Forward Thinking

Conflict Resolution and the Changing Face of War

Andrea Lopez

Libya, Egypt and Syria are among the latest countries to face conflict in the Middle East, a region where Andrea Lopez’s research on peacekeeping and counterinsurgency could easily apply. An associate professor of political science at Susquehanna, Lopez first became interested in these topics while pursuing her doctorate degree at the University of Michigan.

As her research progressed, Lopez found that peacekeeping operations (PKO) and counterinsurgency (COIN) share the goal of developing stable governments that can maintain control of the state without foreign involvement. “Peacekeepers and counterinsurgents would like to withdraw without the state falling back into war,” says Lopez.

Although their ultimate goal is the same, PKOs and COIN use very different approaches to achieve that end. For instance, counterinsurgency involves people who are often biased toward one side or the other in a conflict, while peacekeepers must remain impartial.

“The key here is that while COIN and PKOs function very differently— for example, COIN is far more focused on war fighting and engaging in offensive operations against rebels—there are lessons that can be taken from both about the balance between violence and governance and the limits of each,” Lopez says.

Both efforts must balance the need to deter and, if need be, defeat rebels with the need to build a legitimate government— one that provides the goods and services the population needs, and has widespread public involvement in selecting the government and maintaining its accountability.

“A key limit is that foreign forces have only so much ability to control the local governments. The local government is really the one to decide whether it will engage in good governance or whether it will engage in practices that, in the end, will result in a weakening of legitimacy and undermine even the best efforts of COIN and PKO forces,” Lopez says.

Lopez uses a variety of sources for her research and enlists the help of student assistants like Taylor O’Connor ’16 to sift through reference material such as U.N. peacekeeping policies.

In addition to her continued study of peacekeeping and counterinsurgency, Lopez is investigating how wars have changed in recent history. Rather than two or more nations declaring war against each other, most modern wars began with turmoil between the government and its people, Lopez says.

“We are experiencing an age when violence is no longer due to the conflicting interests of nations,” O’Connor adds, “but rather the conflict between the wants and needs of the people and the confines of their governance.”


Contributing writers to the departments are Karen Jones, assistant director of media relations; Mikaela Klimovitz ’16 from Baltimore; Megan McDermott ’14 from Lewisberry, Pa.; Katie Meier, director of athletics communications; and Bethany Slear ’16 from Lewisburg, Pa.

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