Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2008

Thesis Advisor(s)

Patrick J. McKenna; Jeremy Pressman

Honors Major



Mathematics | Physical Sciences and Mathematics | Political Science | Political Theory | Social and Behavioral Sciences


In spite of the movement to turn political science into a real science, various mathematical methods that are now the staples of physics, biology, and even economics are thoroughly uncommon in political science, especially the study of civil war. This study seeks to apply such methods - specifically, ordinary differential equations (ODEs) - to model civil war based on what one might dub the capabilities school of thought, which roughly states that civil wars end only when one side’s ability to make war falls far enough to make peace truly attractive. I construct several different ODE-based models and then test them all to see which best predicts the instantaneous capabilities of both sides of the Sri Lankan civil war in the period from 1990 to 1994 given parameters and initial conditions. The model that the tests declare most accurate gives very accurate predictions of state military capabilities and reasonable short term predictions of cumulative deaths. Analysis of the model reveals the scale of the importance of rebel finances to the sustainability of insurgency, most notably that the number of troops required to put down the Tamil Tigers is reduced by nearly a full order of magnitude when Tiger foreign funding is stopped. The study thus demonstrates that accurate foresight may come of relatively simple dynamical models, and implies the great potential of advanced and currently unconventional non-statistical mathematical methods in political science.