ECPR 5th General Conference

Last week we attended and presented a paper at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) 5th General Conference in Potsdam, Germany. ECPR is a scholarly association focused on the training, research and cross-national co-operation of political scientists. From our  viewpoint, the percentage of papers dealing with fragile states was significantly smaller than papers dealing with inward issues (i.e. EU) in contrast to the situation that we would normally see on our side of the Atlantic. In terms of exhibitors, the Bartelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) was of particular interest to our research on complex operations. BTI, which is published bi-annually, promotes democracy under the rule of law and market economy with social safeguards. For instance, Uruguay joined the top 10 performers while Poland fell out of this group in the most recent edition. Another exhibitor GIGA, which has a Focus Afrika publication, indicated that they will soon start publishing their data, which is great news to the research community. One of the interesting sessions addressed the question: Is a workable peace-building concept possible? Gilles Carbonnier's paper on the role of non-state actors in resource-rich fragile states in the context of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The paper defined a set of criteria such as proportionality, non-discrimination, neutrality and independence for humanitarian assistance to differentiate from development assistance. Although indicators for these metrics are sparse, the provincial distribution of economic aid can be effectively used a proxy for measuring these metrics. Thomas Biersteker's paper on peacekeeping in theory and practice gave a nice overview of the process in building the UN Peacebuilding Commission (UNPBC), which was created to address gaps in the global response to armed conflict and conflict recurrence. The commission's charter is to  support fragile societies recovering from the devastation of war within two years after the cessation of hostilities. Since its inception in 2005, UNPC has disbursed about $250M of funds mostly in African countries.

Our paper on rumors presented by Dr. Karen Guttieri was received well and generated several questions. Rumor - information that is unsubstantiated yet widely shared - is rife during social conflict. In this paper, we analyzed rumors reported in The Baghdad Mosquito after the United States-coalition invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and mapped rumor types against public opinion polling and timeline of events that includes both insurgency and inter-sectoral conflict. Our paper shows that rumors have the potential to develop actionable cultural intelligence. The analysis of rumors can identify specific concerns and fears of a population that explain behavior and affect local cooperation with US counterinsurgency efforts. Furthermore, rumors can be used to assess foreign public opinion and measure the effectiveness of a hearts and minds campaign. While we have focused on Iraq, the concept of incorporating rumors as an intelligence source is applicable to virtually any country as long as the content analysis and rumor remedies are tailored for the culture in which they occur.

Peter Kotzian's paper on social norms analyzed the importance of macro and micro level variables allowing the individual to change its beliefs about whether a particular norm is still valid or not. The empirical findings based on survey data from 24 countries show that there are no effects of social trust on norm compliance. What makes people comply with norms is not blind trust but the belief, based on information, that the norm is still effective; hence, it is rational to comply. David  Westlund's paper on rational belief changes for collective agents was an interesting formal model to study the emergent collective beliefs from the belief systems of individual agents. This model shows that the collective must believe exactly the same as at least one of its members. Dörte  Dinger's paper analyzed partner perceptions in German-Italian bilateral relations by studying the press coverage of the incident created by Berlusconi remarks.