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History has comprised periods of relative peace punctuated by wars. The 20th century, for example, breaks down into three “peaceful” periods interspersed by the two world wars. The peaceful spells, however, have not been free of smaller wars. Even without wars between states, there are periods of upheaval when states (such as the Soviet Union) disintegrate.

As an objective measure of geopolitical instability, one could count the number of borders between states that have moved or appeared within an interval of particular length. To reduce statistical volatility, the interval should not be too short. Also, to avoid blurring the data and losing too much information, it should not be too long, either. A natural choice, which is easily related to, would be the decade. If a longer perspective is needed, arguably a quarter-century might be more appropriate. For graphical display, a rolling interval would provide a smoother presentation.

Of course, there are technical difficulties at the margins of what counts as a state or just where a border might be (de facto or de jure?)—the more so, the further back in history we go—and some arbitrary rules have to be laid down. Also, it is arguable whether the event of two states uniting should be counted negatively. However, in relatively modern history, the effect of such variations in interpretation on the result would be small.

My question is: Has such a measure been proposed, and what statistics have been assembled according to the measure? Further, has there been a debate about the merits of various such measures?

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For the 20th century there is the Geopolitical Risk Index (GPR). It seems it was only formally proposed in 2022 in an economics journal. I've not seen it applied by historians.

Datasets focusing more narrowly on violent conflicts are more common. Here is a 2023 article about one that is particularly long in scope, all the way back to the late BCE period. It is meant to supercede the Correlates of War (CoW) dataset which only goes back to 1815. This also doesn't seem to be something many historians have looked at and is mostly influential in the field of international relations.

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You should work on creating an olog. Ologs are like formals models of any conceptual system. They have extremely useful properties that allow you to model things in a more multidimensional way, because they can represent how concepts break down into constituent concepts, or have connections or relationships to other concepts. They can be used to formally verify propositions about those concepts. For example, you want to discover what features of the “data” of history are good for capturing a representation of a general concept, “sociopolitical instability”. The problem is not just that you haven’t figured out what you should measure to correspond with “sociopolitical instability”, but arguably equally that you aren’t sure of a perfect definition of “political instability”, from which you could more rigorously derive those measurable factors. So you might need to find a route towards construct validation.

What I’m saying is that with a lot of modern theories and techniques it may be completely possible to do what you envision, but I believe it requires first the generating of an ontology of the matter at hand (“sociopolitical instability”), and then techniques to identify which components of the ontology are most relevant. It could then be completely possible to develop a meaningful metric, at least it appears plausible enough to attempt. I’m happy to try to help you with this.

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