Vote counting in El Salvador (Image: Mark Carrato, USAID)

A panel discussion at SFI on March 20 will examine the limitations and the value of counterinsurgency as a tool for mitigating political violence in war-torn countries. The discussion, open to the public, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the SFI campus.

SFI Professor Elisabeth Wood (Yale University) is co-organizing the event along with colleagues Daniel Branch (University of Exeter) and Stathis Kalyvas (Yale).

Elisabeth says a discussion of counterinsurgency is a follow-on to her years of research on insurgency and political violence in South Africa, Sri Lanka, and various Latin American countries.

Employing tools of game theory and comparative analysis, her research has identified a causal pathway leading to democracy through insurgency and led to conclusions about the factors underlying the emergence of insurgencies and indicators associated with lasting peace settlements.

“I am troubled by the way historical examples of counterinsurgency have been misunderstood,” she says. “Often the best scholarship on those cases does not support popular interpretations.”

She believes revisiting classic cases will lead to better understandings of counterinsurgency.

Discussion participants were selected to provide a blend of scholarly perspectives from both the political science and history fields.

Kalyvas, for example, whose work focuses on the microdynamics of civil war, brings a detailed knowledge of counterinsurgency in Greece, Algeria, and Vietnam. Branch, a historian, has studied the role of African collaboration with the British counterinsurgency effort during the Mau Mau rebellion during the 1950s.

Panelists Stephen C. Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations and Ahmed Hashim of the Navy War College are experts on counterinsurgency in Iraq.

Elisabeth says empirical studies of insurgency and counterinsurgency reveal a number of stylized facts that could be illuminated by SFI’s research approaches – type analysis such as social network analysis, epidemiological models, and microfoundations of human social behavior, for example.

“Patterns of violence and participation in insurgency and counterinsurgency are very complex phenomena,” she says. “In conflict we observe diffusion, tipping points, proximity effects, dependency, and complex causal pathways.”  

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