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How local issues escalate into significant battles is focus of new project


Melissa Mitchell, News Editor

Social scientists at the University of Illinois are collaborating on a project that seeks to gain new insights on why and how seemingly small, geographically localized disputes can quickly ignite into border-crossing regional conflicts, and even global wars.

The project, called “ConflictSpace,” is an interdisciplinary effort sponsored by the U. of I.’s Critical Initiatives in Research and Scholarship Program that will initially focus on World War I as a model for testing conflict-diffusion hypotheses using state-of-the-art analytical tools.

“ConflictSpace uses spatial analysis and social network analysis in an innovative framework that will help us understand how wars spread,” said project leader Colin Flint, a professor of geography and new director of the U. of I.’s Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security. “Further study hopes to look at contemporary wars.”

Other members of the research team are political science professors Paul Diehl and John Vasquez, ACDIS research scientist Juergen Scheffran and emeritus professor of history Paul Schroeder.

The pilot study will be the focus of a workshop on the U. of I. campus April 21-23, which will include a free public lecture by David Stevenson, a professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Stevenson’s talk, “From Balkan Conflict to Global Conflict: The Spread of the First World War, 1914-1918,” will begin at 4 p.m. in 134 Temple Buell Hall, 611 Taft Drive, Champaign.

The author of several books on World War I, Stevenson primarily is interested in the origins, course and impact of that war, and international relations in Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Also participating in the workshop will be a panel of historians with significant knowledge of World War I: Mustafa Aksakal, American University; Frederick Dickinson, University of Pennsylvania; Richard Hamilton, Ohio State University; and Samuel Williamson, University of the South; and Rutgers University political scientist Jack Levy.

Discussing the larger project, the U. of I.’s Flint said the project has been designed to tap campus expertise in areas ranging from geography and complexity science to history and political science in ways that “advance the scientific study of the diffusion of conflict and so position the university as the global leader in this emerging field.”

“Current understanding of the diffusion of interstate conflict is rudimentary,” he said. “Our proposed new concept integrates physical contiguity of states with the position of states within networks of economic, political and cultural exchanges to explain when and why states choose to enter an ongoing conflict.

“The analysis will include univariate mapping and spatial analysis and multivariate regression and spatial econometrics.”

Flint said future research directions for the project may include expanding the analysis “to model how all recorded militarized interstate disputes – conflicts that by definition fall short of war – either eventually became regional or global wars or remained limited in geographic scope and political impact.”