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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Political Institutions and Armed Conflict

Awarded: NOK 8.8 mill.

If armed conflict is the problem, is democracy the solution? This project seeks to reassess the role of democratic political institutions with respect to their ability to prevent internal armed conflict. Armed conflict and political violence does not only lead to devastating direct violence, but also hinders economic growth, threatens public health, and exacerbate poverty. Previous research on the conflict-dampening effect of democratic institutions, however, only ambiguously supports a policy of `democratization for peace'. The studies within this project reinforce this impression of ambiguity. They show, not surprisingly, that democratic institutions are the most stable and peaceful in the long run, but that the transition from non-democracy to democracy often is very violent. This inconclusiveness is in contrast to other findings from the project, which show that socio-economic development, broadly defined as reduction of poverty and illiteracy, and the emergence of economies based on human and financial capital, clearly reduces the risk of armed conflict. Another study, furthermore, shows that other aspects of good governance, such as sound macro-economic policies, high-quality bureaucracies, and absence of corruption, clearly reduces the risk of conflict recurrence. Good governance, then, functions as a substitute to formal democratic institutions. All these relationships, however, are complex, as testified by other studies from the project that shows that democratic institutions promotes economic growth and contributes to limiting corruption. In order to study systematically the balance between short-term negative and long-term positive effects of democratization, the project has invested considerably in developing procedures and tools for simulating outcomes based on the statistical models of the project that allows aggregating local and short-term effects over larger time periods and more extensive geographical samples. The first studies applying these tools show that there are reasons to conclude that the reduction in the incidence of armed conflict observed since the end of the Cold war will continue into the next decades, as a function of accumulated and expected improvements to living conditions and education levels, less armed conflict in the most recent history, as well as the positive effects of UN peacekeeping policies. The project currently works to use these tools to study the long-term effects of democratization on conflict.

If conflict is the problem, is democracy the solution? Armed conflict and political violence not only results in devastating direct violence, it also impedes growth, threatens public health, and exacerbates poverty. Academic research on the conflict-redu cing effects of democratic institutions provides only ambiguous support for a policy of ?democratization for peace?. We argue that the ambiguous relationship between democracy and conflict is due to a set of theoretical and methodological shortcomings in the literature, including over-aggregation of democracy indicators, a disregard of the complexity of political institutions, over-reliance on few sources, treatment of actors as uniform, and an insensitivity to how political institutions work indirectly through their impact on other social conditions such as education and economic growth. The objective of this project is to reassess the role of democratic political institutions for internal armed conflict. This will be pursued by six related 'work packag es': (1) develop a theoretical model that identifies equilibrium constellations of various components of political institutions and the socio-economic conditions they exist within, (2) collect data on large number of aspects of political institutions and generate indices of the components specified in the theoretical model, (3) looking more critically at the role electoral fraud, electoral violence, and legislative voting behavior, (4) testing the theoretical model?s empirical implications, (5) investigat ing the indirect and long-term effects of political institutions, and (6) using the knowledge gained in a forecasting model to evaluate the total effect of complex models and the likely impact of a set of possible policy responses. Together, the six appro aches will address the methodological shortcomings and put the knowledge concerning the relationship between democratic political institutions on a more secure footing, theoretically and empirically.

Funding scheme:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam