts with a particular emphasis on the effects of conflicts and how these have been addressed in relation to women and children. Women and children have only recently become objects of attention in armed conflict and security studies. Even when they are explored, they are frequently assigned the roles of victims, passive subjects, or threats, or treated as irrelevant to conflict processes. This strand of the Programme will attempt to reinstate these groups’ capacity for agency in the sphere of security, and consider their central roles in the making or breaking of security and conflict.

Rebel Governance, Armed Conflict Recruitment and ParticipationWhen non-state armed groups secure territory in the course of a conflict, they frequently engage in some form of governance over that territory. Yet, the forms in which rebel governance impacts active armed conflict recruitment and participation, and the interaction of such governance with different segments of society remain under-researched. This subsection of the Programme will address questions, such as: What factors influence the formation and decline of rebel governance, or absence thereof? What role do natural resources play in the emergence or consolidation of rebel governance? How do civilians respond to and contribute to shaping rebel governance? How does rebel governance affect recruitment strategies and civilian participation in armed conflict?

Politico-Ideological Dynamics
This section will examine the politico-ideological challenges states face when dealing with conflict participants, with an emphasis on the relationship between armed groups and institutional politics and the ideological dynamics of the transition from violent to non-violent forms of political participation. The key factors (e.g. organisational, ideational, leadership and decision-making) affecting the shift from violent insurgency to the negotiating table. It will attempt to understand how states should best harness their ideational and material resourcresources to engage and include non-state armed groups into post-conflict state-building.

The Armed Conflict Database and Survey

In 2015, the IISS inaugurated a new annual publication – the Armed Conflict Survey. The book provides factual information, as well as overall assessment of the political, military and security dimensions of 41 active armed conflicts around the globe. It gives an overview and analysis of the key developments in high, medium, and low-intensity conflicts, including Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Israel-Palestine, Southern Thailand, Colombia and Ukraine. The volume also incorporates five essays by some of the world’s leading experts on armed conflict. The 2016 edition will feature essays on subjects, such as ICT in armed conflict, women in armed conflict, and the political economy of armed conflict.

In addition, the recently revamped IISS Armed Conflict Database (ACD) is an online resource that provides monitoring, data and analysis on armed conflicts worldwide, ranging from rebellions and insurgencies to civil wars or inter-state conflicts. For each active conflict, the ACD provides a timeline for every notable event, plus monthly or quarterly analytical reports and annual, searchable data on fatalities, refugees and IDPs. The database also provides a concise summary of the conflict, plus a map and extensive background information. Reports on political, military and human security developments are published monthly for high-intensity conflicts, and quarterly for medium and low-intensity conflicts. The ACD also contains 46 archived conflicts.

armed conflict database

Armed Conflict Database

A regularly updated IISS online resource providing detailed information on more than 70 conflicts worldwide.

Armed Conflict Survey 2015

The new IISS Armed Conflict Survey provides a reference guide to the state of the world, with statistics and details on more than 40 of the world’s major conflicts.