UA Researcher Looks at Why Nations Fight

Dr. Douglas Gibler

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — International conflicts are similar to a game of poker, full of bargaining, aggression and bluffs. Unlike poker where players vie for the pile of chips, scholars are not always sure why countries in a conflict are even at the table.

Dr. Douglas Gibler, professor and political science researcher at The University of Alabama Institute for Social Science Research, is leading a study of international conflicts and their causes, which could help policymakers and political scientists better predict the outcomes of high-stakes, international bargaining.

“Conflicts are incredibly rare, so it’s important to know what states fight over and which issues are more difficult to resolve,” Gibler said.

With support from the National Science Foundation, Gibler will work with his former graduate student from UA, Dr. Steven Miller, now an assistant professor of political science at Clemson University.

The two will use a database they developed and extended of about 2,300 international conflicts and near-conflicts from 1816 to 2010, marking each issue between the states and how positions on the issues change over the course of the conflict.

The data should show broad trends in international bargaining, possibly pointing to ways to avoid conflicts in certain situations or lessen the length of conflicts through understanding the evolution of ongoing demands by two engaged states.

While history of a conflict can show the build-up to a conflict, or a resolved disagreement, there is not good data on the types of issues that lead to a fight. Gibler hopes this work can fill in that gap.

“We are testing the bargaining theory of, do states’ demands change over time within the conflict?” he said.

Related to this project is another NSF-funded study to help in devising methods for studying the events through development of a statistical model to overcome traditional problems of data analysis of events. The developed method should have applications beyond political science into a range of social sciences, Gibler said.

Both grants, totaling $800,000 over three years, will ultimately help understanding of international conflict, one producing a method, the other producing a data set, he said.

Each grant will fund two to three graduate students and up to seven undergraduate students each year to work on the projects, Gilber said.

Contact

Adam Jones, UA communications, 205-348-4328, adam.jones@ua.edu

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.