Research

Journal Article
This article investigates the determinants of armed group organization and the downstream effects of organization on civil wars. It demonstrates that the interaction between geographical and technological factors influences the types of hierarchical organizations that armed groups develop. It then argues that variations in the types of hierarchies developed by armed groups have important consequences for principal-agent relations, which in turn affect groups’ overall level of military effectiveness. Using evidence from field research conducted in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the model’s plausibility is examined in comparative case studies of four armed groups that fought in those countries from 1989–2003.
Johnston, Patrick B. 2007. “International Norms, Commerce, and the Political Economy of Insecurity in Sierra Leone.” Canadian Journal of African Studies 41 (1): 66-94. Publisher's Version Abstract
This article shows how officials in Sierra Leone who presided over weak state institutions at the outset incorporated into their own domestic political strategies the norms that guide international intervention. The implementation of these policies further undermined the aims of outside assistance. Although these international norms, which emphasize market-oriented reform, democratization, and state-building, undergird order in many states in the international system, they can also reinforce corruption and disorder in other contexts where political entrepreneurs are able to channel external resources for consolidation of extant or new local political structures based on alternative forms of control. The remainder of the article focuses on the role played by externally prescribed economic reform, the politicization of multinational corporations, and the emergence of non-state security alternatives in providing new opportunities for state and local actors. These opportunities allow actors to avert common state- building strategies, and minimize the voice of ordinary Sierra Leoneans in local and national politics. I conclude by considering alternative ways to foster the creation of political order.
This article examines how governments can use peace processes to advance their political interests and improve their prospects for future counterinsurgency operations. It argues that governments devise strategies to co-opt rebel factions in negotiated settlements, conditional on their support in counterinsurgency and intelligence provision against non-signatory factions. By dividing and weakening non-signatory factions, this strategy allows governments simultaneously to preserve their international reputation by cooperating in peace processes and to enhance their relative capabilities in future rounds of counterinsurgency. A detailed case study of the Sudanese government’s strategy in the Darfur civil war demonstrates the argument’s plausibility.
{Johnston}, {Patrick} B. 2004. “Timber Booms, State Busts: The Political Economy of Liberian Timber.” Review of African Political Economy 101: 441-456. Publisher's Version Abstract
This article places the political economy of Liberian timber in the context of the theory of state failure. It explores the relationship between private investment, state failure and war, highlighting how Charles Taylor exploited timber concessions to foreign firms as a proxy for effective state institutions in Liberia. It examines the reasons why foreign investment – particularly in Liberia’s timber industry – prolonged the civil war and destroyed the country’s formal economy. And it challenges the neoliberal assumption that increased economic activity provides incentives for rulers to build stable institutions and to provide security to investors. Neoliberal prescriptions coupled with a changing global economy produced no incentive for Charles Taylor, a faction leader from 1989 and Liberia’s president from 1997 until exile in 2003, to attempt to develop state institutions or to prevent the collapse of the formal economy.
Conference Paper
Johnston, Patrick B. 2010. “Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation in Counterinsurgency Campaigns.” 11th Annual Triangle Institute for Security Studies New Faces Conference. Chapel Hill, NC. Abstract
Is killing or capturing enemy leaders an effective military tactic? Previous research on interstate war and counterterrorism has suggested that targeting enemy leaders does not work. Drawing on newly collected data on counterinsurgency campaigns, new analysis on the effectiveness of leadership decapitation is presented in this paper. The results suggest that leadership decapitation is more effective than the conventional wisdom suggests. The paper contains three significant findings. First, campaigns are more likely to end quickly when counterinsurgents successfully target enemy leaders. Second, counterinsurgents who successfully capture or kill insurgent leaders are significantly more likely to defeat insurgencies than those who fail. Third, conflict intensity is more likely to decrease following successful leadership removals than after failed attempts. The implications of these results for academic research, military operations, and policy are explored in the conclusion.
decapitation.pdf
Crost, Benjamin, and Patrick B Johnston. 2010. “Aid Under Fire: Development Projects and Civil Conflict.” Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association. Washington, DC. Abstract
An increasing amount of development aid is targeted to areas af- fected by civil conflict; some of it in the hope that aid will reduce conflict by weakening popular support for insurgent movements. But if insurgents know that development projects will weaken their position, they have an incentive to oppose them, which may exacerbate conflict and derail projects. We formalize this intuition in a theoretical model of bargaining and conflict in the context of development projects. Our model predicts that development projects cause an increase in violent conflict if governments cannot (1) ensure the project’s success in the face of insurgent opposition and (2) credibly commit to honoring agree- ments reached before the start of the project. To test the model, we estimate the causal effect of a large development program on conflict casualties in the Philippines. Identification is based on a regression discontinuity design that exploits an arbitrary poverty threshold used to assign eligibility for the program. Consistent with the model’s predic- tions, we find that eligible municipalities suffered a substantial increase in casualties, which lasts only for the duration of the project and is split evenly between government troops and insurgents.
AID.pdf