The Logistics of Indiscriminate Violence

[chapter for an edited volume on the economics of genocide]

Abstract: Theoretical and empirical models of political violence and mass killing frequently overlook the role of military logistics. As a result, we often make the implicit assumption that combatants are capable of moving in almost any direction, at any distance, to carry out any task once commanders have issued the order. Yet organized violence -- particularly when implemented on a massive scale -- is a complex and demanding undertaking. The incidence and severity of a massacre depend as much on the preferences of combatants, as on their ability to physically move and supply forces along open arteries of communication. The aim of this chapter is to investigate the effect of logistics on violence against civilians in war. Using declassified data from the archives of the Soviet secret police, this chapter shows that -- in locations where the government faced equally strong incentives to use indiscriminate violence -- logistical constraints significantly limited civilian victimization. The chapter concludes that subversive efforts to disrupt supply systems and transportation networks can be an effective means of preventing and stopping mass killings.