Researchers from Ohio State University, Columbus, have developed a new statistical method that can help track political and civil instability of such countries as Afghanistan. The system is based on a concept called Conflict-Carrying Capacity (CCC), a country's ability to regulate internal conflicts. Three factors help determine the CCC: civil contention, such as large-scale protests; how much the state represses these protests, and the degree to which protests and repression are violent. "High levels of any one of the three factors does not mean the country is unstable," says Craig Jenkins, OSU professor of sociology and political science. "It takes a strong combination of all three to predict instability in a country." For example in 1999, China had high levels of civil protest and some violence, but state repression was modest overall. The result? China is nearly as stable as the U.S., says Jenkins.

Data from these three factors let researchers calculate a CCC score for countries that range from 100 to 0, with 100 being the most stable. Countries face serious instability if their scores drop consistently below 85. Most of the information used to calculate CCC scores comes from news reports distributed by Reuters International Wire Service. Other sources are tapped, however, in parts of the world where there are few journalists.

Right now, says Jenkins, the system is a good conflict barometer and has been used to some extent by several governments and private agencies. Researchers are hopeful the system may one day be helpful in forecasting upcoming crises.