By systematically under- or over-reporting violence by different actors, media organizations convey potentially contradictory information about how a conflict is likely to unfold, and whether outside intervention is necessary to stop it. These reporting biases affect not only statistical inference, but also public knowledge and policy preferences. Using new event data on the ongoing armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine, we perform parallel analyses of data from Ukrainian, rebel, Russian and third party sources. We show that actor-specific reporting bias can yield estimates with vastly different implications for conflict resolution: Ukrainian sources predict frequent unilateral escalation by rebels, pro-Russian rebel sources predict unilateral escalation by government troops, while outside sources predict that transgressions by either side should be quite rare. Experimental evidence suggests that news consumers tend to support intervention against whichever side is shown to be committing the violence. We argue that these kinds of reporting biases can potentially make conflicts more difficult to resolve — hardening attitudes against negotiated settlement, and in favor of military action.
Repression has a long-term negative effect on political participation. Using millions of arrest records from archival documents, and polling-station level election results, we examine how past exposure to repression during the Stalin era has affected voter turnout in Putin’s Russia. To identify the effect of repression on voting, we use an instrumental variable design, exploiting exogenous variation in repression due to the structure of mid-century Soviet railroads, and travel distances to Gulag camps. We find that communities more heavily repressed under Stalin are consistently less likely to vote today. The electoral legacy of Stalin’s terror — decades after the Soviet collapse, and across multiple election cycles (2003-2012) — is systematically lower turnout. To show that our result is not unique to the Putin regime, we replicate our analysis in neighboring Ukraine (2004-2014), and find similar patterns. These results challenge emerging findings that exposure to violence increases political participation.
Recent years have seen growing concern over the use of cyber attacks in wartime, but little evidence that these new tools of coercion can change battlefield events. We present the first quantitative analysis of the relationship between cyber activities and physical violence during war. Using new event data from the armed conflict in Ukraine — and additional data from Syria’s civil war — we analyze the dynamics of cyber attacks, and find that such activities have had little or no impact on fighting. In Ukraine — one of the first armed conflicts where both sides deployed such tools extensively — cyber activities failed to compel discernible changes in battlefield behavior. Indeed, hackers on both sides have had difficulty responding to battlefield events, much less shaping them. An analysis of conflict dynamics in Syria produces similar results: the timing of cyber actions is independent of fighting on the ground. Our finding — that cyber attacks are not (yet) effective as tools of coercion in war — has potentially significant implications for other armed conflicts with a digital front.
Why do armies sometimes surrender to the enemy and sometimes fight to the bitter end? Existing research has highlighted the importance of battlefield resolve for the onset, conduct and outcome of war, but has left these life-and-death decisions mostly unexplained. We know little about why battle-level surrender occurs, and why it stops. In this paper, we argue that surrender emerges from a collective action problem: success in battle requires that soldiers choose to fight as a unit rather than flee, but individual decisions to fight depend on whether soldiers expect their comrades to do the same. As a result, surrender becomes contagious across battles, as soldiers take cues from what other soldiers had done when they were in a similar position. Where no recent precedent exists, mass surrender is unlikely. We find empirical support for this claim using a new dataset of conventional battles in all interstate wars from 1939 to 2011. These findings advance our understanding of battlefield resolve, with broader implications for the design of political-military institutions and decisions to initiate, continue, and terminate war.
Within a single conflict, the scale of government violence against civil- ians can vary greatly – from mass atrocities in one village, to eerie restraint in the next. This article argues that the scale of anti-civilian violence depends on a combatant’s relative dependence on local and external sources of support. External resources make combatants less dependent on the local population, but also create perverse incentives for how the population is to be treated. Efforts by the opposition to interdict the government’s external resources can reverse this effect. This article tests this relationship with disaggregated archival data on German-occupied Belarus during World War Two. It finds that Soviet partisan attacks against German personnel provoked reprisals against civilians, but attacks against railroads had the opposite effect. Where partisans focused on disrupting German supply lines rather than killing Germans, occupying forces conducted fewer reprisals, burned fewer houses, and killed fewer people.
If a government is facing an armed uprising, why doesn’t it confiscate all privately-owned weapons? When and where is forcible disarmament most likely to occur? Can forcible disarmament reduce rebel activity? To establish a monopoly on the use of force, a government must either convince its citizens not to rebel, or remove their capacity to do so. Existing literature has left this choice — between punishment and disarmament — virtually unexplained. Most existing research focuses on disarmament in the context of post-conflict stabilization, rather than forcible disarmament during war. I introduce a mathematical model of irregular warfare, in which government and rebel forces seek a monopoly on violence. The model shows that disarmament occurs mainly in `hard cases,’ where otherwise strong governments are unable to punish opponents or reward supporters. I test these claims with declassified archival data on counterinsurgency in the Soviet North Caucasus. The data confirm that disarmament was most likely where the government’s coercive leverage was limited — due to poor intelligence and potential backlash from collateral damage. In these otherwise challenging circumstances, disarmament significantly reduced rebel violence — short-term and long-term, locally and region-wide. By limiting the potential coercive resources under the opposition’s control, disarmament can render rebels unable to sustain a campaign of violence against the state.
Using new micro-level data on violence in Eastern Ukraine, this paper evaluates the relative merits of ‘identity-based’ and ‘economic’ explanations of civil conflict. The first view expects rebellion to be most likely in areas home to the geographic concentration of ethnolinguistic minorities. The second expects more rebel activity where the opportunity costs of insurrection are low. Evidence from the armed conflict in Ukraine supports the second view more than the first. A municipality’s prewar employment mix is a more robust predictor of rebel activity than local ethnolinguistic composition. Municipalities more exposed to trade shocks with Russia experienced a higher intensity of rebel violence throughout the conflict. Such localities also fell under rebel control earlier – and took longer for the government to liberate – than municipalities where the labor force was less dependent on exports to Russia.
Zhukov, Yuri M. “On the Logistics of Violence.” In Economic Aspects of Genocide, Mass Killings, and Their Prevention, edited by Charles H. Anderton and Jurgen Brauer. Oxford University Press, Forthcoming.Abstract
This chapter explores how logistical costs shape the quantity and quality of violence against civilians. I distinguish between two types of supply systems: a reliance on local resources obtained from within a conflict zone, and external resources shipped from outside. All else equal, the intensity of violence against civilians should be greater where external resources are available at relatively low cost. As the costs of obtaining external resources rise – due to poor infrastructure or sabotage – violence against civilians should decline. I evaluate the empirical evidence for these claims using disaggregated data on 58 low-intensity conflicts since 1997, and archival data on Stalin’s Great Terror and killings of civilians by Nazi Germany in World War II.
This article offers the first disaggregated, quantitative comparison of Islamist and nationalist violence, using new data from Russia’s North Caucasus. We find that violence by Islamist groups is less sensitive to government coercion than violence by nationalist groups. Selective counterinsurgency tactics outperform indiscriminate force in suppressing attacks by nationalists, but not Islamists. We attribute this finding to rebels’ support structure. Because Islamist insurgents rely less on local support than nationalists, they are able to maintain operations even where it is relatively costly for the local population to support them. These findings have potentially significant implications for other contemporary conflicts, in which governments face both types of challenges to their authority and existing political order.
Why do combatants intentionally uproot civilians? The forcible relocation of families and communities to concentration camps, ``protected villages'' and other special settlements is a regular feature of irregular war, occurring in almost a third of all counterinsurgency campaigns since 1816. Despite the historical regularity of these practices, most research has focused on individual decisions to flee, rather than the brute-force resettlement of civilians by combatants. Using a dynamic model of popular support and new micro-level data from Soviet secret police archives, I show that civilian resettlement is not simply a by-product of war, but is a rational response to informational asymmetry. Combatants who cannot identify and selectively punish their opponents face incentives to control the population rather than earn its support. For strong governments with limited coercive leverage, civilian resettlement offers a way to reduce rebel activity without having to win hearts and minds.
Why do governments use indiscriminate violence against civilians? To deter a population from rebelling, a government should make rebellion costlier than neutrality. Yet indiscriminate violence can make neutrality costlier than rebellion. If indiscriminate violence causes previously passive actors to rebel, why do governments use it? With the help of mathematical modeling, archival data and micro-comparative evidence from dozens of armed conflicts, I show that combatants use indiscriminate violence because it works — just not in moderation. Indiscriminate violence makes civilians less likely to remain neutral, but not necessarily more likely to support the opponent.
There is a threshold level of violence, beyond which it becomes safer for civilians to cooperate with the more indiscriminate side. As long as civilians believe that supporting the rebels will be costlier than supporting the government, they will generally not rebel — even if the government is responsible for more civilian deaths overall. The amount of violence needed to meet this threshold depends on the government’ relative informational endowment. If a combatant has the information to selectively punish her opponents, she can employ a relatively low level of violence. Where she lacks the information for selective punishment, she will use methods more indiscriminate in targeting and more massive in scale.
International observers have tended to paint the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine as an ethnic dispute, engineered and coordinated by Moscow. Yet by attributing the conflict's causes and solutions to forces outside Ukraine, the West and Kiev risk misdiagnosing the ailment and writing the wrong prescription. Preliminary data suggest that the rebellion is more local than international, and that its domestic roots are more economic than ethnic.
So far, public debate about the intervention in Syria has centered on the immediate scope and aims of any U.S.-led military operation, and whether the U.S. Congress should be involved. But no matter how the possible intervention and its aftermath play out, one thing is certain: the eastern Mediterranean -- where exploratory drilling has unearthed vast reserves of natural gas, and where competition over the rights to tap those resources is already fierce -- will become less stable.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.