Will the Coronavirus Fuel Conflict? Forecasting COVID-related State Fragility

August 2020 No Comments

Speakers: Kaplan, O. (University of Denver); Moyer, J. (University of Denver)

Date: 19 August 2020

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. Oliver Kaplan (University of Denver) and Dr. Jonathan Moyer (University of Denver) as part of its SMA UK MoD Speaker Series. Dr. Kaplan and Dr. Moyer presented their research on how the COVID-19 pandemic and its second-, third-, and fourth-order effects may increase the probability of armed internal conflict. Dr. Kaplan predicted that there will be a 56% increase in conflicts through 2022 (approximately 13 additional conflicts), most of which will be concentrated in Africa, South America, and/or Central Asia. Additionally, Dr. Kaplan stated that different states will experience instability for different reasons and with different causal processes. He further explained that COVID-19 has provided a challenging environment of increased poverty, weakened states, and health issues that makes armed conflict more likely and exacerbates the effects of current ongoing conflicts. Dr. Kaplan then presented his and Dr. Moyer’s findings on overall post-pandemic global fragility from 2020-2022, highlighting that countries experiencing armed conflict in 2018 will continue to remain unstable due to the aftermath of COVID-19. Their findings also showed an increased probability of conflicts igniting in certain regions (Africa, in particular) as a result of the pandemic, all of which were calculated using a political instability task force dataset that categorizes revolutionary and ethnic wars. Next, Dr. Moyer discussed the model he and Dr. Kaplan used in their research­—the International Futures Model—in further detail. Through his research, Dr. Moyer identified macro-level indicators that anticipate internal conflicts, including GDP, mixed regimes, states discrimination, and trade. These indicators play into the International Futures Model, which simulates global development at a national level and displays how long-term development patterns work. The model that Dr. Moyer displayed during this brief shows the dynamic effects across health, government, and demographic systems, while contrasting pre-COVID and post-COVID growth rates, as well. He then emphasized this tool’s usefulness in broadening a state’s perspective and drawing it away from narrow probabilistic models in order to better understand and anticipate the drivers of state fragility. Next, Dr. Kaplan expanded on the quantitative part of his and Dr. Moyer’s research and the results of 50 cases studies they examined on fragility conflicts. Their results concluded that “economic stability and challenges” was the most frequently cited explanation for state fragility, along with “horizontal inequality” and “international intervention.” Dr. Kaplan also cited some real-world examples to show how his and Dr. Moyer’s model can be useful when analyzing various conflicts, including the ongoing crisis in Yemen and the recent explosion in Lebanon. To conclude, Dr. Kaplan provided specific policy recommendations for how to mitigate the pandemic now and prevent conflicts in the future, including funding the World Health Organization (WHO) to address first-order effects, tailoring COVID-19 response to higher-risk countries, and addressing “sparks” that could ignite COVID-related conflicts before they occur. 

Speaker Session Recording

Note: We are aware that many government IT providers have blocked access to YouTube from government machines during the pandemic in response to bandwidth limitations. We recommend viewing the recording on YouTube from a non-government computer, if you are in this position.

Download Dr. Kaplan and Dr. Moyer’s Briefing Materials

To view their relevant Foreign Policy article, please visit https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/06/coronavirus-pandemic-fuel-conflict-fragile-states-economy-food-prices/.