Using data to understand the conditions that lead to war

Correlates of War project compiles databases of economic, diplomatic and cultural factors

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Arlington National Cemetary

Image credit: Flickr/TTARASIUK


The upcoming Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity for all of us to pay tribute and thanks to the more than 1.3 million Americans who have died while serving their country in the military.

It's also an opportunity to contemplate the horror that is war. Nations have been taking up arms against each other throughout history, typically motivated by greed, fear, hatred, political expediency and misunderstanding.

There's a fascinating database online that attempts to identify the causes of war. It's called Correlates of War, and it started in 1963 as a project by University of Michigan political scientist J. David Singer.

As the site describes its mission, the original and ongoing goal of the project has been the systematic accumulation of scientific knowledge about war. The project has attempted to measure many of the "factors that purportedly accounted for war such as national capability, alliances, geography, polarity, and status in the post-Napoleonic period, and the list of data sets assembled by the project has continued to grow over the years."

Some of the datasets include:

* Militarized Interstate Disputes (all instances from 1816 to 2001 in which one state threatened, displayed, or used force against another)

* National Material Capabilities (this includes six indicators of power -- military expenditure, military personnel, energy consumption, iron and steel production, urban population, and total population)

* World Religion Data (detailed information about religious adherence worldwide since 1945)

* Territorial Change (all peaceful and violent changes of territory from 1816-2008)

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