How much time do you have to react to political risks?

December 3rd, 2021

From Early Detection to Outbreak of Violence - The Analysis of Conflict Dynamics

It is the key question in any risk assessment: How much time is there to react (Broadbent 1971)? Although in medicine and many other natural sciences this very question is at the crucial core of any treatment strategy and other response analysis, time is a rarely considered influencing factor in political risk analysis.

A major exception to this is the CONIAS approach (Schwank 2012), a further development of the KOSIMO database (Billing 1992; Pfetsch and Billing 1994; Pfetsch and Rohloff 2000; Rohloff and Pfetsch Frank R.): The CONIAS approach was developed under funding from the European Union specifically to improve early conflict detection (Schwank 2012, 23ff.). In addition, improved early warning should also increase the response timeframe so that aid organizations within the European Union can prepare for imminent dangers for longer and thus better.

CONIAS Conflict Model

The dynamic CONIAS conflict model

The methodological basis is the CONIAS five-stage conflict model developed specifically for analyzing conflict dynamics (Schwank 2012, pp. 174-181; Schwank et al. 2013). It distinguishes between the following intensities:

  1. Dispute: At this level, the minimum requirements for a political conflict apply: A conflict of interest is established over a socially relevant issue, i.e., one that affects larger segments of the population. At least two of the actors involved are in a position to bring about effective change in the disputed issue area. In addition, the measures taken must lie outside established regulatory procedures or a peaceful, non-violent resolution of the conflict cannot be expected. Important at this stage is that the conflict parties refrain from any threat of violence.
  2. Non-violent crisis: All the conditions listed under 1) apply; in addition, at least one of the parties involved shows a willingness to use violence or - and this applies primarily to interstate conflicts - attempts to harm others through coercive economic measures.
  3. Violent crisis: At least one of the parties involved uses violence deliberately and purposefully as a conflict strategy. However, these are usually isolated acts of violence with a limited impact, such as knife attacks, targeted shootings or bombings. In the interstate sphere, this also includes skirmishes such as exchanges of fire between border guards. It is important to note that people do not necessarily have to die in the violent crisis phase. It is enough to have the intention or target effect of the measures.
  4. Limited War: In contrast to the previous stage, at this level violence is carried out much more frequently, on a significant scale, and causes considerable damage. However, the conflict remains limited, meaning that large segments of society in the affected region are not directly exposed to violence or can avoid violence.
  5. War: The affected region is characterized by massive, organized and strategically operating violence. The situation is also characterized by the fact that a solution to the conflict is to be forced through violence. There is little room for diplomacy and talks, and humanitarian consideration is reduced to a minimum. Great destruction of infrastructure and many casualties are to be expected.

Monitoring violent and non-violent conflicts allows conclusions about the success of conflict management

The goal of the CONIAS model is to depict an ideal course of escalation, but also of de-escalation of a conflict. An outstanding feature of the approach is that it also maps the non-violent phases of a conflict's course. On the one hand, this makes it possible to determine the time interval between the start of a conflict and its violent escalation. On the other hand, the model gives the possibility to investigate how the "cooling down process" of a war proceeds in reality and - which is extremely important - how often wars escalate again after a cessation of fighting.

In addition, there is a third function of the model, which some say is the most important of the entire approach: By comparing structurally similar conflicts that escalate non-violently on the one hand and violently on the other, conclusions can be drawn about successful conflict management and "toxic" and "non-toxic" conflicts. Accordingly, the CONIAS model can be used not only to identify conflicts at an early stage, but also to determine their risk value, i.e., the danger of warlike escalation. Thus, observation and analysis resources can be focused on the conflicts that can actually cause serious harm.

Crucial findings on escalation behavior

Using CONIAS data, the escalation behavior of more than 670 political conflicts was studied for the period between 1945 and 2005 (Schwank 2012). Key findings of the study include that:

  • intra-state and inter-state conflicts have different escalation periods
  • a large portion of intra-state conflicts escalate to war within three years of the start of the conflict
  • the nature of the disputed goods, i.e. the objects of conflict, have a certain influence on the speed of escalation
  • the history of states and their experience with wars have a very significant influence on the speed of escalation.

You too can benefit from the unique insights, analyses and data of MBI CONIAS Risk Intelligence by contacting us or scheduling your individual consulting appointment.

These unique analysis results as well as many other data on the escalation behavior of political conflicts are incorporated into the products of MBI CONIAS. Therefore, only CONIAS Risk Intelligence can help make statements about the dynamics and expected change processes on a broad empirical basis.

About the author:
Dr. Nicolas Schwank
Chief Data Scientist Political Risk
CONIAS Risk Intelligence
Michael Bauer International GmbH

In Memoriam Prof. Dr. Frank R. Pfetsch (+18.11.2021).

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Broadbent, Donald E. (1971): Decision and stress. London, New York: Academic P.
Pfetsch, Frank R.; Billing, Peter (1994): Datenhandbuch nationaler und internationaler Konflikte. 1. Aufl. Baden-Baden: Nomos-Verl.-Ges.
Pfetsch, Frank R.; Rohloff, Christoph (2000): National and international conflicts, 1945 - 1995. New empirical and theoretical approaches. London: Routledge (Routledge advances in international relations and politics, 11).
Rohloff, Christoph; Pfetsch Frank R.: KOSIMO: A Databank on Political Conflict. In: Journal of Peace Research 37 (3), S. 379–389, zuletzt geprüft am 01.12.2021.
Schwank, Nicolas (2012): Konflikte, Krisen, Kriege. Die Entwicklungsdynamiken politischer Konflikte seit 1945. 1. Auflage. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG. Online verfügbar unter
Schwank, Nicolas; Trinn, Christopher; Wencker, Thomas (2013): Der Heidelberger Ansatz der Konfliktdatenerfassung. In: Zeitschrift für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung (2), S. 32–63.