The Growth Lab's Development Talks is a series of conversations with policymakers and academics working in international development. The seminar provides a platform for practitioners and researchers to discuss both the practice of development and analytical work centered on policy.
In this talk, Chris Blattman, Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies at The University of Chicago’s Pearson Institute and Harris School of Public Policy, discusses his new book, Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace. The book draws on decades of economics, political science, psychology, and real-world interventions to lay out the root causes and remedies for war, showing that violence is not the norm; that there are only five reasons why conflict wins over compromise; and how peacemakers turn the tides through tinkering, not transformation.
Moderator: José Morales-Arilla, Research Fellow, Growth Lab; Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Politics, Princeton University
DISCLAIMER: This webinar transcript was loosely edited and there may be inaccuracies.
José Morales-Arilla: Well, hello, everyone, and welcome to the Growth Lab's Development Talks seminar series. Thank you all for being here. And I'm Jose Morales-Arilla. I will be moderating today's seminar. The Growth Lab's Development Talks is a series of conversations with policymakers and academics for international development, and the seminar provides a platform for practitioners and researchers to discuss both the practice of development and analytical work centered on policy. Today we are thrilled to welcome Chris Blattman, Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies at the University of Chicago's Pearson Institute and Harris School of Public Policy. Chris will discuss his new book, Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace. Thank you so much for joining us. And so the first question I wanted to ask and I think it's a fantastic book that presents a cogent framework for why the war should be rare and a rare alternative to conflicts. Now, right before the book was published, Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine. How would you perhaps outline very quickly the framework that the book presents? And how would you describe the event from the perspective of the book.
Chris Blattman: Okay, first, thanks for having me. It's been 20 years since I was a student here, so it's nice to back and talk. It's a chance to transform. But I always knew that a war would break out. Sometime around. I mean, unfortunately, war breaks out and something what happened when the book came out and I knew in my heart of hearts that it was going to be a part of the world that I knew precisely zero about, because that's how things work. And so I don't think I knew precisely zero, but like most people in this room, I probably couldn't find Donbas on a unlabeled map six months ago. So I just want to be clear about that. And so and it was a weird moment to come out with a book that I, I didn't write a book called Why We Don't Fight. But chapter is in chapter one. It's called Why We Don't Fight because that's the right starting point, because most of the time we don't. And but that was also true. So everyone says, well, this war breaks out right. When the book came out. Yes. But two weeks later, India accidentally lobbed a cruise missile at Pakistan. And so we but we pay attention to as we should, like a medic pays attention to the severely ill, the direly ill patient. Right. And we pay all that attention as we should. But we can't forget that the normal thing to do in these circumstances is not to it's not to fight. That's even true of Ukraine. For 20 years, Putin tried every other thing possible, from dark money to propaganda to assassinations, to attempts to co-op the government. Invasion was the last resort. And it was a resort he didn't need to use against most of Southern neighbors. He didn't need to invade Kazakhstan or when he did send in the peacekeepers. There was no resistance. And he didn't need it to subjugate villagers. So. But I didn't write about it. And I think, you know, the framework works reasonably well. If anybody remembers one thing when they leave the room. It's that war is ruinous. We can see that, right? War is ruinous. And every reason we fight is the reason that one side or the other ignores those costs and goes to war in spite of spite. And so why did Russia ignore the costs and the ruin of war decided to do this. One is the person in charge didn't pay for most of those costs. That's what happens in autocracies. It can even happen in democracies somewhat, but that's what happened. So we've unchecked leaders, so they're too ready to use violence. They might even have a private interest in going to war. In this case, we definitely know Putin is not hearing most of the costs, but here you make it. What's his private interest? Well, I don't think it's particularly strong, but I do think that Ukrainian democracy was a threat to his regime in the sense that Russians identify with Ukrainians more than anybody else on the planet to be tossed out to Russian leaders in the last 20 years. This is a dangerous example, not a life-threatening example for him, but a dangerous example where there's a benefit to extinguishing that flame. The second. The two explanations you hear a lot in the media is that Putin is cabal, i.e. the Russian people, sort of there's this vision of national Russian glory and, and, and coming back from past affiliations and getting the game back together with the Empire. Those are all stories of there's some ethereal thing that they get through a war that they can't get out of. Right. So they're willing to pay some costs to go to war. And those kinds of intangible those are often really important. I think we exaggerate that in this case, but I think they're part of it. The other story you hear is about Vladimir Putin and his regime's misperceptions, how they got it wrong. I mean, they erroneously believe that they'd be able to sort of sweep it almost like an intelligence operation. And replace the government with public. Frankly, it could have happened, I think wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility. He could have got on that plane. I think he's just surprised everybody, maybe even so. So that's certainly true. Isolated, insulated leaders sort of made the wrong people. But that. That I think understates what I think is the fourth root of a lot of wars is just sheer insurgency like we emphasize or exposed to. Got it wrong. So it must have been this proceeding. But actually, it's really hard to get these things right. Like, think of this how many people think of the strength of Western unity on this, the pluckiness and the effectiveness of the Ukrainians, and then the inefficacy of the boldness of the initial Russian invasion. So all three things were like within the realm of possibilities. Right. But nobody predicted that Putin would get a bad draw on all three. Least of all, Vladimir Putin. So this was a gamble or always a gamble of uncertainty. So it's not just misperception. The last is sort of I make an argument for the previous commitment problems so it's hard to vote to trivial. I think that's the least important stuff in the most important. A lot of countries, especially long ones. I think it's we can talk more later in questions about why having commitment problems can be very hard in the war. But you can think of commitment problems is you just don't trust the other side to hold up to a deal. And I think Ukrainians have been unable to make a deal that would satisfy Russia and its rising is far more powerful is in a position to do that for Ukrainians were unable to implement those records and I think Putin couldn't trust them to implement anything because they perceive it as unjust, would say screw this and likewise no interest Putin because of his ideological stance. And so we're I think there's also an ideological problem at work here that that contributed. But for me, most of all, it's the unfairness of Putin uncertainty. And it's less about those intangible glory incentives and these perceptions.
José Morales-Arilla: Fantastic. And as I was reading the book and in all this was I was reading it as the conflict was happening. And I took issue with this with the idea of tinkering that that's the best to building things. On the one hand, there's this sense that, you know, you should go in any policy realm, with iterative adaptation, scientifically, you know assigning books to Matt Andrews and Lant Pritchett, I prefer that the view and all that kind of thing. But at the same time, it's like a sort of almost kitchen sink reaction of the West and the invasion of Ukraine. And not only seems inconsistent with the idea of tinkering, but at the same time, when I was seeing those reactions, I was like, yes, yes, this is right. This is how you react to something like that. So how do you balance that? What's your opinion of the West reaction to the invasion of Ukraine? And what do you think should have been done?
Chris Blattman: The last chapter of the book is called Piecemeal Engineering. After this, I do a beautiful Karl Popper, but the piece fell short of social engineering. But I make quite a little bad joke and I spell "piece" p-e-a-c-e and but it's very much the book actually probably shows my Kennedy school roots. It's not just that Andrews and Pritchett, Merilee Grindle, Dani Rodrik and like so many other so many. I actually teach a class on this and this. And it was only when Lant Pritchett, I said in my syllabus is like, Oh, I didn't realize it was a Kennedy School school of thought until I saw the syllabus. And it's about this piecemeal approach to poverty, but it's much bigger than that. It's Jane Jacobs and it's James Scott and it's so many great. Everyone has figured out why some policies work and some policies fail. I think have stumbled upon the fact that if you try to do grand things, they all go wrong. Now, what do you do in the middle? Well. I'm not going to tell people how to fight a war. A kitchen sink approach to fighting. Maybe that's the right approach. Maybe peace works. I've never been on a battlefield, so I don't want to say. I think that you have to. I wanted to finish the book in a way that says, okay, I'm not going to give some big like Steven Pinker style, "everything is going to be better." And I didn't, you know, and he's someone I admire, but I just don't agree with that in this situation. At least Julie's a good friend of mine, and I didn't want to end on, "we're done, what can you do?" Right. And, you know, as much as he would like me to handle it that way, I wanted to be constructive. So imagine your. But you have to think what can one individual or one institution. So if you're the Turkish president. Right, or you're the Israeli prime minister or something, what can you do? Well, I think you need to work on the margins. You need to think about what's the one or two actions I can invest in that are going to solve one of these five problems here? Or what can I do to solve them? There's a lack of dialog and the lack of trust that's contributing to certain commitment problems. Or I'm in a position to actually try to reduce some of those tensions. Grains not getting out? Well, I'm just going to focus on trying to get the grain and trying to cleverly find a deal or a set of incentives or reinsurance or I'm the head of the Treasury Department. I'm going to try to make the sanctions regime that much more effective. I'm aware of all the limitations of both targeted and generalized sanctions. So I think that's just how any individual or organization has to act. And anyone can try to act more boldly or probably than that would be in that. And you're probably not going to be very effective at your piecemeal approach either. It's just super hard. But it's your pain, your only hope of, like, making any kind of difference in that kind of situation.
José Morales-Arilla: One of the points that highlights also is this idea that economic interdependence is about peace. And I saw a reaction to that from some of you later. Okay. In the nineties, we had these views of the paths for Chinese democracy, or the path to civilized prosperity is by connecting oil imports from Germany. Right. But then now, you know, 30 years later, we find that, you know, it is American firms that are needing to commit or censorship guidelines from the Chinese government just to be able to supply the market or, you know, it's Germany, the one that is relatively tame in responding to the Russian invasion. Right. So on the one hand, maybe that's the point is whenever you have economic interest, things are fine with a rival then you're more cautious on how you respond. But at the same time, it also feels like dictatorships are always more foolish, a bit more hawkish in that interaction, which, you know, maybe that means that it doesn't qualify as a kind of speech that comes out as one that is perhaps an enabling the democratic side of things. So. So. Yeah. So how would you think that, that democracies should be reacting in a way that prevent that from happening without compromising economic interests?
Chris Blattman: Yeah. So one thing I'm really careful to emphasize in the beginning is that peace isn't necessarily just. And when I talked about peace, especially the first part of the book, I don't label it as such. But there's this idea of a negative peace that exists in like a peacebuilding. Like when someone says negative peace, that just means you're not fighting hate one another, you may be on the cusp is just sort of brinksmanship, but you're not fighting. This doesn't make sense. You just love and peace and you struggle for it. And that's kind of the world we live in most of the time, especially with the most serious adversaries. And that peace can also be not only is it hostile to be unjust in the sense that a powerful actor can get something that seems like an undeserving share, or they can do things that seem morally outrageous to many of us. And we kind of have to live with it because that's what keeps me right. So in a way, to overcome it, we're like when a cabal removes a country and subjugates all the serfs or all of the commoners or whatever, or a minority group exploits a majority group or majority group exploits minority group. That's and that that exploitive group doesn't revolt. Which is most human societies for most of history, that's peace. But that's not just. Being entwined with a dictator. Someone who's not encumbered by the can sort of take aggressive actions without bearing the cost. That's a bargaining chip in their favor. Right. They have more power than you do in some sense, because they can threaten to burn the house down more credibly than you can. And so that's always going to be a bargaining chip in their favor and that's going to lead to a split in the world or in your society, whatever we're talking about, that that gives them an advantage. That's tragic. I mean, but it's how it is economic interdependence in those situations. First approximation, it's not a magic solution, but the first approximation is like speed bumps for them on the road to using violence. Right. So they're going to wield lots of tools to gain advantage. And what economic interdependence does is it says I'm less likely to use the tools that are going to blow up the thing that's pumping money into my economy and my pocketbook. And so I'll use assassinations and dark money and propaganda and political finagling and rhetoric. And instead of violence. And that's a that's an improvement, I think. But it's not like that's not happening. It's not a happy message towards Carrington. That's good enough. But it's important.
José Morales-Arilla: It's hard to put in a bumper sticker book, but it's good. Oh, I understand. Another thing I really enjoyed about the book is that the underscoring of the concept of 20th-century, this idea that maybe there are institutional arrangements that can organically come about ... And then you make this fabulous discussion of it as the case of the gangs emerging, which is also a thing that you've done some fantastic research about. And I find that strange. But at the same time, A, I feel like it's often the case that the Colombian case is used in conversation to kind of underscore a different kind of more Hobbesian kind of narrative, right? Of the importance of having the primacy of status and monopolies, the violence in a country. And then it's actually one the policy say that a person that, you know, it's only because the government gave war a chance that, you know, things kind of start to improve and that actually a meaningful negotiation with the guerrillas could start to happen because events the negotiation have in the past and they had broken down. So so how would you respond to that tension of should we aim or like state monopoly and which again, these view of like messy a, you know, transformational like chain of things or from the perspective of arguing for or pandering? And how would you react to that in that particular setting of economics?
Chris Blattman: So I think I need to clarify. So, I mean, when you say give or chance, I mean, they fought a 50-year civil war. It's one of the longest civil wars in the history of the world. So. And are you thinking like that helped make the state stronger?
José Morales-Arilla:I'm not saying "I think" I'm saying it's a narrative that's out there about Colombia that says until the early 2000s that an effort to overpower areas.
Chris Blattman: Yeah. I mean, for me, Colombia's like one of the great tragedies because here it's one of those successful, dynamic places on the planet. It really is. It's a thriving democracy in so many ways, so much to potentially export to. It should be this marvelous economic, and political, marvel for the whole atmosphere. And it is getting to that now. It's kind of underperformance reasons it understands. And yet it wasted 50 years in this sort of low-scale, occasionally intense insurgency. So. So what would I say? I would say we shouldn't mix up things you do to win a war versus things you do to find peace. Right. So one side won. The government basically won and the question is, what was the alternative path that could have could have ended this conflict? I don't know this for a fact, because when I work on organized crime and crime laws. I don't work on this sort of history. But one thing that happened repeatedly over 50 years and this Colombia is like a poster child for the commitment problem and why it's hard to have a civil war. Because in a civil war, unlike an international war, any kind of internal war, one side has to put down their guns at least. Right. And then decide to join a political process. That's usually what happens. And when you put down your guns, you have to trust that them, especially if you're a smaller group, that the larger group is not going to murder you. Every time. I mean, there were horrible many, many ways. But every time they tried to put down their guns, either the government or some splinter faction within the government and military tried to assassinate them. And they went, "Right, I guess we can't do that." Again and again and again. And then they finally put down their guns. And what's happened in the last few years? How many thousand leftist leaders have been murdered? Secretly. No, they don't. Is there a serious investigation? I mean, it's astonishing. So the continuation of that is I just think a self-inflicted wound. And I think Colombia isn't Costa Rica partly because of that today. So I see it as big failure in that sense.
José Morales-Arilla: I guess we have time for one more question before we move to questions from the audience. The book makes a very nuanced point about the merits of foreign intervention, on the one hand highlighting the potential concerns about side effects on the population whenever they see the results. But at the same time, highlighting the promise of incentivizing a peaceful solution between potentially warring parties or preventing a massacre when our politics starts. So so that to me seems kind of nuanced. And I was wondering if you could perhaps highlight or elaborate a bit more on your views about like the role for foreign intervention in building peace. What's the point that it would make?
Chris Blattman: Yeah. I think when you emailed me this question, you asked me what's the Blattman Doctrine. Which is a great question. So on the one hand, I say like that is, you know, that whole piecemeal engineering approach sort of says, well, there is no one size fits all solution. And that's like the classic mistake that we make. So I think it is a mistake to think that there's one doctrine and that we can apply that to Syria and that which is, you know, which is a very different kind of political conflict than like what should the international community or the United States do in Colombia, where you have sort of a drug paramilitary fighting a government. So I don't know that there's a single, there's not a single doctrine and unsatisfying answer, but I think there are some principles. Let me just say a few things that I think are not talked about, but I think would be huge if progress was made. One would just be I'd like to see a lot more supranational institutions. All right. Some people think multilateralism. I don't like that word. Doesn't really mean what I mean. So what do I mean? I mean, an easy one is I'd like to see the United States sign on to things like the International Criminal Court. Right. I would like to see a more sanctions response. Right. Which was not rules-based and not predictable. I would like to see more rules-based, predictable, institutionalized responses to specific kinds of crimes and invasions. Right. So International Criminal Court is one, but something that sort of institutionalized. It doesn't have to be everybody. You just need a cluster of people to start. And I would like to see more, because the more predictable it is, the more it's going to, I think both more effective a deterrent. But I'd also like to see, we should be pushing we should be encouraging this movement towards an East African Union, which is happening regionally. But we should be encouraging that because that's going to be credible in that region. It's also going to create a lot of checks and balances and otherwise highly centralized regimes which are fundamentally unstable. We could see Uganda and Rwanda implode, and I think the more supranational union there is there, whether it's currency unions, trade unions, political union would be very stabilizing. The same thing in West Africa, like take these nascent movements and rather than have all of our development, diplomacy and humanitarian organizations push them in an individualized nationalistic direction and disincentivize them towards this natural, seemingly very popular path forward, you may actually try to point in the other direction. So I think that would be hugely stabilizing. So that's one thing nobody talks about, but I just think would be so. So important for a lot of things good policy. But also these. And then. The second thing is, I'm very I used to be very optimistic about the ability to wield military power to end civil wars. Because I worked in Liberia and I witnessed things happen in Liberia next door in Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire, like all these huge success stories of military intervention that don't get talked about because they were over in a few months and didn't lead to a 20-year conflict. But despite that, I've tempered my enthusiasm because I think it's super unpredictable. And so the other thing I think about is and it's linked to my first point about predictable rules-based orders when there are violators, when there are people fighting civil wars or there's a Bashir in Syria, I think my instinct is the thing that might be productive is just to you might not be able to stop that conflict. I think there's lots of things you can do and I would advocate for that. But I would just make life miserable for those people, for those leaders who made those decisions for the rest of their lives. Even at the risk of extending that civil war. Again because of a non-evidence-based faith in the deterrent effect of that for the next Bashir. I just think it's this terrible trade-off. Well, it has to be. But I do think that makes me that sort of rules-based, predictable order that if you go that route, we're going to make this we're going to all that all those incentives you have for your private benefits and the costs, we're going to zero in on that and you're just going to really regret this no matter what. I think I would like to change the calculus of future.
José Morales-Arilla: So very interesting that once you make it a rule, there's no going back and then it's like maybe they're right thing. If you want to make the point for another point, it's like your decision on this is the rule.
Chris Blattman: And the problem, though, is that when that works, because when wars will break out still. Right, because it's going to look like your rule has made no sense because you're going to only see the cases where it failed to deter the war. So there's a real selection problem and how we evaluate it, is this a good idea or not. And then it's going to make it harder. And those conflicts, because ending those conflicts means going to the Bashirs and saying, you know what? You'll do fine. You just..., we're going to take care of you. If you can just stop fighting. That's a really tough screw.
José Morales-Arilla: I think we're gonna open it up for questions from the audience. Yes.
Attendee: Thank you. And I just want to say, I hope I'm not the only person in this audience situation of not having read the book yet. But now I really want to read the book, but it is useful for other people. Just if you could give like a thumbnail sketch of your argument about what are the roots of war and what is the past, the peace, and then the kind of the follow-up question is about this notion of something I very much agree with the need for a rule-based, predictable international order. But you didn't say, haven't said anything really about international law. The truth is, there is a rule-based international order. It's called martial law around aggressive war. It's been constructed very slowly since the interwar period. Okay. And it's very hard to produce a new one. For example, the US will never ratify the ICC. As a political scientist, I promise you that two-thirds of your Senate or presidential system will never do it. So some of those suggestions, it's not going to work. Politically it's not going to work. And so I'm kind of stuck politically with some of you know, the Security Council is not going to go away, that the Security Council makes decisions about war and peace is not going to disappear. We're not going to be able to create a new body that can do that. So from a political point of view, you know how you yeah, I completely endorse the idea that there are things that can be done, but some of them, like us, ratify ICC or change the Security Council aren't going to happen.
Chris Blattman: So great. So what can I say? So thumbnail sketch. Well, let me give the. And because I'm here at Harvard. Let me give a slightly interesting thumbnail sketch of the interview, the academic version, which will resonate for some people. What I tried to do is sort of take the book. It's not really about my ideas. The book is my attempt to synthesize 50 years of both like psychology, sociology, economics, politics, and make the game theoretic approach to thinking about conflict talk to the non-game theoretic approach which often does not. And so and the starting point is the idea that there are whether it's Schelling or a whole body of labor economics or law economics. And eventually the study of conflict by people like John Kerry was to say, well, starting point is that we shouldn't fight it because it's costly and this is a powerful incentive. And then two of the reasons we are fighting are these sort of classic what we call rationalist bargaining failures of commitment problems and the role of uncertainty. And then I said, well, that's great. And for the average person, a normal person has never heard these things before, which is a travesty because they're like some of the most powerful ideas about science and game theory, and people should at least be aware of them. And for the political economists and some political scientists, they just never synthesize and really thought carefully and tried to organize and systematically think through the other reasons for it. And unchecked leaders, it's basically actually kind of theoretic in saying this principle. These are problems like the person who's making the decision is accountable. And then the other two, which are these are painful sounds and misperceptions is the way. So how would behavioral scientists think about that and say, well, we are not standard preferences? Meaning we might value things that are having utility function that has more than just territory that we value or anything. And then we also have misperceptions, which are the systematic ways in which we get that marketing calculus wrong. Most of all, we miss estimating the probability of winning, or we miss estimate the actions of. And so I try to walk through carefully. So it's in a way, it's trying to popularize a lot of social science on this. And then the path to peace is like, what do we know concretely by rolling those things back then? Some of the things that I talked about are a lot of things I talked to that are very hard to do. Like East African Union, there's lots of just as there is like domestic political forces in the U.S. that prevent any international cooperation of this nature. That's fundamentally why I think the East African Union may not emerged in my lifetime as a real political or discourse, for that matter. That said, I do think there's things on the margin that one could do to at least disincentivize that so much of the international community and actually distort domestic incentives in the wrong way. And so on. So I think that would be something to think about shifting of the margin over a decade and then the US well. So I both as pessimistic as you but more optimistic in the sense that I don't believe that the UN Security Council exists in order. And I don't I'm not sure our current system of government in the United States is exact. I think it will probably exist in 100 years but there might be some changes on the margin. But dysfunctionality and our inability to have anything level of international agreement because of this system is really deeply rooted, problem at least the way the parties have a set of political coalitions that are formed. I think the only way this happens is the political coalitions in this country change for some reason, which and so in a hundred years I think it'll be different. So I don't think it's going to happen next year. So that's not a very so that's kind of pessimistic. So there's some of these things. But I you know, I do think we're going to see some real movement on these over the span of decades. I agree. Some of the Latin doctrine was super pie in the sky long term, and I actually think those things will come about. I think I can imagine. I'd be very surprised if in 100 years. We don't have a set of European Union-like regional units rather than just more atomized sort of system nations. I just don't think sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world will be able to advance without incentives.
Attendee: Since Jose mentioned cost, I want to ask you a question that came up to me when I read the book, which is how, you know, from this perspective, moral or political philosophy stemming from a corporation, if you are a rule based international order, is impossible without an authority or will, but this is impossible without its ordering or authority to actually enforce that rule, and that has to do. So what do you think of that? How is it possible and how you know, how do you answer to that? Um, and this also has to do with the fact that for me, any, no other way of thinking or because of my ignorance of that literature of treating conflict in war the same as conflict within a state or within a civil conflict, you know, against a or, you know, war between states. In the end, from this perspective, empirical perspective can be understood with a similar lens, with the same bullets. But, you know, absolutely no, that's completely different because war doesn't happen within a state and that's security issues or is between these nations. And that that has consequences for how to understand peace and how to build peace and if it's needed and what authority or otherwise they both. So yeah.
Chris Blattman: Hobbes wrote Leviathan after experiencing from the English Civil War. It was very friends of mine that said my understanding I might be wrong, I'm not a theorist. What he calls war, he doesn't actually mean fighting, right? That's inclusive, but he actually means the sort of tense posturing, the sort of hostility that's like the natural state of humankind. And fighting is not necessarily so there's not so much inconsistency in that sense between what I'm arguing. But certainly, um. And then so the question is then how do you have within that? How do you have more, more in the sense of hostile posturing and less violent fighting? And I think of both the leviathan, the overarching ruler was like his idea of what he was he was pushing. And so how would we do that in a rules based international order? So I'm not a scholar of international order, international law. And I'm only learning that. So where do I. What do I see? Let me give you the example of the international order in managing a world where you have 400 in the analogy and the way in which I think these ideas operate at different levels is really, really important. And of course, like the criminal groups and nations are super different. But I think we can learn a lot from seeing what they have in common sometimes. So for ten years, there are 400 street gangs and maybe 17 higher-level mafia-like organizations, the city, 12,000 armed, mostly young men. And the homicide rate currently is about a third of that in Chicago. They've managed to establish or appease the court to seal the back of Washington for a decade. And it took them a long time. There have been repeated bouts of war and when managing goes to war, it becomes the most violent place on the planet, literally. Homicide rates in the 1990s reached 400 per 100,000, which is about ten times that of the most violent American cities right now in multiples of civil wars. Okay. How did they do it? They built they've constructed all sorts of norms. Right. So, for example, early on, they tried to put the higher-level mafia-like organizations helping Arizona and the combos tried to establish a set of norms that they would follow and then try to force enforce through essentially neutral sanctions. One of those norms was we're not going if every person has a bunch of affiliated combos. We're not going to steal your cause. We're going to create a norm. But you don't steal another because that just creates. Not only does it create like a lot of unstable shifting coalitions, right? Which can create lots of weird, interesting dynamics that can be strategic or just sort of destabilizes any prior agreement. Interestingly, like the oldest peace agreement, one of the oldest peace agreements we know of the 30 years peace that tried to avert the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, that was like rule number one in there, which was, we're not going to steal each other city states. Okay. So there's some basic principles, like we're going to try to maintain stable coalitions because it's easier for stable coalitions to bargain than for unstable coalitions. Or they tried to instill norms of you're not allowed to kill somebody without asking permission. You have to kill somebody because you have to kill people a lot of the time. But you have to ask permission at least through your side of all right. So they do that. They also establish what in international relations they would call hegemonic alliances, meaning the result would have a bunch of combos underneath it in that stable coalition and the person with direct the political activities of the combo so that they can negotiate on their behalf. Right. In international relations, we have had the moderate alliance with the United States of the Americas. We have another hegemonic alliance such as China. We have a hegemonic alliance in Russia. We have had a hegemonic alliance in the European Union. And that's a much more that's much easier to find stable bargain than oh, and then 200 allied countries just like this, it's easier to find stability than 400. So I could go on and on. But they've constructed a bunch of formal and informal rules and institutions and norms that have made it easier to look to basic and constructive sanctions regimes and the targeted sanctions regimes. And, and. Peacekeepers and all sort of analogs to all the tools we use. They have mediators. All right. And the government facilitates this. All right. So when a war started to break out in 2019. All the leaders are in jail, by the way. This is useful because it means they're on the same cellblock to put them in the same cellblocks. And they can be useful for peace. Useful for making them less powerful. Useful for peace. Because they can negotiate really easily and they can make long-term commitments to one another that they trust more. Because you can go across the hallway and at least talk about it or, you know, will some consequences. But when war was breaking out, the government transferred all of the leaders on the same day by coincidence, and they all ended up in the same building. But because they're scattered across different prisons, there's so many of them. And they all live in the same holding block. And then they arrest a mediator, sort of the equivalent of, like, Jonathan Powell or something of the criminal world. And he accidentally gets sent to the same holding cell. And a week later, the homicide rate is back down to its normal level. And they have a new you know, they've reinforced the convention center. So there's lots of little things that are on the market to establish peace in a super fragile and imperfect, just like our international institutions are. And so that's kind of like the. Piecemeal engineering? I think so. Trying to construct these things. And it's better, frankly, it's easier when it isn't international.
José Morales-Arilla: In the context of piecemeal interventions. Something that I found supremely interesting in the book is the bringing psychology and this idea of therapy and actually a, you know, prevent the worst tendencies ... and actually a lower participation. And I think that this seems like especially relevant in post-conflict settings where you have, you know, large amount of young, otherwise unskilled males that became really good at one thing. Right. And then how do you prevent them from exploiting that economic opportunity to rekindle conflict? And so so I was wondering if you could talk about what the book discusses on these things but also like what your research says on these things say on post-conflict settings have a transitional policies and also like the cycle of the psychological interventions to moderate the sentences.
Chris Blattman: Yeah. So, so some of my own work has been in West Africa and now Chicago. And this very micro-level. So I don't usually operate at the level of Ukraine and Russia. Very, very micro-level. How do you stop? Smaller groups are fighting and how do you stop individuals from fighting? And one thing that seems to be very effective. It's one of many tools, cognitive therapy, which is doing two things. One, it's, I think, helping people reduce their misperceptions. Certain types of misperceptions, automatic misperceptions are slowing down the thinking, making sure mistakes. And it's also helping people transition to social identities that with their existing norms of nonviolence, you don't have to create norms of nonviolence. That's super hard. You harness the fact that they exist as sort of chimps. We will adopt the but we will just sort of inherently sort of strive towards whatever is valued in our group. And if you just get them to think they belong to this group, then the idea is that people will change their behavior to conform to the forms better. And what kind of behavioral therapy is what we do that. Now, the implications are not that far. Vladimir Putin probably does need cognitive behavioral therapy. Most of us can benefit from this. But that's not the international relations or the broader insight. The broader insight is what is this a microcosm? This is a microcosm of the fact that our misperceptions we do have a capacity for misperceptions, not only as individuals and groups, as we have slightly different misperceptions and groups that make us think as individuals. But the fact is, is that. Organizational rules and structures and institutionalized rules and norms, I think, are the way that. The human societies have successfully. Minimized or reduced our capacity for misperceptions and curb decision making and norms help enforce certain behaviors or sometimes for the opposite, but norms can shape them. And so I think that's the insight we get that's sort of common across all these things. And so so I, I tried to illustrate some of the commonalities, and it's not a book about individual violence, but I sometimes use that because we have a lot of evidence at the individual level of how to solve misperceptions. And we have really limited evidence at the group level. So it's almost like we have to try to learn something about the groups by taking what we know about individuals and extrapolating with causal.
José Morales-Arilla: We have a great question from the Zoom audience. And so what you mentioned about the social leaders in Colombia as the flagship or the commencement program is very interesting and provoking when implementing based on possible future agreements or subjugation loss. But at what level does coordination fail? We are seeing the Colombian government within the military and paramilitary results allegedly behind left based on environmental resignation.
Chris Blattman: So I think that's a great yeah, we're definitely getting to like that. But if the book is like 101, actually the book is 201, and then this is like a 301 question. One of my favorite books, there's a political scientist at Northwestern, Wendy Pearlman, who actually my favorite book of all-time, she has written a book about Syria, which is just the dialog that she received from her, the graphic interviews, and just to write it, it's just structured beautifully. But a really deep book, her first book is about Palestine. And it's fundamentally about splinter groups and the difficulties of holding together a stable coalition and how that is inherently a persistent source of violence. And I see this as a little bit of a commitment problem and a little bit of the principal age problem, the unchecked leaders. Right. It's sort of an amalgam of these things. And it says that. Two unified groups have a very easy time of very, very clear incentives to not fight. But if one or both of those groups has fragmentary groups with private interests, whether they're any logical or material keeping the fight going, this could be people who make their money to warlords and they make their money through fighting. Or they could be any illogically committed to sticking it to the other side. Or they could think they can seize power in this group by sort of exploiting certain popular sentiments. Right. So you can see this on both sides of the coming public, see this on both sides of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. That's much less stable. And what she traces out, I think, really persuasively is that she says, well, actually, this is a 100-year dispute. It's only been extremely violent in maybe a fifth or fewer of those years. So it comports with this idea that most of the time we don't fight. We don't. Of course, we focus on all the fighting, but mostly it's a negative piece and that it's like low-skill violence. It's not actually the actual worst in very brief, but maybe two weeks long. And what she traces is maybe from 2000, 2015, which is the most violent period of this hundred years, and she traces that to this fragmentation of control on one side or the other. She's mostly focused on the Palestinian side and how that undermines the basic incentives for peace. I think that that is that's a big risk and in political science we talk with those spoiler problems and splinter groups and this is like a fundamental and it's this basic problem of unstable coalitions. It's really hard to avoid.
José Morales-Arilla: There are these calls that I have seen in some of these contexts like and you know the leader will retreat and in the ways that you know heroes in so many of these conflicts I saw one where the ones that were put in a position of authority by a group and now they're following this convention by betraying the reasons that they put you there. So and that maybe that opens that room for others like below to build, to challenge or position that leadership in that authority position. So it's like bringing a stable of a reforming leader that wants to find a compromise whenever what I would say is such that reaching to the authority level what based off together is like actually challenging the other side or.
Chris Blattman: So it's even worse than that. Okay. For the following. So let's think about this current conflict consideration. But you could, you can imagine this happening. Any number of conflicts on each side, Zelensky and Putin, has incentives to infuriate their own coalition. And make them so livid and outraged at what the other side is doing that they refuse to compromise. All right. Now, partly this is a way to get people to fight. It's a way to sort of strengthen your bargaining power views of your adversary. Because ideological rewards for fighting are cheaper than material rewards to pay them as much. But what it also does is this is part of the cost of working in this bargaining space between the two sides, where both sides for something within that bargaining means to fighting. But there's a whole set of those bargains are unfavorable to you. If you can make people willing to fight just to stick it to another person or so outraged, I will never reward Russia. I will not give them one inch of territory. Because otherwise it's just on principle. I only encourage people to talk just out of principle. I've been convinced that if you foster that, then you can go as Zelensky at the negotiating table, which eventually may happen and say, Look. What can I do? Well, we could agree on this, but on the original never happened. They'll still overthrow. It's a way to tie your hands. So it's actually a strategy. And it's one that is used at every level. Ethnic groups, civil wars, international wars. And both sides often do it. And the side that's most effective at it often gets the better deal. Right? And not only because they set off all sorts of bargains, but because it strengthens their military capabilities. In the West, both sides overshoot the mark. And there's zero room for compromise that anybody would accept. And I think some of the most intractable conflicts in the world, like Israel, Palestine and maybe Ukraine, Russia, have reached a space where for any logical, justifiable reason, they could all be totally reasonable. I'm outraged. They've eliminated the space where they will actually bargain because some compromises are to abort. That's a psychological explanation for conflict that I don't think we've explored enough as a profession. And I think it's so important for these intractable conflicts and it's such a psychological explanation that's strategic in the sense that we have as leaders incentives to create it.
Attendee: I had a question. So. Because from what I understand, the, you know, they talk a lot about how this is a violent conflict has gone down a lot. Right. And they link a lot of this to the rise in democracy. So I'm wondering, because there is a lot of, I guess, backstepping, I don't know how to put that. There's a lot of where there used to be Democratic gains, there is kind of a loss at the moment. Do you say anything about that and that like how that's connected to conflict also? Because when you look at like the great powers in history, you know, you talk about the text Britannica. There is a lot of challenge to the US as the hegemonic power. Right. And that has a lot to do with the Russian conflict as well. I just wondered if you had any insights about that.
Chris Blattman: I didn't understand the second question.
Attendee: When you talk about great powers in international affairs, right, the United Kingdom and then the long peace of the UK. Right. And then now you have the US as supposedly the hedge on winning power in the world and what with the US kind of reneging on a lot of international fora and you have non-US powers trying to kind of challenge that. Do you think that that would be more conducive to conflict.
Chris Blattman: I mean, so in some ways I think the two answers are linked. Where violence is clearly headed to go down over time is within societies and especially within societies where there is a leviathan, but maybe not just a leviathan state and order, but as you say. More.. I would say Democrat in the sense would be more check and balance. Elections may be important, but check and balance societies are stronger. States have managed to drastically reduce violence within their borders. And then the Pax Americana or the Pax .... You know, but probably you know. But there's been lots of empires, history, not all the facts. The world, Mongolia was not particularly peaceful, but they act a little bit like that. But then their sphere of influence. They tend to occur. They create order. It's not necessarily just. But. But they do so. Then there's violence between these societies, whether it's these empires or between nations or between political factions within a nation. And that has not clearly declined over time. We actually have more civil wars technically right now, I think, than we ever had in recorded data, even the 1990s. On the other hand, almost all these wars are small insurgencies, so they're not particularly violent. So but it's just it's not really clear that that violence is declining. I do think, though, that in this age, when we have more rules-based orders of which states are and when we have more checks and balances. I think we tend to have more peace about like an automatic recipe. And so that is why I think you've seen a trend towards fewer conflicts within these more balanced, strong state societies. And why, if we do have more checks and balances in the world and we do have, I think, stronger institutions, even informal ones. That's why I think even if we have many conflicts, they tend to be low-scale. And then what does it mean to have a much more multipolar world and a weakening of super hard to predict? I mean, I think I think I think to the extent. Except it leads to less of like more checks and balances. And I think and the minute where the main players are checked and balance, I think it's fair to say what fortunately the other two of the four big gorillas on the globe are not particularly checked and balanced, and they've been doing the opposite direction. Russia has personalized. And Xi Jinping tried to do the same in China. And that to me the personalization of power. China is the most worrisome thing on the planet. And we don't talk about it.
José Morales-Arilla: We'll have time for one more question.
Attendee: Hello. And thank you for your talk. I'm making my way thru your book. I'm curious about two points you make in the book and you brought up today. One is you talked about how peace doesn't always necessitate justice. And the second point I think you make about negative peace, right, that we can go through years of brinksmanship and sort of other forms of other activities that are not exactly physical violence, but might be some other ways of showing your strength and such. But I mean, one might say that societies that grew up in such prolonged brinksmanship are also maybe not as doing as important, but they're also suffering through a lot of negative consequences of groups that are systematically oppressed to nonphysical violence, stripping away of rights and human rights. So my questions are 1) Do you see if there's a way to have justice and peace, both of them? And second, you know, war isn't always just physical violence that breaks out ultimately with guns and cannons. But what about the violence that may not be as visible?
Chris Blattman: Yes. I saw the first half of the book is about negative peace, even if I didn't use that jargon. And it's about. How are we going to lose that negative peace and get the violence because of these psychological and strategic failures? And then the second half of the book, I don't call it The Path to Peace, is about how you create a more positive peace, which is the jargon people use for this. We're united in this brinksmanship where there's basically lots of padding around you, where you don't actually want to go to war. You've got this sort of brotherhood and sisterhood and harmony, which is the other way we think of peace. Right? And I try to sort of talk about what have society's done over the long run a micro-scale microscale to build that installation. And so we talk about this not just economic interdependence with social interdependence, but also, I think cultural maybe logical interdependence. So us just the idea of human rights and that idea which would have to be created and promulgated and picked up is the fact that I, you know, some person on the other side of the planet, I actually give a whip for their well-being, especially if my government invades that that's should be inherently pacifying, because now I'm internalizing the cost to the other group, which I don't even need to get to. So there's that there as well. What I think this was an enforcement of rules-based orders. There are checks and balances. And then I talk about some of the intervention. So so it's by of sort of saying how what are the common threads? And that's you know, it's an incomplete list of ways that societies have achieved this. But to me, they were maybe the most important and the book was already too long. So a limited list. But basically, part two is like the possibilities.
José Morales-Arilla: Well, while we could stay hours discussing we're out of time, so join me in giving our speaker a round of applause. Thank you..