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Article

Andrew M. Linke and Clionadh Raleigh

Attention to geography in the study of civil war has risen dramatically in recent years. Beginning with county-level data in the fields of classical political geography, international relations, and comparative politics, a vast body of conflict research is now dedicated to sub-national analysis. This later turn is itself geographical. Innovations in the geographical study of civil war have dramatically improved our collective understanding of violence and continue to call for modifications of conflict theory. While a turn toward geography has therefore proved valuable for academic research that is most often dominated by political science, there remain fundamental differences within the research community about what constitutes geographical inquiry. An example of such a difference is the attention that physical geography (such as forest cover, mountainous terrain) has received in civil war research over investigations of the nuanced social composition of regions and localities, which tends to dominate for conflict research within the discipline of human geography. The spatial dependencies among conflict locations and events need to be highlighted for their importance. These patterns can reveal important underlying social forces that are interesting to scholars in various disciplines, as well as to the study of key geographical processes and the shift toward spatial disaggregation. This localization of violence studies is necessary and concerns the notion of hierarchical scale, which is a conceptual foundation of human geography. In studying the geography of civil war, there are methodological tools that can outline some risks associated with geospatial analysis of violence.

Article

There is a global trend of democratic retrenchment across the world, in both new and more established democracies. The African continent is part of the trend, although there are distinct regional variances on the continent. Yet, despite democratic gains in some states and along some dimensions of democratic rights, the overall trend is that the democratic gains won in the period after 1990 are now eroding. Democracy is challenged in ways that pose threats to freedom of speech, association, and information, the ability to choose political leaders, protection of personal integrity and private life, and the rule of law with recourse to independent courts. As part of a global trend of democratic backsliding, African states have adopted legal restrictions on key civil and political rights that form the basis of democratic rule in a range of countries, from dominant party regimes such as Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Tanzania to competitive electoral democracies like Zambia, Senegal, and Malawi. In South Africa, where democracy and rule of law appear deeply institutionalized, the succession battles and exposed levels of corruption under President Zuma, now removed from the leadership of the ANC party, suggest a weakening of the institutions intended to check executive powers. The September 2017 court annulment of the Kenyan elections suggests that the courts were able to perform an important accountability function and safeguard free and fair elections. Yet, the aftermath of the 2017 Kenyan elections culminated in early 2018 with President Uhuru Kenyatta closing down television and radio stations. Civil society actors, policy makers, and scholars warn against the democratic backlash and its negative implications for domestic and international politics. Internationally, the African democratic backlash challenges global actors who have long pressured developing countries to politically liberalize. Yet, following what appears to be a global trend of democratic backsliding, space for international influence and the spread of liberal norms is closing rapidly. Domestically, the observed backlash against democracy may pose further social and political threats with wide-reaching implications for development. This may, in turn, challenge the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Whereas closing space for civil society impacts first and foremost on voice and participation, restrictions on civil society ultimately may curb even the most seemingly apolitical activities such as humanitarian relief. At present, there is limited understanding of possible response mechanisms to the conscious attempts at democratic rollback from political elites. How do activists come together to advocate for particular rights? When are activists more effective in generating mass citizen support for their campaigns? How can researchers, international actors, and domestic civil society organizations work together to disseminate and use knowledge about organizational resilience in these circumstances? These will be pressing questions for scholars and activists going forward.

Article

Ori Swed and Daniel Burland

The phrase outsourcing war has been used since the late 1990s to describe the trend toward the hiring of private military and security companies (PMSCs) by national governments to perform functions that previously had been assigned only to members of national military forces. These private companies, in turn, hire employees, usually on limited-term contracts, to carry out the missions that the companies have agreed to accomplish. PMSCs may undertake combat missions independently or in direct cooperation with deployed national military forces. They may be assigned to security missions in secret or to meet a highly visible demand, as in the case where the United States contributed private military contractors to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Kosovo in 1998. This was an early case in which privately contracted military employees were hired by one nation to function cooperatively with uniformed members of other national military forces. During the 20th century, private military forces had been considered a form of organized crime populated by mercenaries, a delinquent group at the fringes of the social order who traded in violence to advance the interests of anyone willing to pay them. By the beginning of the 21st century, however, the outsourcing of war and security functions to private companies had become commonplace, transforming the previously prevailing belief that only states had the right to wage war. States often deployed their militaries alongside PMSCs who were contracted to provide support to forces on the ground. In other cases, private companies would pay representatives of other private companies to defend their assets, such as oil fields or diamond mines. During this period at the turn of the 21st century, PMSCs came to be perceived as representatives of a legitimate industry. With this transformation, the nature of security and modern conflict changed as well. Private military and security companies became an important instrument in war-making and the projection of power.

Article

Empirical research on civil war onset has been largely dominated by two approaches: a correlational or “correlates of civil war” approach which seeks to identify country-level characteristics associated with a higher likelihood of civil war outbreak, and a bargaining approach which starts from the assumption that warfare is costly and which views civil conflict as a by-product of bargaining failures. Correlational and bargaining studies of internal conflict onset have reached an analytical plateau because they fail to specify the precise mechanisms that yield civil warfare instead of a different type of violent or nonviolent outcome. An alternative, contentious framework is advanced for studying civil war onset. This framework situates the conflict event within a larger cycle of contention and specifies the mechanisms through which civil conflict is most likely to occur. According to this contentious perspective, civil wars are commonly produced by the combination of one structural condition—a state crisis of authority and/or legitimacy—and the interdependent effect of two mechanisms—radicalization and militarization. Through theory development and vignettes from a handful of civil war cases, the article makes the case that the contentious approach holds promise for elucidating how exactly civil conflicts break out. Despite holding initial explanatory power, the contentious theory of civil war onset advanced herein awaits more systematic empirical testing.

Article

Robert Ralston and Ronald R. Krebs

The field of international relations has long focused on understanding and explaining the causes of war. In contrast, scholars have devoted relatively little attention to war’s consequences. However, scholarly literature on the consequences of violent conflict, including its effects on liberal democracy, has burgeoned and improved in recent decades, since the 1990s. Existing research shows that security threats, mobilization, and warfare are neither entirely negative nor entirely positive with respect to liberal democracy. On the one hand, in the short run, these pressures erode liberal institutions and values. On the other hand, large-scale mobilization and warfare—both interstate and civil—encourage broader and more intense participation at the individual level and strengthen participation’s structural foundations. However, despite recent advances, there remains much that we still do not know, which suggests promising avenues for future research. The existing literature has not sufficiently or systematically distinguished among the effects of threat/insecurity, mobilization, and warfare. It has been stronger on empirical findings than on developing the mid-range theories and causal mechanisms that would make sense of those findings. It has been firmer on conflict’s impact on individual attitudes and predilections than on how and when violence reshapes larger political processes and structures. It has had more to say about conflict’s short-run effects than its long-term effects, especially with respect to contestation. The impact of violent conflict on liberal democracy remains a rich soil for future research.

Article

Despite the decline in interstate wars, there remain dozens of interstate disputes that could erupt into diplomatic crises and evolve into military escalation. By far the most difficult interstate dispute that exists are territorial disputes, followed by maritime and river boundary disputes. These disputes are not only costly for the states involved, but also potentially dangerous for states in the region and allies of disputant states who could become entrapped in armed conflicts. Fortunately, though many disputes remain unresolved and some disputes endure for decades or more than a century, many other disputes are peacefully resolved through conflict management tools. Understanding the factors that influence conflict management—the means by which governments decide their foreign policy strategies relating to interstate disputes and civil conflicts—is critical to policy makers and scholars interested in the peaceful resolution of such disputes. Though conflict management of territorial and maritime disputes can include a spectrum of management tools, including use of force, most conflict management tools are peaceful, involving direct bilateral negotiations between the disputant states, non-binding third party mediation, or binding legal dispute resolution. Governments most often attempt the most direct dispute resolution method, which is bilateral negotiations, but often, such negotiations break down due to uncompromising positions of the disputing states, leading governments to turn to other resolution methods. There are pros and cons of each of the dispute resolution methods and certain factors will influence the decisions that governments make about the management of their territorial and maritime disputes. Overall, the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes is an important but complicated issue for states both directly involved and indirectly affected by the persistence of such disputes.

Article

Repression is the act of subduing someone by institutional or physical force. Political violence is a particular form of repression involving the use of physical force to achieve political goals. Acts of repression and/or political violence often violate fundamental human rights, and are sometimes referred to as human rights abuse. Most systematic research into these forms of human rights abuse, particularly as perpetrated by governments, is built on assumptions of rationality: repression and political violence are strategic policies that governments employ in pursuit important political and/or military objectives. Since the defining concept of the state is its monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion, those objectives are generally related to quiescence and the quelling of popular dissent. Empirical research has investigated the causes of repression and political violence, focusing generally on the conditions and incentives that make these strategies most likely. To a lesser extent, scholars have also investigated the consequences of human rights abuse. This work is intimately tied to extant work on causes, and highlights an important feedback loop between repressive governments and those who oppose them. Finally, researchers have investigated methods of limiting and/or preventing state repression and political violence. Some of these methods are primarily domestic in nature (e.g., regime type and institutional design) while others have a decidedly international bent (e.g., advocacy campaigns).

Article

Counterbalancing is a coup-proofing strategy in which rulers divide the state’s coercive power among multiple, overlapping security forces to hedge against defection from the regular military. There is wide variation in the types of security forces that rulers use to counterbalance the military, including presidential guards, militarized police, and militias, as well as in the extent of counterbalancing rulers engage in. Since the late 1990s, scholars have made important strides in documenting the use of counterbalancing across countries and within them over time, and in understanding mechanisms through which it operates. Counterbalancing has become more common even as the risk of coup attempts has declined. It is most frequently employed by rulers in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and is least likely to be used in Latin America and Western Europe. While dictators are more likely to counterbalance their militaries than democratic rulers, counterweights have also been important to stabilizing many newly democratizing states. There is also important variation among authoritarian regimes in the extent and types of counterweights employed. Counterbalancing is thought to prevent coups by making it more difficult for potential coup plotters within the military to seize power. While coup attempts are underway, counterweights might impede coordination between security forces or create incentives for resistance to a coup. Statistical analyses of counterbalancing and coup outcomes suggests there is a strong, negative association between the use of counterweights and the success of coup attempts. However, there is less evidence that counterbalancing deters coup attempts. This may be because although counterbalancing makes coups more difficult to carry out successfully, it can also generate new grievances among soldiers who must compete with other security forces for funds, arms, and recruits. As a result, efforts to establish counterweights can provoke new coup attempts. Counterbalancing has also been associated with an increased risk of other forms of political violence including repression and civil war.

Article

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has generated considerable controversy since it came into force in 2002, principally because of its overriding focus on African conflict situations and suspects. This has led to accusations that the ICC is a neocolonial meddler in African affairs, wielding undue and unaccountable influence over the domestic political arena. Drawing on the author’s field research in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2006 this article contends that the neocolonialism critique of the ICC exaggerates the power of the Court while underestimating the capacity of African states to use the ICC to their own ends. Delivering distanced justice from The Hague with limited expertise on African societies and spending scant time in the field, the ICC has failed to grapple sufficiently with complex political dynamics “on the ground.” Combined with the Court’s heavy reliance on state cooperation, these factors have enabled African governments to use the ICC to target their political and military enemies while protecting themselves from prosecution. This has also emboldened African states in continuing to commit atrocity crimes against civilians, especially during periods of mass conflict and fraught national elections. While claiming to hover above the political fray, the ICC has become heavily politicized and instrumentalized by African states, with lasting and damaging consequences for the practice of national politics across Africa. To avoid being willfully used by African governments, the ICC must bolster its political expertise and become politically savvier. Rather than claiming to be neutral while hovering above the domestic terrain, the ICC must embrace its inherently political nature and deliver justice in a way that improves rather than undermines the practice of national and community-level politics across Africa.

Article

International conflict—war, crises, international disputes, and rivalries between states—has a clear influence on the military’s role in politics and vice versa. Given that the military is the primary instrument for defending the state from conventional military threats, international conflict has been an early focus of the civil–military relations literature. Generally, very high levels of involvement in politics—for example, coups, military rule, military officers in high-level government positions—are associated with a greater propensity to initiate international conflict on the part of states. However, there is disagreement as to the reasons for this pattern—for example, preferences for aggression on the part of a politically active military, diversionary incentives for a coup-threatened civilian leader, or institutional pathologies brought on by shared civil–military power are all proffered as possible explanations. Politically active militaries tend to do poorly in conflict. There are two reasons for this. The first is the dysfunction endemic in a military that splits its time between politics and proficiency in arms—as opposed to one that specializes in defense. The second reason is that when the politically active military poses a risk of coup to the political leadership of the state, the latter will often engage in such “coup-proofing” practices as purges, onerous command and control measures, the reshuffling of commanders, and the build-up of security organizations intended to offset the military. These measures not only make it harder for the military to stage a coup, they also make it harder for the military to defend the state. Although military involvement in politics makes “acute” conflict—war, militarized disputes, or crises—more likely, these types of international conflict tend to lead to reduced levels of political involvement by the military. War or a crisis can make a coup more difficult as the military is moved away from the centers of political power. International conflict—especially when it goes poorly—also can lead to reform and professionalization within the military, which decreases the appetite for political involvement. At the same time, indicators of a more severe “chronic” threat environment—hostile neighbors, unfavorable geography, or long-standing international rivalries—can make military intrusions into politics more likely.

Article

Jason Klocek and Ron E. Hassner

Although largely ignored by international relations scholars until the 21st century, religion has been and remains a pervasive social force both on and off the battlefield. It affects how combatants mobilize and prepare for war. It regulates how they fight, including unit organization and strategic decision making. In addition, religious identities, beliefs, practices, and symbols shape how and when combatants pursue peace. The study of religion and war seeks to discover and understand these varied influences, even when religion is not the pretext for fighting.

Article

The civil war was a turning point in the life of the faith community in Sierra Leone, which previously had been politically complacent. With the establishment of the Inter-Religious Council (IRC), Christian and Muslim religious leaders joined together with a unified voice based on shared values to first, mediate the conflict and second, promote reconciliation through the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The efficacy of faith-based initiatives is attributed to many factors: the vast numbers of religious adherents, a far-reaching infrastructure of churches and mosques, close partnerships with international organizations, untainted reputation of clerics, and sacred texts that promote peace. Reconciliation is a dominant theme in both Christianity and Islam, giving religious leaders a powerful tool in bringing warring sides who share these faith commitments to the peace table, and, also, postconflict in encouraging restorative mechanisms, such as truth commissions that aim at reconciliation among enemies, over more retributive ones, such as courts. Like the earlier South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SATRC), which was headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Sierra Leone TRC was headed by a religious leader, Bishop Joseph Humper, then president of the Inter-Religious Council. Like the SATRC, it turned to religious notions of confession and redemption that resonated in a very religious society, where 60% of the population are Muslims and 30% are Christians. It was only partially successful, however, because of the existence of the Special Court for Sierra Leone operating contemporaneously, which was based on a punitive model of justice. Because of confusion about the two institutions’ different mandates, and fear of being prosecuted by the Court, even low-level perpetrators hesitated to testify at the TRC, limiting its ability to reconcile enemies. Unfortunately, the international community prioritizes justice over reconciliation, and is less supportive of restorative approaches that may resonate more deeply with religious people in postconflict societies.

Article

Richard C. Eichenberg

Scholars and governments are interested in four sets of questions concerning public opinion on foreign policy and national security policy. First, what do public opinion polls measure? How do citizens, who are generally uninformed about foreign policy and world affairs, form opinions on these matters? Second, how rational is public opinion? Is it stable or volatile? Are opinions coherent? Do opinions plausibly reflect the flow of world events? Third, what factors influence the formation of citizen opinions? Specifically, what is the impact of fundamental attitudes toward war and military force, partisanship, ideology, and gender? Finally, how universal are the determinants of citizen opinion, especially on crucial issues of war and peace? Are the findings in global comparisons the same as those in the American or European contexts? Considerable scholarship has been devoted to these four questions. Scholars now characterize public opinion as rational, in the sense that it is fairly stable, coherent, and responsive to real world events. Attitudes toward war and military force are a major focus of the research literature because many specific policy attitudes flow from fundamental views of war. Gender has also become a major focus of research because many studies find that women are less supportive of the use of military force for most purposes. Finally, scholars are beginning to discover that some opinion patterns are universal across societies, while others are more affected by the individual characteristics of national societies. Studies of global public opinion have expanded greatly, with recent scholarship focusing on global attitudes toward gender equality, immigration, and climate change.