Small Wars, Big Data: The Information Revolution in Modern Conflict

A lecture by Jake Shapiro (Princeton University)

14nov2017 12:00 - 14:00


A lecture in the Conflict Security and Peacebuilding speaker series.


The way wars are fought has changed starkly over the past sixty years. International military campaigns used to play out between large armies at central fronts. Today’s conflicts find major powers facing rebel insurgencies that deploy elusive methods, from improvised explosives to terrorist attacks. Small Wars, Big Data presents a transformative understanding of these contemporary confrontations and how they should be fought. The authors show that a revolution in the study of conflict—enabled by vast data, rich qualitative evidence, and modern methods—yields new insights into terrorism, civil wars, and foreign interventions. Modern warfare is not about struggles over territory, but over people: civilians—and the information they might choose to provide—can turn the tide at critical junctures.

The authors draw practical lessons from the past two decades of conflict in locations ranging from Latin America and the Middle East, to Central and Southeast Asia. Building an information-centric understanding of insurgencies, we examine the relationships between rebels, the government, and civilians. This approach serves as a springboard for exploring other aspects of modern conflict including the links between aid and violence, the suppression of rebel activity, the role of mobile communications networks, and why conventional military methods might provide short-term success but undermine persistent peace. Ultimately the authors show how the stronger side can almost always win the villages, but why that does not guarantee winning the war.

About the lecturer

Jacob N. Shapiro is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and co-directs the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project, a multi-university consortium that compiles and analyzes micro-level conflict data and other information on politically motivated violence in nine countries. His active research projects study political violence, economic and political development, and security policy. He is author of The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations and co-author of Foundations of the Islamic State: Management, Money, and Terror in Iraq. His research has been published in a broad range of academic and policy journals as well as a number of edited volumes.

Shapiro received the 2016 Karl Deutsch Award from ISA. The award is given to a scholar younger than 40 or within 10 years of earning a Ph.D. who has made the most significant contriubtion to the study of international relations. He is an Associate Editor of Journal of Conflict Resolution, World Politics, and Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, a Faculty Fellow of the Association for Analytic Learning about Islam and Muslim Societies (AALIMS), a Research Fellow at the Center for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP)m and an Associate FEllow of the Istute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS). Shapiro is also President of Giant Oak Inc., a software firm that applies social science to big data environments to identiy illicit actions, actors, and networks Prior to graduate school, Shapiro served in the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserve. Ph.D. Political Science, M.A. Economics, Stanford University. B.A. Political Science, University of Michigan.

Jake Shapiro's webpage at Princeton University

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