Conflict Analysis in Virtual States (CAVS) offers a fresh approach to analyzing civil conflicts,which also has significant potential for policy application. This approach, made possible by the use of two computer-based methods comprising multi-agent simulation (MAS) and a geographical information system (GIS), basically consists of observing and analyzing simulated dynamics of civil conflicts. Characteristically, these simulations are run in ‘realistic virtual states,’ which are constructed virtually but reflect some of the defining characteristics of corresponding sovereign states that exist in the real world. In short, controlled pseudo-experiments concerning civil conflicts are conducted in a virtual environment that sufficiently approximates the empirical reality.This working paper introduces CAVS and reports on its latest developments. First, the paper gives an overview of CAVS and its two major components: a MAS model of virtual states and GIS datasets on actual states (e.g., demographic distribution, distribution of ethnic groups, etc.). This overview is followed by some illustrative examples of simulation runs conducted in several virtual states that approximate existing states in Northeast Africa (Eritrea,Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and the Sudan). The paper then details the substantial improvement and extension that the CAVS platform is now undergoing. This ongoing development includes: restructuring and unification of the GIS datasets; introduction of a much-strengthened and more flexible interface between the GIS data and the MAS model; and a substantial extension of the MAS model itself, particularly in its coverage of international and transnational factors.Lastly, the paper describes several research projects currently underway, such as investigations into the effects on civil conflicts of a variety of external influences and interventions. Firmly based on the extended CAVS platform, these projects have clear policy implications.
Keywords: civil conflicts, Africa, multi-agent (agent-based) simulation (MAS), geographical information system (GIS), policy experiments