Winner of 2018 Conflict Research Society Book of the Year Prize

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May
2

The Conflict Research Society congratulates Ana Arjona on winning the 2018 Conflict Research Society Book of the Year Prize for her book titled Rebelocracy: Social Order in the Colombian Civil War published by Cambridge University Press (November, 2016).

The prize committee received over 40 nominations from conflict/peace researchers, institutions, practitioners and publishers from around the world. The committee chose the winning title out of 4 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 prioritized first time book authors.

Judges on the prize committee described Rebelocracy: Social Order in the Colombian Civil War as a “truly innovative and a unique study.” They praised the way this study “shed light on another under-explored area that of social order during civil wars, non-state actor governance, and the dynamics of combatant-civilian interaction.” Judges highlighted the “meticulous” approach “in terms of the question it asks, the theroetical innovation, and the methods used.” Pointing to the “theoretical contribution and substantial potential to influence practice,” the judges agreed this book is a deserved winner for its outstanding scholarship.

This year’s prize committee chose this year’s winner out of four short-listed excellent books. Our congratulations are extended to the following running up titles (in no particular order):

Kaplan, Oliver. Resisting War: How Communities Protect Themselves. Cambridge University Press (July 20, 2017)

Balcells, Laia. Rivalry and Revenge: the Politics of Violence during Civil War CUP, 2017.

Matanock, Alia. Electing Peace: From Civil Conflict to Political Participation. Cambridge University Press, 2017

Two other excellent books only just missed the short-list. We would like to also give these books an honourable mention to:

Ramsbotham, Oliver. When Conflict Resolution Fails, Polity Press, 2016

Dara Kay Cohen Rape during Civil War Cornell University Press, 2016

Thank you also to the CRS Book Prize Judges -, Isabel Phillips, Govinda Clayton, Judith Large, Kyle Beardsley, Sabrina Karim, and Andrew Thomson (facilitator).

The winner of this year’s CRS Book Prize, Ana Arjona, is invited to the CRS annual conference to receive her prize and to provide a short presentation on her work. This year the CRS conference will be held at University of Birmingham on the September 17-18, 2018. It is titled “Rethinking the Transition from Violence to Peace in Uncertain Times”.

Dresden Forum for International Politics, February 2018

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February
19

Member of CRS Council and Senior Research Fellow at CARC, University of Kent Judith Large gave an opening address at the Dresden Forum on International Politics 8/9 February 2018, on the theme of ‘Sustaining Peace through democratic governance: Challenges for the International Agenda’. The forum was organised by the Development and Peace Foundation SEF in conjunction with both the Government of the Free State of Saxony and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. This event was held in tandem with the United Nations’ current process of reviewing its conflict resolution strategy, and subsequent to the release on 18 January 2018 of the Secretary General’s report on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace, with its four pillars of the rule of law, accountability, democracy and human rights. For the Dresden Forum ‘sustaining peace’ means a challenge to overcome more than a decade of hard security statist dominance and move to responsive political systems, which can act on and manage social grievance.

Judith’s talk highlighted the contradiction between a rise in claimed electoral democracies (125 worldwide in 2015) and the sharp decline in human rights and civil liberties, documented by the recently released 2018 Rule of Law Index which found that fundamental human rights have declined in almost 2/3 of the 113 countries surveyed. With concerns including non-discrimination, freedom of expression and religion, right to privacy and workers’ rights, there is growing recognition that populism, authoritarian nationalism and the general retreat from international legal obligations are trends which pose grave dangers. Moreover, seven years after the demonstrations for democracy referred to as the ‘Arab Spring’ we have ample and tragic evidence of expressed social need but too often repressive responses and war, with international agendas further complicating domestic politics.

Pointing to the paradox of democratic success but liberal decline, Judith pointed to the importance of ‘governance’ – that is, the means of systems, relationships and institutions –which manage and meet needs and changes in a given society. If Democracy is the What, Governance is the How; response and delivery processes, use of authority, decision-making, accountability. She had three key questions for deliberation in the forum: 1) Is democratic governance a means for providing wider human security, or is it an ideal too often suspended for special powers in the name of ‘security’? (as per counter-terrorism and now prevention of violent extremism agendas). 2) In the promotion of democracy – (also as part of post-war settlements) has emphasis been too much on the redistribution of power through elections and not enough on delivery- that is, measures which meet the development and human needs of citizens? 3) When does the pursuit of national security produce domestic insecurity, particularly played out in urban spaces – in the modern city?

Thematic workshops deliberated spectrums of violent extremism (including the rise of the far right in Europe); secessionist movements and grievances; and cities as sites for migration and development or urban warfare and siege. Panellists for these workshops included (to name a few): Mohamed Yahya, Africa Regional Programme Coordinator UNDP, Addis Ababa; Vera Baboun, Former Mayor of Bethlehem; Hajer Sharief Co-founder of Maan Nabniha (Together We Build It), Triopli; Ambassador
 Ekkehard Brose, Special Envoy for Crisis Prevention and Stabilization German Foreign Office,
Berlin; Professor Samir Kumar Das, University of Calcutta, Kolkata; and Dr Marc Sanjaume-Calvet, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.

Sustaining peace was seen as encompassing prevention and proactive social policies, a continuous responsibility for all countries and the communities within them. In a fitting tribute to the power of history and transformation, a public event was also held, in the Dresden Frauenkirche, the majestic cathedral-like protestant baroque structure destroyed by the UK/US firebombing aerial attack in February 1945, then left as rubble for fifty years under the DDR. The church was rebuilt between 1995 and 2005, a counterpart to Coventry Cathedral in the UK – both now living centres for work on peace and reconciliation. Also attended by all conference participants, the public meeting was addressed by Michael Kretschmer, Minister-President of the Free State of Saxony, and H.E. Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, Deputy Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General for Syria. Ambassador Ramzy’s overview of recent developments in Syria was a sobering reminder of the magnitude of tasks and challenges ahead.

Democracy

So, What is Democracy Anyway? Peter Emerson @ TEDxVienna

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December
15

In many instances, a majority vote identifies not the will of the people, not even the will of the majority of them, but the will of those who wrote the question. Most political problems are complex; to reduce them to a win-or- lose binary vote, or even a series of such dichotomies, often turns what should be a discussion into an argument. Preferential voting in contrast can be win-win: indeed, a points system can identify that option which, if not the most popular, is at least the most generally acceptable. Peter Emerson is the director of the de Borda Institute. He has written ten books on voting systems and published several articles on democracy in peer reviewed journals. A vocal critic of the Majority Rule, he has helped design an app for multi-option voting. His talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

Click here for the video.

Drone Wars

A wake-up call on how robots could change conflicts

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December
12

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

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October
12

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

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October
12

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).