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SIPRI Yearbook 2013

SIPRI Yearbook 2013

II. Trends in security, conflict and peace

SIPRI Yearbook 2013
Tilman Brück

An important trend in peace research has been the drilling down into the details of conflict dynamics below the national level. This has been achieved partly through the collection of conflict event data by first tracking events—such as shootings by one side or the other in a war—and then categorizing them and recording their exact date and location (i.e. time stamping and geocoding them). The resulting data sets—such as the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) Conflict Encyclopedia and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED)—usually focus on violent events and usually use news reports in local or international media, with all the biases that this may entail.14

Two similar, but much less common, sources of related event data are truth and reconciliation commissions and digital technologies such as text messages or social media.15 In many ways, each of these approaches risks systematically omitting certain types of event. For example, it could be that in areas with no mobile phone coverage armed groups feel less constrained from committing atrocities. Hence, a challenge is to validate the quality of the event databases generated (e.g. by combining multiple data-collection methods into a single meta-database).

Furthermore, conflict event databases have used restrictive definitions of what constitutes a conflict event, often focusing on violent events between people. Thus, it may instead be useful to combine traditional conflict event data sets with events related to interventions such as sanctions or broader drivers of conflict such as arms transfers. This would open the door to the study of conflict dynamics in a more detailed and nuanced way, learning about how, for example, weapon deliveries to the rebels in Syria or the displacement of people in such a war have an impact on the conflict dynamics.16

Conflict event data can help to track specific examples of violent conflict but it cannot actually help to measure how secure societies are. Societal security can be defined to encompass a balance between low incidents and threats of violence, appropriate protection for such a level of threat and a subjective perception of security (which may be independent of the actual levels of violence and protection thereof).17 Many aspects of individual lives, in both the economic and the social domains, are already quantified in various ways. Inflation, exchange and growth rates are recorded, as well as poverty, literacy and birth rates, and infinite data on the weather. However, there has been no attempt to create a single measure expressing how secure, say, Somalia, Sri Lanka or Sweden is. Of course, the number of people killed in wars in each country and how much they spend on their militaries are generally known in broad terms. However, this is distinct from knowing how secure these countries are. If the relative degree of security between states were known, much could be learned about trends in security and possibly even about causal relationships—and security policies could hence be improved further.

What is needed, then, is an indicator of security that varies across countries and years at least, if not localities and months or even days.18 Such a security indicator must differentiate between the underlying intentional threats or risks from human sources (such as terrorist groups, combatants or organized crime) as well as the protective and preventive steps taken by both governments and private sector actors such as firms and individuals. If there are high levels of threats, then there must also be high levels of protection. If, however, there is a low level of threat, then there can be correspondingly low levels of protection. It follows that security is neither a minimum of threat nor a maximum of protection, but the right balance between the two. This also means that there can be an overprotection of a country, which would be economically wasteful and could even be counterproductive.

The question arises of whether Europe, for example, suffers from such a degree of post-September 2001 overprotection from terrorism, while other, more lethal and more preventable risks are neglected by public policy.19 Such a situation could arise if perceptions of insecurity are out of balance. In other words, a societal optimum is unlikely to be reached where only threat and protection are in balance; perceptions of both factors also need to be aligned. A country with few or no incidents of terrorist violence can experience disproportionately high levels of fear of terrorism.20 Obviously, fighting terrorism in a country that has low or no threat of terrorism may actually increase fear. Hence, an important public policy in regard to terrorism may be the management of fears and the education of the public about risks.


(14) On UCDP data on armed conflict and the data-collection and methodology, see chapter 1, section III, in this volume.

(15) On the use of data from the truth and reconciliation commission in Peru see Fielding, D. and Shortland, A., ‘What explains changes in the level of abuse against civilians during the Peruvian civil war?’, University of Otago Economics Discussion Papers no. 1003, May 2010, 〈http://www.business.otago.ac.nz/econ/research/discussionpapers/〉; and Cibelli, K., Hoover, A. and Krüger, J., ‘Descriptive statistics from statements to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, Benetech Human Rights Program for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, June 2009, 〈http://hrdag.org/publications/〉. On the use of modern technologies in monitoring violence see Matheson, D. and Allan, S., Digital War Reporting (Polity Press: Cambridge, 2009).

(16) On arms transfers to Syria see chapter 5, section III, in this volume. On people displaced by conflict see Cohen, R. and Deng, F. M., ‘Mass displacement caused by conflicts and one-sided violence: national and international responses’, SIPRI Yearbook 2009.

(17) Brück, T., de Groot, O. J. and Ferguson, N., ‘Measuring security’, eds R. Caruso and A. Locatelli, Understanding Terrorism: A Socio-economic Perspective (Emerald Publishing: Bingley, forthcoming 2013).

(18) Brück et al. (note 17).

(19) On such risks see e.g. Sköns, E., ‘Analysing risks to human lives’, SIPRI Yearbook 2007, pp. 252–56.

(20) See e.g. Brück, T. and Müller, C., ‘Comparing the determinants of concern about terrorism and crime’, Global Crime, vol. 11, no. 1 (2010).

Citation (MLA):
Brück, Tilman. "Introduction." SIPRI Yearbook. SIPRI. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2016. Web. 21 Apr. 2021. <https://www.sipriyearbook.org/view/9780199678433/sipri-9780199678433-div1-3.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Brück, T. (2016). Introduction. In SIPRI, SIPRI Yearbook 2013: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 21 Apr. 2021, from https://www.sipriyearbook.org/view/9780199678433/sipri-9780199678433-div1-3.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Brück, Tilman. "Introduction." In SIPRI Yearbook 2013: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, SIPRI. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). Retrieved 21 Apr. 2021, from https://www.sipriyearbook.org/view/9780199678433/sipri-9780199678433-div1-3.xml