The Blood Trail of the Veto: Forecasting the Risk of Extreme Massacres in Syria

Adam Scharpf, Gerald Schneider, Anna Nöh, Aaron Clauset. 2013. Zeitschrift für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung 2: 1, S. 6-31.


An abundance of large data sets and improved estimation methods have enabled conflict researchers to estimate the risk of war or terrorist incidents quite precisely. However, as it is the case with predicting particularly violent earthquakes, forecasting extremely bloody events in ongoing conflicts has been difficult until now. This article reports how power laws can be used to predict extreme massacres ex post and ex ante. The power law distribution we use is based on the observation that standard probability distributions like the normal distribution typically underestimate the risk of such escalations. Using data on fatalities in the Syrian civil war until the end of February 2013, we estimate the probability of a single event with 250 or more killed civilians at 80% (60% – 94%) and between March and May 2013 at up to 48%. We discuss the ethical and practical implications of these findings and argue that the forecasts could provide a transparent risk assessment tool to decision makers.

Access ungated article (in German) here.
Watch the video here.