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The presence of women combatants on the battlefield—especially in large numbers—strikes many observers as a notable departure from the historical norm. Yet women have played a significant active role in many contemporary armed rebellions. Over recent decades, numerous resistance movements in many regions of the globe have deployed thousands of female fighters in combat.
In Female Fighters, Reed M. Wood explains why some rebel groups deploy women in combat while others exclude women from their ranks, and the strategic implication of this decision. Examining a vast original dataset on female fighters in over 250 rebel organizations, Wood argues rebel groups can gain considerable strategic advantages by including women fighters. Drawing on women increases the pool of available recruits and helps ameliorate resource constraints. Furthermore, the visible presence of female fighters often becomes an important propaganda tool for domestic and international audiences. Images of women combatants help raise a group’s visibility, boost local recruitment, and aid the group’s efforts to solicit support from transnational actors and diaspora communities. However, Wood finds that, regardless of the wartime resource challenges they face, religious fundamentalist rebels consistently resist utilizing female fighters. A rich, data-driven study, Female Fighters presents a systematic, comprehensive analysis of the impact women’s participation has on organized political violence in the modern era.
This article examines the distribution and correlates of mass attitudes toward the privatization of US military operations. Relying on insights from principal–agent theory, we form predictions about what beliefs are associated with a willingness to grant authority over military operations to private military companies (PMCs). The model predicts that citizens’ beliefs about actor motives, accountability, and costs are associated with attitudes toward PMCs. Using a nationally representative survey, we find that beliefs about the profit-oriented motives of private firms and perceptions of their lack of accountability reduce support for the use of PMCs, particularly in combat operations. By contrast, belief in private firms’ superior fiscal efficiency increases support for utilizing PMCs in both combat and noncombat operations. The results illustrate the usefulness of principle-agent theory for understanding mass attitudes and help to improve the field’s understanding of the contours of public attitudes toward US defense policy.
Previous studies suggest that patriarchal structures and rigid gender hierarchies at the societal level increase a country’s propensity for involvement in violent social and political conflict. While examining macrolevel predictors and outcomes, the arguments put forth in these studies rely heavily on theories linking individuals’ attitudes toward gender equality to individuals’ beliefs in the appropriateness of violence as a means of attaining political or social objectives. In this research, we explore the microfoundations of the gender equality–peace thesis by examining the conditional impact of beliefs about gender egalitarianism on support for the use of force to achieve foreign policy objectives. Using data from a nationally representative survey of US citizens, we find that as the strength of gender egalitarian attitudes increases, respondents’ support for the use of force to achieve traditional security objectives declines. Importantly, however, our results suggest that gender egalitarian attitudes exert the strongest suppressive effect on support for the use force among male respondents: rising gender egalitarianism among men effectively closes the gender gap in support for the use of force. Consequently, these results provide microlevel support for the relationship between gender equality and peace found in macrolevel observational analyses.
We investigate the factors that lead some rebel organizations to deploy women in combat roles while others restrict women’s participation to non-combat roles or exclude them entirely. Our argument focuses on the influence of the scope and frequency of women’s prior participation in social, political, and economic activities on groups’ decisions to employ women in combat roles and women’s desire to pursue such roles when they are made available. We evaluate our hypotheses using a new dataset on women’s combat participation in rebel movements active from 1979 to 2009. Our results provide support for our central hypothesis.
Previous studies suggest that women’s access to political power often increases following the termination of civil conflicts, particularly those ending in negotiated settlement. However, the effect of these changes has received limited attention. We argue that the proportion of female representatives in a national legislature prolongs peace following a negotiated settlement. Moreover, we highlight two mechanisms through which greater female representation reduces the risk of conflict recurrence: 1) by prioritizing social welfare spending over military spending, and 2) by improving public perceptions of good governance and the credibility of political elites. We further argue that legislative independence and authority conditions this relationship, implying that greater female representation is more likely to promote peace in states with nominally democratic political institutions. Our empirical analyses of peace duration following negotiated settlements between 1946 and 2011 provide robust support for our general argument and the underlying mechanisms we believe drive this relationship.
Despite the frequent participation of women in armed groups, few studies have sought to explain the variation in their roles across different rebellions. Herein, we investigate this variation. We argue that the political ideology a group adopts plays a central role in determining the extent of women’s participation, particularly their deployment in combat roles. Specifically, we link variations in women’s roles in armed groups to differences in beliefs about gender hierarchies and gender-based divisions of labor inherent in the specific ideologies they adopt. We evaluate hypotheses drawn from these arguments using a novel cross-sectional dataset on female combatants in a global sample of rebel organizations active between 1979 and 2009. We find that the presence of a Marxist-oriented ‘Leftist’ ideology increases the prevalence of female fighters while Islamist ideologies exert the opposite effect. However, we find little evidence that Nationalism exerts an independent influence on women’s combat roles. We also note a general inverse relationship between group religiosity and the prevalence of female fighters. Our analysis demonstrates that political ideology plays a central role in determining whether and to what extent resistance movements incorporate female fighters into their armed wings.
Contemporary civil conflicts frequently impose disproportionate costs of civilian populations. By some estimates, roughly 90% of conflict causalities were combatants in the wars of the early 20th century, but by the end of the century nearly 90% of causalities were civilians. While scholars have spent decades examining phenomena such as genocide and terrorism, they have only recently begun to systematically examine the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to the more general occurrence of civilian victimization during intra-state armed conflict. What is civilian victimization, and how does it differ from other forms of political violence? Is it possible to differentiate between “collateral damage” and intentional civilian targeting during civil conflicts? While virtually all conflicts impose significant costs on civilians, those costs vary tremendously across armed conflicts. Moreover, while collateral damage is an unfortunately common feature of warfare, violence perpetrated against civilians often includes massacres, bombings of civilian targets with negligible military value, summary executions, ethnic cleansing, and other forms of intentional attacks on noncombatants. Yet, these practices are comparatively more common during some wars, in some areas, or by some groups. This variation suggests that while all internal conflicts are violent, certain characteristics of actors, the conflict spaces, and/or the patterns of interactions between rebels, the government they challenge, and civilians within the conflict zone explain why some conflicts produce greater levels of abuse against civilians than do others. Do similar factors explain both government-sponsored civilian victimization and violence committed by non-state actors during civil conflict? A cursory review of available data clearly demonstrates that both state and non-state forces often engage in high levels of civilian victimization. In general, the existing evidences suggest that the motives for state and non-state actor violence are similar. However, key differences in the nature of institutional and organizational arrangements suggest that rebels and governments experience different types of constraints on their ability to act on their motives. How can the international community effectively respond in order to reduce the severity of civilian victimization in ongoing conflicts? This important policy question has produced a range of conflicting answers; however, the most recent scholarship on the topic suggests that both United Nations peacekeeping operations—particularly when they include a strong mandate for civilian protection and a robust military force—and international condemnation (“naming and shaming”) can effectively reduce the magnitude of intentional violence against civilians.
Annual allocations of bilateral and multilateral humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected states total billions of dollars. Humanitarian assistance plays a vital role in sustaining vulnerable populations. However, inflows of such aid may also exacerbate violence by both threatening insurgents and creating incentives for these groups to extend or deepen control over the areas in which it concentrates. Insurgent efforts to ameliorate threat and co-opt resources ultimately raise the risk of conflict between insurgent and counterinsurgent forces. We evaluate our argument using recently constructed geo-located data on both aid commitments and conflict events for a sample of twenty sub-Saharan African countries during the post-Cold War era. Even after accounting for the non-random assignment of aid within conflict zones, we find that humanitarian aid increases the frequency of subsequent violent engagements between rebel and government forces in the areas in which it concentrates. Importantly, however, we find no evidence that other forms of foreign development aid exacerbate or prolong violence in the areas in which they are allocated.
To date, the extensive research on radicalization and recruitment has devoted scant attention to understanding women’s participation. As a result, strategies and programs that intend to counter violent extremism have naturally been oriented toward male recruits. This has led to a dearth of responses that adequately address the drivers and recruitment tactics related to female participation. To fill these gaps and strengthen the development responses to violent extremism, this report seeks to provide insights on three major questions.
Humanitarian assistance is intended to ameliorate the human costs of war by providing relief to vulnerable populations. Yet the introduction of aid resources into conflict zones may influence subsequent violence patterns and expose in- tended recipients to new risks. Here we investigate the potential negative externalities associated with humanitarian aid. We argue that aid can create incentives for armed actors to intentionally target civilians for violence. Aid encourages rebel violence by providing opportunities for looting and presenting challenges to rebel authority. It potentially encourages state violence where it augments rebel capabilities or provides rebels a resource base. We evaluate both arguments using spatially disaggregated data on aid and conflict violence for a sample of nearly two dozen post–Cold War African countries. The results of multiple statistical analyses provide strong support for the argument that humanitarian aid is associated with increased rebel violence but less support for the relationship between aid and state violence.
Natural disasters often cause significant human suffering. They may also provide incentives for states to escalate repression against their citizens. We argue that state authorities escalate repression in the wake of natural disasters because the combination of increased grievances and declining state control produced by disasters creates windows of opportunity for dissident mobilization and challenges to state authority. We also investigate the impact of the post-disaster humanitarian aid on this relationship. Specifically, we argue that inflows of aid in the immediate aftermath of disasters are likely to dampen the impact of disasters on repression. However, we expect that this effect is greater when aid flows to more democratic states. We examine these interrelated hypotheses using cross-national data on immediate-onset natural disasters and state violations of physical integrity rights between 1977 and 2009 as well as newly collected foreign aid data disaggregated by sector. The results provide support for both our general argument and the corollary hypotheses.
“Competing for the Crown Inter-rebel Competition and Civilian Targeting in Civil War,” Political Research Quarterly (2015) 68(1): 167-179 (w/ Jacob Kathman)
What factors contribute to the victimization of civilians during civil war? Drawing on research from various disciplines, we argue that increasing competition within a civil conflict system brought on by the entrance of new factions contributes to an increase in civilian targeting by existing rebel groups. Specifically, we argue that existing groups are more likely to target civilians immediately upon the entrance of new rivals due to the perceived threat to control over resources and because the arrival of new groups diminishes the gains existing groups expect from either victory or successful conflict bargaining. We further argue that violence against civilians increases during periods in which rival factions engage in direct, violent conflict with one another. Our analysis diverges from existing studies by arguing and demonstrating that fluctuations in competition rather than the simple presence of competing groups produce spikes in civilian targeting by nonstate actors. We evaluate and find support for our argument using monthly data for African conflicts between 1989 and 2010.
“From Loss to Looting: Battlefield Costs and Rebel Incentives for Violence,” International Organization (2014) 68(4): 979-999.
Research into the causes of civilian abuse during civil conflict has increased significantly in recent years, yet the mechanisms responsible for changes in actors’ tactics remain poorly understood. I investigate how the outcomes of discrete conflict interactions influence subsequent patterns of rebel violence against civilians. Two competing logics suggest opposite influences of material loss on violence. A stylized model of rebel-civilian bargaining illustrates how acute resource demands resulting from recent severe conflict losses may incentivize insurgent violence and predation. I also identify several factors that might condition this relationship. I evaluate hypotheses based on these expectations by first analyzing the behaviors of the Lord’s Resistance Army using subnational conflict data and then analyzing a cross-sectional sample of post–Cold War African insurgencies. Results from both the micro- and macrolevel analyses suggest that rising battlefield costs incentivize attacks on civilians in the period immediately following the accrual of losses. However, group-level factors such as effective control over territory and the sources of rebel financing condition this relationship. The findings suggest potential benefits from examining the interaction of strategic conditions and more static organizational characteristics in explaining temporal and geographic variation in rebel violence.
“Stopping the Killing during the ‘Peace:’ Peacekeeping and the Severity of Post-Conflict Civilian Victimization,” Foreign Policy Analysis (forthcoming) (w/ Jacob Kathman)
Recent research has investigated the relative effectiveness of peacekeeping in stabilizing postconflict states, preventing the return to armed hostilities between belligerents, and reducing civilian abuse during civil conflict. This research has shed light on important theoretical and policy-relevant issues. However, scholars have largely neglected to evaluate the role of peacekeeping in protecting civilians during the notoriously unstable postconflict period. Even after active conflict has ended, the factions often persist in abusing civilians to reinforce conflict gains, shape the postconflict environment, exact revenge for wartime grievances, or spoil peace processes. This analysis investigates the effectiveness of peacekeeping missions in protecting civilians during the post-conflict “peace.” Using newly collected data on the number and type of United Nations peacekeeping personnel commitments along with civilian victimization data for all African conflicts between 1992 and 2010, we find that greater numbers of peacekeeping troops reduce anticivilian violence. By contrast, larger deployments of UN observers are positively correlated with violence.
“Opportunities to kill or incentives for restraint? Rebel capabilities, the origins of support, and civilian victimization in civil war,” Conflict Management Peace Science (2014) 31(5) 461-480
During civil conflicts the distribution of power heavily influences belligerents’ war strategies, potentially including civilian targeting. Despite the potential relevance to wartime victimization, the relationship between insurgent capabilities and civilian victimization has received limited attention. A complicating factor in assessing this relationship is that power produces countervailing incentives and opportunities for violence. While greater military capabilities present more opportunities for death and destruction, incentives for anti-civilian violence should decline as the range of war strategies available to the group expands. This intuition suggests a tension between the opportunities and incentives to kill that past studies have failed to explicitly address. I help resolve this tension by examining the manner in which the origins of rebel resources condition the relationship between military capabilities and civilian victimization. Where groups rely on local support, violence declines as group capabilities increase. By contrast, when rebels rely on alternative sources of support, greater capabilities produce greater levels of violence. I test these relationships quantitatively using recently constructed data on insurgent resources and one-sided violence against civilians in conflicts occurring between 1989 and 2009.
“Aiding Labor: Foreign Aid and the Promotion of Labor Rights in LDCs,” The Journal of Human Rights (2014) 13(2) 186-204 Final Draft
Recent research examines the influence of trade and capital liberalization on states’ and private corporations’ respect for labor rights in developing countries. This literature, however, generally overlooks the potential role of development aid on these rights. Herein I argue that official development assistance (ODA)—specifically aid to civil society programs and nongovernmental organizations—helps improve core labor standards. Such aid promotes labor rights through strengthening labor organizations, related civil society groups, and NGOs and improving their capacity to mobilize and bargain with the state and capital. Development aid likewise indirectly promotes respect for labor rights through a diffusion process from donor states with superior labor rights standards to recipients. I test hypotheses drawn from the arguments via quantitative analysis employing new data on labor rights practices as well as disaggregated foreign aid data.
“Delegation and Civilian Abuse: A Principal-Agent Analysis of Wartime Atrocities,” International Organization (2014) 68(3) 633-661 (w/ Idean Salehyan and David Siroky)
While some rebel groups work hard to foster collaborative ties with civilians, others engage in egregious abuses and war crimes. We argue that foreign state funding for rebel organizations greatly reduces incentives to the ‘win the hearts and minds’ of civilians because it diminishes the need to collect resources from the population. However, unlike other lucrative resources, foreign funding of rebel groups must be understood in principal-agent terms. Some external principals—namely, democracies and states with strong human rights lobbies—are more concerned with atrocities in the conflict zone than others. Multiple state principals also lead to abuse because no single state can effectively restrain the organization. We test these conjectures with new data on foreign support for rebel groups and data on one-sided violence against civilians. Most notably, we find strong evidence that principal characteristics help influence
“Too Much of a Bad Thing? Civilian Victimization and Bargaining in Civil War,” British Journal of Political Science (2014) 44(3) 685-706 (w/ Jacob Kathman)
While studies of the motives for intentional insurgent violence against civilians are now common, relatively little academic research has focused on the impact of victimization on conflict processes or war outcomes. This article addresses this gap in the literature. Specifically, the authors examine the influence of civilian victimization on bargaining between the regime and insurgents during a civil war. A curvilinear relationship between the level of civilian victimization used by insurgents and the likelihood that conflict ends in negotiated settlement is posited. The probability of settlement is highest for groups that engage in a moderate level of civilian killing but declines at particularly high levels. A competing risk analysis using monthly conflict data on African civil wars between 1989 and 2010 supports this argument.
“Armed Intervention and Insurgent Violence against Civilians in Intrastate Conflicts,” Journal of Peace Research (2012) 49(5) 647-660 (w/ Stephen Gent and Jacob Kathman)
Research has begun to examine the relationship between changes in the conflict environment and levels of civilian victimization. We extend this work by examining the effect of external armed intervention on the decisions of governments and insurgent organizations to victimize civilians during civil wars. We theorize that changes in the balance of power in an intrastate conflict influence combatant strategies of violence. As a conflict actor weakens relative to its adversary, it employs increasingly violent tactics toward the civilian population as a means of reshaping the strategic landscape to its benefit. The reason for this is twofold. First, declining capabilities increase resource needs at the moment that extractive capacity is in decline. Second, declining capabilities inhibit control and policing, making less violent means of defection deterrence more difficult. As both resource extraction difficulties and internal threats increase, actors’ incentives for violence against the population increase. To the extent that biased military interventions shift the balance of power between conflict actors, we argue that they alter actor incentives to victimize civilians. Specifically, intervention should reduce the level of violence employed by the supported faction and increase the level employed by the opposed faction. We test these arguments using data on civilian casualties and armed intervention in intrastate conflicts from 1989 to 2004. Our results support our expectations, suggesting that interventions shift the power balance and affect the levels of violence employed by combatants.
“State Reputation and Alliance Formation,” International Studies Quarterly (2012) 56(2) 259-274 (w/ Mark Crescenzi, Jacob Kathman, and Katja Kleinberg)
In this paper, we examine how the past alliance behavior of nations affects the likelihood that these states will be involved in alliance formation. We contend that nations evaluate the reputations of potential allies when searching for alliance partners. Reputation information is processed by governments along with other immediate concerns. By introducing a model and developing subsequent measures of reputational alliance histories, we improve upon our current understanding of the factors that drive alliance formation. Using alliance reputation data derived from the ATOP project (1816–2000), we find support for the hypothesis that a reputation for upholding one’s agreements significantly improves the likelihood of membership in future alliances.
“Assessing the Short- and Long-Term Effects of Intervention in State-Sponsored Mass Killings,” Journal of Conflict Resolution (2011) 55(5) 735-760 (w/ Jacob Kathman)
How do third-party interventions affect the severity of mass killings? The authors theorize that episodes of mass killing are the consequence of two factors: (1) the threat perceptions of the perpetrators and (2) the cost of implementing genocidal policies relative to other alternatives. To reduce genocidal hostilities, interveners must address these factors. Doing so requires that interveners alter the genocidaire’s expectation of a successful extermination policy, which in turn requires a demonstration of the third party’s resolve. This cannot be achieved immediately upon intervention, and, given the perpetrator’s strategic response to third-party involvement, the authors expect intervention to increase hostilities in the short term. With time, however, the authors contend that the characteristics of impartial interventions offer the greatest opportunity for reducing the violence in the long term. A statistical analysis of the 1955–2005 period supports the theoretical expectations.
This article explores the strategic motivations for insurgent violence against civilians. It argues that violence is a function of insurgent capacity and views violence and security as selective benefits that insurgents manipulate to encourage support. Weak insurgent groups facing collective action problems have an incentive to target civilians because they lack the capacity to provide sufficient benefits to entice loyalty. By contrast, stronger rebels can more easily offer a mix of selective incentives and selective repression to compel support. This relationship is conditioned by the counterinsurgency strategies employed by the government. Indiscriminate regime violence can effectively reduce the level of selective incentives necessary for insurgents to recruit support, thus reducing their reliance on violence as a mobilization tool. However, this relationship only holds when rebels are sufficiently capable of credibly providing security and other incentives to civilian supporters. These hypotheses are tested using data on one-sided violence from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program. The statistical analysis supports the hypothesis that comparatively capable insurgents kill fewer civilians than their weaker counterparts. The results also suggest a complex interaction between insurgent capability and government strategies in shaping insurgent violence. While weaker insurgents sharply escalate violence in the face of indiscriminate regime counterinsurgency tactics, stronger groups employ comparatively less violence against civilians as regime violence escalates.
“The Political Terror Scale (PTS): A Re-introduction and Comparison to the CIRI Human Rights Database,” Human Rights Quarterly (2010) 32(2) 367-400 (w/ Mark P. Gibney)
Despite the frequency with which scholars have utilized the Political Terror Scale (PTS), a surprising number of questions remain regarding the origins of the scale, the coding scheme it employs, and its conceptualization of “state terror.” This research note attempts to clarify these issues. We also take this opportunity to compare the PTS with the Cingranelli and Richards Human Rights Data Project (CIRI). Although the PTS and CIRI are coded from the same source material and capture the same class of human rights violations, we observe some important differences between the two that we believe may be of interest to scholars in the quantitative human rights community. First, we believe that the CIRI claims a level of precision that is not possible given the source data from which both datasets are coded. We believe that the PTS offers a transparent coding system that recognizes the inherent limitations in measuring abuses of physical integrity rights. Second, we argue that the CIRI’s method of summing across abuse types leads to some inappropriate categorizations. For instance, the absence of one type of abuse prevents a state from being coded into a more repressive overall category regardless of the levels of other types of abuse. Lastly, the PTS accounts for the “range” of violence committed by the state—in short, what segments of the population are targeted. We believe that range is an important dimension to consider in measuring human rights and one to which CIRI does not attend.
“A Hand upon the Throat of the Nation: Economic Sanctions and State Repression, 1976-2001,” International Studies Quarterly (2008) 52(3) 489-513
While intended as a nonviolent foreign policy alternative to military intervention, sanctions have often worsened humanitarian and human rights conditions in the target country. This article examines the relationship between economic sanctions and state-sponsored repression of human rights. Drawing on both the public choice and institutional constraints literature, I argue that the imposition of economic sanctions negatively impacts human rights conditions in the target state by encouraging incumbents to increase repression. Specifically, sanctions threaten the stability of target incumbents, leading them to augment their level of repression in an effort to stabilize the regime, protect core supporters, minimize the threat posed by potential challengers, and suppress popular dissent. The empirical results support this theory. These findings provide further evidence that sanctions impose political, social, and physical hardship on civilian populations. They also underscore a need for improvements in current strategies and mechanisms by which states pursue foreign-policy goals and the international community enforces international law and stability.
Rather than an arbitrary decision, civilian victimization represents a strategic choice made by armed actors. The theory presented herein argues that violence strategies are largely shaped by fluctuations in the power dynamics between armed political actors. Insurgents and states actively compete over civilian loyalties because loyalty and support shape war outcomes. Civilian loyalty is largely contingent on the population’s expectations of the benefits provided by each side as well as the probability of its victory. Both the credible provision of benefits by a side and civilians’ expectations regarding war outcomes are determined by the relative capabilities of the actors. As insurgents weaken, civilians’ evaluation of the likelihood of the group’s victory declines, as do their expectations of receiving sufficient benefits to offset the risk of supporting the group. Declining capabilities and weakening civilian loyalty encourage insurgents to escalate violence in order to deter defections. A similar dynamic applies to states. As the regime weakens in the face of rising insurgent threat and declining civilian loyalty, it is increasingly likely to resort to higher levels of violence against civilians in an attempt to reassert control and enforce loyalty among the population. The statistical results presented here provide support for the thesis that changes in actors’ relative capabilities influence the frequency and types of violence they employ against civilians.