Drone Wars

A wake-up call on how robots could change conflicts

Posted by: Tamsin Tags: There is no tags | Categories: Current News


Steve Wright is a Reader in the Politics and International Relations Group at Leeds Beckett University and a member of the International Campaign for Armed Robot Control.

The Campaign Against Killer Robots‘ terrifying new short film “Slaughterbots” predicts a new age of warfare and automated assassinations, if weapons that decide for themselves who to kill are not banned. The organisation hopes to pressure theUN to outlaw lethal robots under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which has previously banned antipersonnel landmines, cluster munitions and blinding lasers on the battlefield.

Some have suggested that the new film is scaremongering. But the technologies needed to build such autonomous weapons – intelligent targeting algorithms, geo-location, facial recognition – are already with us. Many existing lethal drone systems only operate in a semi-autonomous mode because of legal constraints and could do much more if allowed. It won’t take much to develop the technology so it has the capabilities shown in the film.

Perhaps the best way to see the film is less a realistic portrayal of how this technology will be used without a ban and more a wake-up call about how it could change conflicts. For some time to come, small arms and light weapons will remain the major instruments of political violence. But the film highlights how the intelligent targeting systems supposedly designed to minimise causalities could be used for a selective cull of an entire city. It’s easy to imagine how this might be put to use in a sectarian or ethnic conflict.

No international ban on inhumane weapons is absolutely watertight. The cluster munitions treaty has not prevented Russia from using them in Syria, or Saudi Arabia bombing Yemeni civilians with old British stock. But the landmine treaty has halved the estimated number of casualties – and even some of those states that have not ratified the ban, such as the US, now act as if they have. A ban on killer robots could have a similar effect.

Similarly, a ban might not remove all chance of terrorists using these weapons. The international arms market is too promiscuous. But it would remove potential stockpiles of killer robots by forcing governments to limit their manufacture.

Some have argued armed robotic systems might actually help reduce suffering in war since they don’t get tired, abuse captives, or act in self-defence or revenge. They believe that autonomous weapons could be programmed to uphold international law better than humans do.

But, as Prof Noel Sharkey of the International Campaign for Armed Robot Control points out, this view is based on the fantasy of robots being super smart terminators when today “they have the intelligence of a fridge”. While the technology to enable killer robots exists, without the technology to restrain them, a ban is our best hope of avoiding the kind of scenario shown in the film.

Extract from: http://theconversation.com/should-we- fear-the- rise-of- drone-assassins-two-experts-debate- 87699

CRS Conference, Oxford 2017

Posted by: Tamsin Tags: There is no tags | Categories: Current News


Threats to the Liberal International Order are resulting in an upward spike in armed conflicts and threaten a revival of ethnic exclusion, civil war, and nuclear instability, argued Lars Erik Cederman, in his keynote speech to the 2017 CRS Annual Conference. He compared the liberal international order to a garden in a jungle: it needs vigorous action to defend its achievements. Using his own research results, he suggested the link that Gurr drew between minorities at risk and the threat of armed conflict still holds. After a long period in which armed violence has been falling, minority protection has been improving and democratic governance has been spreading, these trends have started to go into reverse. The most recent data suggests a rise in discrimination and exclusion, a higher level of ethnic conflict, a spike in the armed conflict data, coming at the same time as the return to nuclear crises. The rise in populism and the adoption of exclusionary agendas in the White House threatens to erode the liberal world order. Drawing on his own personal reflections, Cederman suggested that a vigorous reform and defence of the liberal order, and reassertion of the values of cooperation, democratic participation, tolerance and pluralism, was vital to avoid the risks this turn to illiberalism might portend.

Cederman’s keynote was the climax of the CRS Conference, on the theme: ‘Ending Conflicts in Turbulent Times: Exploring the Conflict, Peace and Violence Nexus’. The conference was hosted by the Changing Character of War Programme with the support of the Centre for International Studies at Oxford University. More than 160 participants attended – the highest turnout ever to a CRS conference – with delegates arriving from all over the world.

The conference started with a plenary in which Oxford academics Anke Hoeffler, Richard Caplan, and Peter Wilson reflected thoughtfully on their approaches to our field, prompted by questions from Andrea Ruggieri.

Researchers offered excellent presentations of their ongoing research in five parallel sessions, with four or five presenters in each session. Panels spanned the field, covering among other topics:  civil and international conflicts, interventions, peacekeeping, civilian protection, nonviolence, norms and values, gender and conflict, crime and conflict, religious conflict, dialogue and mediation, the Colombian conflict, peacebuilding and peacemaking (see the conference programme for the full list of sessions).

The winners of this year’s CRS Book Prize were Sabrina Karim and Kyle Beardsley, who presented on their book ‘Equal Opportunities Peacekeeping’. Luke Abbs (Essex) and Heidi Riley (University College Dublin) were the joint winners of this year’s Cedric Smith prize for the best postgraduate paper.

Chris Mitchell took us back to the early days of the Society with an endearing video tribute to Tony de Reuck, a founder of the CRS, who passed away earlier this year.

The medieval milieu of Pembroke college provided a memorable backdrop, and participants enjoyed a fine dinner in the College Hall.

CRS thanks all the participants for their contributions, and is grateful to its partners in Oxford University, to the staff at Pembroke College, Oxford, and to the organizers and programme convenors and volunteers for all their work towards a successful conference.

Details of the 2018 CRS conference to be announced soon.

WINNERS of the CRS Cedric Smith Prize 2017 – Luke Abbs and Heidi Riley

Posted by: Tamsin Tags: There is no tags | Categories: Current News


The Conflict Research Society congratulates Luke Abbs (University of Essex) and Heidi Riley (University College Dublin), the two ex aequo winners of the Cedric Smith Prize 2017. Centering on peace and conflict research, the Cedric Smith Prize is awarded to the best research paper by a UK or ROI based PhD student.

Luke Abbs’ winning article is titled “The Hunger Games: Food Prices, Ethnic Cleavages and Nonviolent Unrest in Africa.” It explores how nonviolent movements overcome ethnic divisions, which a growing literature on civil resistance has associated with constraints on broad and diverse mobilization, which in turn is crucial for the success of such movements. The author argues (and finds) that nonviolent action is contingent on the existence of cross-cutting grievances, which enable movements to broaden their appeal and unify various intra- and inter-ethnic groups. The jury was impressed by the combination of theoretical innovation and an exceptionally rigorous empirical analysis. By integrating current theorizing about civic protest with a growing literature on food prices and unrest, and with longer-standing theories on ethnic cleavages and grievances, the author makes a strong theoretical contribution to research on nonviolent resistance.

The title of Heidi Riley’s winning article is “Male Collective Identity in the People’s Liberation Army of Nepal.” It examines how participation in insurgency shifts notions of masculinity within low-level male combatants. Through conducting in-depth, qualitative interviews with former members of the Nepal People’s Liberation Army (Maoist), the author finds that the gender equal identity espoused by the Maoist leadership was influential in shifting notions of collective gender identity of male low-level cadre. The jury found this a very important, innovative piece that adds a so far neglected aspect to the study of gender in war. The author makes a strong case for the policy relevance of her findings by pointing out that we need to move beyond portraying former combatants primarily as a source of insecurity. Instead, former combatants – especially from rebel groups with progressive gender ideologies – can be important agents of gendered change in post-conflict societies.

The CRS received 13 submissions for the prize. 5 shortlisted articles were then judged by an international jury consisting of Hugh Miall (University of Kent), Kaisa Hinkkainen (University of Leeds), Sabine Otto (Uppsala University), Enzo Nussio (ETH Zurich), and Corinne Bara (Uppsala University).

Impact of Brexit on Peacebuilding

Posted by: Tamsin Tags: There is no tags | Categories: Current News


Brexit could seriously damage peacebuilding, concluded a workshop today at The Conflict Analysis Research Centre at the University of Kent, although it may also present some new opportunities.

Four expert speakers from peacebuilding NGOs discussed the possible impact of Brexit on UK peacebuilding NGOs, on the wider UK contribution to peacebuilding and on the peacebuilding sector in Europe.

The speakers were Teresa Dumasy, Director of Policy and Learning at Conciliation Resources, Phil Vernon, Director of Programmes at International Alert, Judith Large, a peacebuilding facilitator and Research Fellow at CARC, and Ben Moore, Assistant Director of the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office.

Brexit could mean funding cuts for the UK peacebuilding sector and difficulties in recruiting staff from Europe. The EU currently provides 15-25% of funding for UK NGOs in the sector. With funding for peacebuilding also likely to fall in the US as the Trump Administration reins back support for civil society, this could mean a painful funding squeeze. There might still be openings for British NGOs to participate through the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) or as non-EU consortium members. But the opportunities for influencing policy decisions will be reduced.

EU and British investment in peacebuilding is also under threat. Governments are taking a more reactive approach to conflicts. The EU is withdrawing support from peacebuilding and conflict prevention and in the UK, civil society organisations, which have wide networks with local organisations in conflict contexts, are finding it harder to access funds. At a time of budget cuts, there are signs that military research is encroaching on existing peacebuilding and conflict prevention budgets. Mediation support and peacebuilding work have been reorganized into umbrella groupings such as PRISM in the EU and the National Security Council in the UK, which are tending to subordinate making peace to national security interests.

Current policy developments threaten to undermined the significant achievements made up to now in the UK and EU peacebuilding sectors.

In the UK, the government’s proposed withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights threatens the integrity of an international human rights regime that British human rights experts have done much to promote in the past. In Northern Ireland, the possible re-introduction of a hard border and the dependence of the Conservative government on support from one of the parties to the conflict threatens the integrity of the peace process that has been seen as an export model for UK peacebuilding.

In the EU, UK withdrawal would damage European peacebuilding efforts. The EU will lose the expertise of British civil servants and secondees at senior levels, and there may be a reduction of NGO input into EU policies. The UK contribution has previously been significant in areas like conflict early warning systems and conflict analysis. British diplomats would sit outside the EU’s negotiating rooms, limiting their ability to access information and participate in making joint policies on peacebuilding matters.

The EU budget would shrink by 15-20% and if this led to cuts across the board, EU peacebuilding budgets would be reduced. This would affect EU funding of peacebuilding in conflict-affected regions.

Hitherto the UK has acted as a brake on efforts towards EU defence cooperation. With a new impulse for integration amongst the core EU states, defence cooperation is likely to gather steam. This may well impact negatively on peacebuilding budgets, if military rather than soft power approaches to security are given emphasis.

A harder or softer Brexit will affect the outcome. The Norway model enables Norwegian NGOs to have as much access to the EU as NGOs from member states. In contrast, the Swiss model, based on bilateral commitments, limits the eligibility of Swiss NGOs to EU funds. The UK could continue to contribute to some funds, such as the Trust Funds, , the European Development Fund and CSDP missions . There may also be opportunities. In the past for example the UK’s Conflict Pool allowed for more nimble and flexible funding for pilot or short-term initiatives, which in turn acted as leverage for longer-term EU funding subject to the EU’s slower and more bureaucratic machinery. The UK could reassess how it can add value to the efforts and instruments of the EU in conflict prevention.

Hugh Miall

Prize Winners Announced CRS Book Of The Year 2017

Posted by: Tamsin Tags: There is no tags | Categories: Current News


The Conflict Research Society congratulates Sabrina Karim and Kyle Beardsley on winning the 2017 Conflict Research Society Book of the Year Prize for their book titled Equal Opportunity Peacekeeping: Women, Peace, and Security in Post-Conflict States published by Oxford University Press (2017).

The prize honours research on conflict and peace that is contemporary, exceptional, and world leading, and which provides an invaluable contribution to the literature on conflict and peace.

The prize committee received over 50 nominations from conflict/peace researchers, institutions, practitioners and publishers from around the world. The committee chose the winning title out of 3 short-listed books based on criteria such as how well the book demonstrates a significant contribution to conflict/peace studies, impact factor, methodological rigour, robustness and credibility of the findings, the extent to which it is interdisciplinary, quality of writing and presentation. The committee also prioritised first time book authors.

The prize committee described Equal Opportunity Peacekeeping as a “tour de force” and praised this timely publication for its “really important contributions to the fields of peacekeeping, gender studies and to those interested in organisational efficacy in any field of work.” This book provides a conclusive study in these areas by “drawing on surveys, interviews, cross-national data and field experiments”. The committee also noted “its application of multiple methods,” arguing that “the triangulation of quantitative and qualitative research should make the conclusions and recommendations extremely hard to ignore.” The judges agreed that this book goes far beyond fulfilling the criteria for the CRS book prize. It is a deserved winner for its outstanding scholarship.

This year’s prize committee chose this year’s winner out of three excellent books. This year it was a very difficult decision due to the quality of all three of the finalist entries. Our congratulations are extended to the following running up titles (in no particular order):

Roessler, P., 2016. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa: The Logic of the Coup-Civil War Trap. Cambridge University Press.

Zukerman Daly, Sarah (2016) Organized Violence after Civil War: The Geography of Recruitment in Latin America. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

The prize winners (Sabrina Karim and Kyle Beardsley) are invited to the CRS annual conference to receive their prize and to provide a short presentation on their work at the CRS conference at Pembroke College, Oxford, September 18th-19th, 2017.

For more information on the CRS Book of the Year Prize click here.



Registration Open – Conflict Research Society Annual Conference

Posted by: Tamsin Tags: There is no tags | Categories: Current News


18-19th September 2017 Pembroke College Oxford

Our annual conference will be hosted by the Changing Character of War programme at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. The conference theme is ‘Ending Violence in Turbulent Times: Exploring the Conflict, Peace and Violence Nexus.’

The conference seeks to generate debate and relationships between scholars and practitioners interested in key issues surrounding the dynamics of violent political conflict, dialogue, diplomacy and peacebuilding. The conference will continue its tradition of multi-disciplinary focus and is open to the full range of quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches to the subject.

This year’s keynote speaker will be Professor Lars-Erik Cedermann, Professor of International Conflict Research at the ETH-Institute, Zurich.

We have a keynote panel of eminent Oxford academics: Professor Sir Adam Roberts, Professor Richard Caplan and Dr Anke Hoeffler, on thetheme: Civil resistance, violent conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. There will also be panels on Interventions for Protecting Civilians in Armed Conflict and Political Dimensions of Peacekeeping and Domestic Security.

When you register, you will also be offered the chance to join the CRS (if you are not already a member) to get discounts on conference fees. Please ensure that you register by June 30th or else you will be removed from the programme. We have a long waiting list this year, so if you can’t make it, please do let us know explicitly.

To register for the CRS conference click here.

Interest in this conference has been exceptionally strong and we have had the highest number of paper submissions we have ever experienced. From the abstracts we have received so far, we are confident this will be an exciting conference.

If you have any queries please e-mail: crsconf@gmail.com