18:00 PM

Conflict 'Early Warning' Tool May Help Predict Crises In Places Like Afghanistan, Pakistan

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Researchers have developed a new statistical method that can help track the political and civil instability of countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and others around the world.

While the tool is still new and under development, the researchers hope it could be used as an "early-warning system" that could alert world leaders to countries that may be moving toward political turmoil.

The early-warning system has been used to a limited extent by several governmental and private agencies, including the Swiss Peace Foundation.

Using this tool, researchers have calculated numerical scores for countries around the world - including those in central Asia - that indicate, in real time, how stable the countries' political systems are.

These scores indicate that Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Central Asian countries could become destabilized in the political aftermath of the U.S.-led military attacks, said Craig Jenkins, one of the creators of the early warning system and a professor of sociology and political science at Ohio State University.

Military intervention by the United States in these countries may be enough to push the countries over the brink, he said. "Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan have been unstable throughout much of the 1990s. Although they have been more stable recently, the military conflict may create mass protest and repression that stir a new round of instability," said Jenkins, who is also a researcher in Ohio State's Mershon Center for International Security.

"A lot depends on what actions the United State takes - how many troops we place there and how long they stay, how many civilians are killed."

Jenkins said the early warning system he helped develop is designed to help determine when the situation in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan has become critical.

"We are looking for a scientific method to help us to monitor when the political problems inside a country are about to lead to a major crisis," Jenkins said. "If we know early enough, there may be ways to lessen the impact of the crisis."

Right now, government officials often don't have a good way to put into context events around the world in a way that will help them make good decisions, Jenkins said.

"Officials get lost in what happened today and yesterday and what might happen tomorrow. They need some historical context - and history here might mean just six months ago - that will help them understand what is going on. That's what we hope our tool can do."

Jenkins developed the system with Doug Bond, a researcher at Harvard University. They explained their system earlier this year in the Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Their early warning system is based on a concept they call Conflict-Carrying Capacity (CCC)- the ability of countries to regulate internal conflicts.

Jenkins said three factors help determine the CCC and, thus, whether a country is close to becoming destabilized. The three factors are the amount of civil contention, such as large-scale protests; the amount of state repression of these protests; and the degree to which these protests and repression are violent. "High levels of any one of the three factors does not mean the country is unstable," Jenkins said. "It takes a strong combination of all three to predict instability in a country."

For example, in the 1990s China had high levels of civil protest and some violence, but state repression is modest overall. The result is that China is nearly as stable as the United States, he said.

"There have been several upsurges in civil contention and bouts of state repression in China, but civil contention has never become sustained or combined with significant, continuing violence," he said.

Using information concerning these three factors, the researchers calculate a CCC score for countries that range from 100 to 0, with 100 being the most stable. Countries face serious instability if their scores drop consistently below 85, Jenkins said.

Using CCC scores as a guide, Jenkins said three countries most affected by the recent U.S. attacks -- Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan - showed relatively higher levels of instability in the mid 1990s, but became more stable in late 1990s through 2001. This year, the three countries have had scores in the 80-85 range, which is not good, but better than their scores in the past, Jenkins said. For example, Afghanistan had scores that dropped as low as 40 in the mid 1990s.

"Under the new attacks, we are worried that the CCC scores in these countries will drop, indicating they have become destabilized," Jenkins said. "We will be monitoring them closely." By comparison, an analysis Jenkins and Bond did of countries from 1984 to 1994 showed that the United States had a CCC score of 98.89.

The most unstable country in the world at that time was Sri Lanka, which had a score of 67.45. Sri Lanka today remains in "near total chaos," Jenkins said.

Most of the information used to calculate the CCC scores comes from news reports distributed by Reuters International Wire Service. However, the researchers sometimes have to rely on other sources of information in parts of the world where there are few journalists, Jenkins said. For example, Jenkins said the National Science Foundation, which has been a major sponsor of this research, has given him an additional grant since Sept. 11 to help develop additional information sources in Afghanistan and central Asia.

Jenkins said the early-warning system has been used to a limited extent by several governmental and private agencies, including the Swiss Peace Foundation. However, because this is a new tool, its true value is not yet known.

"Right now, it is a good conflict barometer," Jenkins said. "But right now, we're not yet sure how good it will be at forecasting upcoming crises. I'm optimistic it can be helpful, but I'm not sure."


Contact: Craig Jenkins, (614) 292-1411; Jenkins.12@osu.edu Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu