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Faculty of Economics

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office now has access to a forecast and costing model which uses machine learning and newspaper text to predict outbreaks and intensity of internal armed conflict.


Dr Christopher Rauh

The new model for forecasting conflict, which predicts outbreaks of violence and subsequent escalations into armed conflict has been developed with funding by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). The Dynamic Early Warning and Action Model, by Hannes Mueller (IAE (CSIC) and Barcelona School of Economics), Christopher Rauh (University of Cambridge) and Alessandro Ruggieri (University of Nottingham) simulates the costs and benefits of interventions. This should provide a testing ground for internal FCDO debates on both strategic levels, such as the process of deciding on country priorities, and on the operational level, such as identifying critical periods by the country experts.

Assistant Professor Christopher Rauh, from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge, is part of a team that has investigated the signals that indicate a region might be about to turn ‘hot’, and result in civil commotion turning into either an all-out war, or at least a dispute that would result in fatalities.

“This allows the FCDO to simulate policy interventions and changes in its strategic focus. We show, for example, that the FCDO should remain engaged in recently stabilised countries and re-think its development focus in countries with the highest risks.,” he says. “The total expected economic benefit of reinforced preventive efforts, as defined in this report, would bring monthly savings in expected costs of 26 billion USD with a monthly gain to the UK of £520million GBP.”

Forecasting when an armed conflict is likely to break out is notoriously difficult, and history has shown conflict might suddenly appear out of a previously long lived and low-level dispute. “A special feature of our model is our reliance on newspaper text. This allows us to capture changes in low level risk of conflict in countries which do not have a recent history of violence,” Hannes Mueller says.


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The project has now developed to provide a complete ranking of over 170 countries and 65,000 grid cells across the world according to the risk that they experience an outbreak of armed conflict. A dynamic model which allows policy makers to tradeoff the many dimensions of costs caused by conflict with the costs of intervention under uncertainty.

“We produced a gender index by searching our entire database of over 6 million news articles for gendered words like woman, man, boy, girl, and so on. This led to a data set of a monthly ‘maleness’ of country news coverage. This maleness is positively correlated with several of news our topics ‘religious tensions’, ‘politics’, ‘foreign policy’, ‘armed conflict’ and ‘power and negotiation’ and negatively correlated with the topics ‘civilian life’, ‘health and emergencies’ and ‘sports’. We have not, however, managed to improve the conflict risk forecast through the gender index. We find that the gender index does not change in a robust way before the outbreak of conflict, either,” adds Assistant Professor Rauh.

Access the FCDO report as part of the Janeway Institute Working Papers and predictions of the conflict model can be found at:






Risk Estimation

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