In examining the diffusion of social and political phenomena like regime transition, conflict, and policy change, scholars routinely make choices about how proximity is defined and which neighbors should be considered more important than others. Since each specification offers an alternative view of the networks through which diffusion can take place, one's decision can exert a significant influence on the magnitude and scope of estimated diffusion effects. This problem is widely recognized, but is rarely the subject of direct analysis. In international relations research, connectivity choices are usually ad hoc, driven more by data availability than by theoretically informed decision criteria. We take a closer look at the assumptions behind these choices, and propose a more systematic method to asses the structural similarity of two or more alternative networks, and select one that most plausibly relates theory to empirics. We apply this method to the spread of democratic regime change, and offer an illustrative example of how neighbor choices might impact predictions and inferences in the case of the 2011 Arab Spring.
Russia recently turned down a deal to save Cyprus’ banking sector. At first glance, the move looked like a huge strategic blunder. In fact, a credible offer was never on the table and Moscow needs no accord to secure its dominance on the island.
If civil war is a contest for popular support, why would a government ever embark on a policy of disproportionate force and mass killing? The logic of civilian defection expects such an approach to easily backfire, as civilians respond to massive losses by opposing the side that inflicted them. Yet even if civilians balance against the side they believe most likely to kill them, massive violence can still occur and – when it does – is sometimes seen as a key source of success. Using an epidemic model of popular support dynamics, this paper derives a set of conditions under which mass killing can occur in civil war. Such conditions emerge when combatants have imperfect information about civilian defection, when learning is slow, or when one side initially enjoys an asymmetric advantage in levels of active support or flows of recruits.
Exploratory drilling near the coasts of Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey has unearthed vast reserves of natural gas. Competition over the rights to tap those resources is compounding existing tensions over sovereignty and maritime borders. The eastern Mediterranean is quickly becoming as volatile as its eastern cousin, the South China Sea.
A growing literature on the subnational diffusion of armed conflict rests on the proposition that political violence triggers more violence, in the same locality and elsewhere. Yet state efforts to contain such uprisings remain largely unexplored, theoretically and empirically. Drawing on a mathematical model of epidemics, we formalize the logic of conflict diffusion and derive conditions under which state coercion might limit the spread of insurgent violence. Using a new dataset of insurgent and government violence in Russia's North Caucasus from 2000-2008, we evaluate the relative effectiveness of four coercive strategies: (1) denial, which manipulates the costs of expanding insurgent activity to new locations, (2) punishment, which manipulates the costs of sustained fighting in contested areas, (3) denial and punishment, which does both, and (4) no action, which does neither. We find denial to be most effective at containing insurgent violence. Punishment is least effective, and even counterproductive. Not only does such a strategy fail to prevent the spillover of violence to new locations, but it may amplify the risk of continued fighting in contested areas. In the Caucasus, denial is found to be the least inflammatory counterinsurgency option for Russia. For it to succeed, Russia should physically isolate centers of insurgent activity from regions of non-violence and avoid the temptation of punitive reprisals.
How does insurgency spread? Existing research on the diffusion of violence at the local level of civil war tends to under-specify the theoretical mechanisms by which conflict can be expanded, relocated or sustained, and overlooks the real-world logistical constraints that combatants face on a daily basis. This paper attempts to address both problems by taking a closer look at the role of road networks in the diffusion of insurgent activity. By explicating the logic of diffusion in a simple epidemic model and exploiting new disaggregated data on violence and road networks in the North Caucasus, this analysis challenges the conventional view that insurgent logistics are either self-sufficient or highly flexible. Roads shape the costs of sustaining and expanding operations, which facilitates the transmission of violence to new locations, but can also intensify competition for limited military resources between nearby battlefronts. At the local level, this dynamic makes the relocation of insurgent activity more likely than its expansion. Methodologically, this paper demonstrates that a failure to account for logistical constraints in the empirical study of civil war can bias downward the estimated costs of diffusion and overpredict the transmissibility of violence between neighboring locations. The use of road network distances can yield more conservative inferences and more accurate predictions of how violence spreads.
Russia's intervention in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict has highlighted the need to rigorously examine trends in the public debate over the use of force in Russia. Approaching this debate through the prism of civil-military relations, we take advantage of recent methodological advances in automated content analysis and generate a new dataset of 8000 public statements made by Russia's political and military leaders during the Putin period. The data show little evidence that military elites exert a restraining influence on Russian foreign and defence policy. Although more hesitant than their political counterparts to embrace an interventionist foreign policy agenda, Russian military elites are considerably more activist in considering the use of force as an instrument of foreign policy.
In an effort to better understand the benefits and limitations of an authoritarian approach to counter-insurgency, this article examines the relationship between regime type and military effectiveness in the often neglected case of Soviet counter-insurgency operations in Western Ukraine. This study finds that the advantages authoritarian governments enjoy in designing, planning and implementing counter-insurgency campaigns - related to a lack of restraints and constraints - can all too easily become reversed through the excesses they permit.