Addressing Global Conflict through Policy

Jun 16 2017
By Gillian Samios
Source Woodrow Wilson School

The Empirical Studies of Conflict Project (ESOC) held their 7th Annual Meeting on May 18 and 19, drawing experts and policymakers from across the globe to gather at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues surrounding global conflict.

The conference featured nearly 100 academics and policymakers focused on addressing persistent conflict. The event was co-sponsored by the USIP and The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts.

“Our goal for the conference was to promote more effective policymaking by creating conversations around cutting-edge research across agencies and communities,” said Jacob N. Shapiro, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and co-director of ESOC. “We were also hoping to catalyze new research by facilitating connections between the research and policy communities.”

The ESOC Project compiles and analyzes micro-level conflict data on insurgency, civil war, and politically motivated violence worldwide. The group provides policymakers and war fighters with recommendations on how to respond to security threats.

One of the missions of the ESOC conference was to forge relationships and share policy information between people working in the domains of research, policy and practice through a series of policy panels that featured discussion and presentations of academic papers.

“We think that knowledge about conflict and policies to manage it are best created through close engagement between researchers studying the problem and policymakers trying to help societies that have fallen into conflict rebuild social and political order,” Shapiro said.

Each of the policy panels was chaired by an ESOC senior researcher and featured experts in conflict resolution from other organizations as panelists. Shapiro served as chair of a panel titled “Fueling Conflict: How Can the Resource Curse Be Managed?” with panelists William Byrd, senior expert – Afghanistan, USIP; and Shanta Devarajan, chief economist of the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa Region.

“We had three outstanding papers on the panel, each of which highlights a different piece of the puzzle of how to make sure resources feed peace and build wealth, instead of doing the opposite. We then had two former researchers who are now in senior policy positions who’ve been working on ways to make sure that happens. My role as chair was to try to frame the overall discussion and guide the participants towards common themes across their work,” Shapiro said.

The conference also featured Associate Director of ESOC Ethan Kapstein, who helped to design the agenda, worked with USIP to select presenters and participants from the policy community and informally chaired some of the second day’s academic sessions. He co-authored one of the papers presented, which was titled “Insecurity and Industrial Organization: Evidence from Afghanistan” with Joshua Blumenstock, Sylvan Herskowitz, Thomas Scherer and Tarek Ghani. Ghani, an ESOC affiliate, presented the paper during the second policy panel, “Aiding or Abetting Conflict through Development Interventions.”

Outside of the panels, another priority of the conference was to methodologically and analytically examine academic papers to ensure they meet the high standards of rigor necessary to influence policy and practice. These papers, reviewed by Shapiro and Eli Berman, research director for international security studies at the University of California, San Diego Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and member of ESOC, covered a range of topics from “Making a Narco: Childhood Exposure to Illegal Labor Markets and Criminal Life Paths” to “Employment in the Times of Terror: A Gendered Perspective on Pakistan.”

The annual meeting “is really an instantiation of [ESOC] values,” concluded Shapiro, referencing how the conference encourages interdisciplinary, cross-boundary meetings that have proven successful at sparking collaborative projects.

Click here for more information about ESOC.