NECSI research into the causes of ethnic violence have identified one factor that strongly predicts sectarian strife: the spatial geography of different cultural, religious and ethnic groups.


NECSI researchers have used complex systems science to understand how to accurately predict, and ultimately avoid, ethnic violence. The key to peace is to either completely integrate or completely separate people based on cultural, linguistic, and ethnical differences. If these groups are mixed to an intermediate degree, where populations occupy patches between 20 and 60 km in size embedded in areas of disparate groups, violence is both predicted and observed.

NECSI has analyzed several countries with diverse populations: Yemen, the former Yugoslavia, India, and Switzerland. These countries have boundaries separating cultural, religious and linguistic groups as well as instances of ethnic violence. Switzerland, a model of success when it comes to peace, contains boundaries that align with the ethnicities of its population, and has almost no violence. In fact, the only area of violence occurs in Jura, precisely where NECSI’s theory predicts that the boundaries between groups are insufficient. In Yugoslavia on the other hand, the boundaries do not actually align with people’s differences and, as predicted, there is violence at the points of friction. This shows that there are right ways and there are wrong ways to set up boundaries to achieve peace within a country. Knowing that can help us make informed decisions and design for peace.

The research shows that Switzerland can be used as a model for many places in the world that are diverse and struggle with maintaining peace. It is not necessary to create separate countries; groups with boundaries that delineate local autonomy will live peacefully together. The theory and the data also show that people who are in fully integrated societies will also successfully live in peace, so total separation need not always be applied.

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