Cutting edge

August 4, 2000

At the Conflict Studies Research Centre, academics are using historical analysis to identify regions of possible future strife

I retired from the British Army as a lieutenant colonel in April 1986 after 28 years of service. Civil-service language qualifications in Arabic and Russian gained in the army were of particular relevance in my work as a research fellow at the Conflict Studies Research Centre (CSRC) at Sandhurst.

My area of responsibility embraces the North Caucasus, the Transcaucasus and the countries around the Caspian Basin. Initially, I was involved in matters concerning Soviet artillery, combat sustainability of Soviet Forces and Soviet mathematical methods for calculating the battlefield.

CSRC was established by the Ministry of Defence in 1972 as the Soviet Studies Research Centre to research Soviet military philosophy and practice from open sources, and to inform military and civilian audiences. Its researchers deal with military, political, social and international security issues in the former USSR and Europe.

In 1993, it changed its name to the Conflict Studies Research Centre to reflect a wider remit, while its area of interest remained largely the same. Researchers analyse the long-term factors of instability in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. My service with the Trucial Oman Scouts in the early 1960s, an Arab force with British officers whose task was to protect the Trucial States (now the United Arab Emirates) from external aggression and prevent inter-tribal conflict, has been an invaluable tool in the study of the Caucasus with its diversity of peoples, nations and languages.

Owing to the complexity of the Caucasus-Caspian region, it was necessary to establish a factual base that embraced the whole region. The first stage consisted of historical analysis and country research. Each state was looked at in sequence: Russia - including the small North Caucasus Republics as separate entities, the sovereign states of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

We identified issues that were never fully resolved. The Caucasus bears the scars of Tsarist conquest and the "forced migrations" of the 19th century. The region suffers from the legacies of the former Soviet Union: the flawed territorial-administrative structures and nationalities policy of Soviet Communist power, the deportations of 1943-44, and the fractious return from exile. Perestroika and glasnost gave false promise. They heralded ethnic strife and economic deprivation. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought added complication with the establishment of a frontier along the Great Caucasus Range.

We used the analysis from stage one to identify areas of possible conflict. Synthesis and cross-correlation analysis produced areas of conflict and the causes. This approach facilitated the identification of synergisms, potential intensifiers of instability or conflict arising from weakening of Russian power, legal confusion over the status of the Caspian Sea, arrival of Islamic fundamentalism in the North Caucasus, or traditional regional power rivalries exacerbated by possible choices of oil pipeline routes. Issues were labelled - migrants, environmental, territorial, economic and so on and were given an intensity value and date.

The third stage was the presentation of data. Level one provides the issue or driver of instability. Level two gives supporting text, level three a more detailed background. Level four identifies the synergisms or intensifiers of conflict. This method has proved a useful source for reference, and also provides a useful tool for the identification of trends.

Charles Blandy is research fellow, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

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