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Article

Brandon Prins and Ursula Daxecker

With piracy in the Greater Gulf of Aden seemingly eradicated, some analysts suggest that attacks against shipping no longer remains a salient global security concern. Indeed, the number of attacks attributable to Somali pirates dropped dramatically from 2011 to 2015, and small private maritime security firms have begun to go out of business as demand for armed guards on ships has diminished. But recent increases off the coast of Nigeria and around the Straits of Malacca confirm that the threat has not been entirely eliminated. In fact, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines recently agreed to conduct coordinated naval patrols to stem the rise in attacks in and around their waters and some Indonesian elites warn that the problem will only grow worse (Jensen & Kapoor, 2016). While the international community mounted a significant counter-piracy response to attacks in the Greater Gulf of Aden beginning in 2009 and shipping companies started to implement protective measures to safeguard their transports, piracy endures because the conditions driving it persist. Successful attacks against ships produce sizable payoffs and the risk of capture remains low in most places. Further, the continued presence of fragile governments, corrupt elites, joblessness, and illegal foreign fishing ensure that pirates will continue to pose a threat to marine traffic. Current research efforts focus on the microlevel drivers of pirate attacks. While structural (country-level) indicators of poverty and institutional fragility correlate with piracy, local conditions on land proximate to anchorages and shipping lanes where incidents occur will likely provide additional leverage in explaining where pirates locate and why piracy endures. Existing research also suggests piracy may be connected to armed insurgency. As rebels seek resources to help fund their anti-state or separatist campaigns, piracy, like gemstones, oil, and narcotics, may serve as a means to pay fighters and purchase weapons. Spatially and temporally disaggregated analyses as well as the synthesis of research on civil war and maritime piracy will open up new lines of inquiry into the relationship between lootable resources and armed conflict.

Article

The variety in climate, vegetation, and population density in Central Africa is enormous, but some of the main features of policymaking and informal rules of politics—at first sight at least—appear quite similar between N’Djaména and Kinshasa, between Libreville and Bangui, in a vast territory bigger than the European Union: clientelism, personalization of power, politicized ethnicity, the impact of external intervention, and a legacy of repeated political violence establish some constant features. On the other hand, the variable size of countries (from island states in the Gulf of Guinea to large territorial states) has also come with various challenges. Also, Central Africa features land-locked countries such as Chad and Central African Republic, which negatively impacts economic development, in contrast to countries located at the Gulf of Guinea with an easy access to maritime trade routes. At closer inspection all of the eight countries have a specific history, but this overview article rather stresses the commonalities. Featuring in this contribution are the countries of Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Equatorial-Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe. The limited achievements of pro-democracy movements in Central Africa in the 1990s have enduring consequences on politics in Africa. Authoritarian regimes have consolidated their grip on power after surviving severe crises in most Central African states. Big man politics continue to prevail, only few opposition parties have upheld their initial strength and lack internal democracy. Enduring violent conflicts in DRC and CAR (and arguably to a somewhat lesser extent in Chad), have undermined conviviality between groups and state capacities in providing public goods with dramatic consequences on effectiveness and legitimacy of the state and its representatives. Prospects for a future allowing for more participation, truly competitive elections, and a peaceful change of government are therefore also grim. However, both violent and peaceful forms of contestation since about 2015 are also signs of renewed mobilization of citizens for political causes across Central Africa. New topics, including consumer defense and ecological issues, plus now-ubiquitous social media, may all be drivers for a new episode of engagement after two decades of frustration. The limited achievements of regional integration and the lack of dynamism of subregional organizations means that Central Africa is still a much less consolidated subregion compared to, for example, West Africa.

Article

Although militias have received increasing scholarly attention, the concept itself remains contested by those who study it. Why? And how does this impact contemporary scholarship on political violence? To answer these questions, we can focus on the field of militia studies in post–Cold War sub-Saharan Africa, an area where militia studies have flourished in the past several decades. Virtually all scholars of militias in post–Cold War Africa describe militias as fluid and changing such that they defy easy definition. As a result, scholars offer complex descriptors that incorporate both descriptive and analytic elements, thereby offering nuanced explanations for the role of militias in violent conflict. Yet the ongoing tension between accurate description and analytic definition has also produced a body of literature that is diffuse and internally inconsistent, in which scholars employ conflicting definitions of militias, different data sources, and often incompatible methods of analysis. As a result, militia studies yield few externally valid comparative insights and have limited analytic power. The cumulative effect is a schizophrenic field in which one scholar’s militia is another’s rebel group, local police force, or common criminal. The resulting incoherence fragments scholarship on political violence and can have real-world policy implications. This is particularly true in high-stakes environments of armed conflict, where being labeled a “militia” can lead to financial support and backing in some circumstances or make one a target to be eliminated in others. To understand how militia studies has been sustained as a fragmented field, this article offers a new typology of definitional approaches. The typology shows that scholars use two main tools: offering a substantive claim as to what militias are or a negative claim based on what militias are not and piggy-backing on other concepts to either claim that militias are derivative of or distinct from them. These approaches illustrate how scholars combine descriptive and analytic approaches to produce definitions that sustain the field as fragmented and internally contradictory. Yet despite the contradictions that characterize the field, scholarship reveals a common commitment to using militias to understand the organization of (legitimate) violence. This article sketches a possible approach to organize the field of militia studies around the institutionalization of violence, such that militias would be understood as a product of the arrangement of violence. Such an approach would both allow studies of militias to place their ambiguity and fluidity at the center of analyses while offering a pathway forward for comparative studies.

Article

How and why do governments choose the strategies that they do during armed conflict? While there is a substantial body of research on the use of different tactics by governments and rebels during armed conflict, this work has rarely made an attempt to engage with scholars of different tactics in order to develop a broader understanding of how and why actors make the behavioral choices that they do and how these choices advance certain intended strategies. Furthermore, the work across tactics does not have unified findings. Understanding both the range of behaviors by conflict actors and the motivations for these behaviors is an important and necessary step for understanding the course of armed conflict more generally and for developing relevant policy aimed at changing these behaviors. Within existing literature on belligerent tactics, important lessons about government behaviors and why these specific behaviors are selected can be distilled. Objectives, strategies, and tactics should be disaggregated in order to think through the implications of different government decisions for understanding or changing behavior. This disaggregation aids us in identifying the areas of research in which we have confirmed findings and those questions regarding government behavior that require additional investigation. Moving forward we could and should develop a systematic list of the types of factors that impact certain behavioral choices, across tactics, but this is most useful if we can then link these factors to an understanding of the broader objectives and strategies that a government is trying to pursue.

Article

There has been renewed academic interest in the security impacts of forced migration since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011 generated more than 5 million refugees, most of whom fled to neighboring countries and to Europe. Researchers are, for instance, increasingly working to identify how the type, severity, and perpetrator of political violence affect patterns of displacement, such as whether forced migrants cross borders or remain in their home country. Though much of the discussion in the security studies context continues to center on forced migration flows as a conduit for civil war, international terrorism, and refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) as perpetrators, scholars also have begun to focus attention on the ways in which refugees and the internally displaced can become the targets of political violence in the receiving state. Following the path of earlier qualitative research recognizing that displaced populations rarely become militarized, studies of a more quantitative orientation are now working to isolate the conditions under which forced migration leads to varying forms of political violence. Another important and growing area of focus is on how resettlement of the displaced affects the dynamics of violence in the origin country, including the potential for conflict recurrence. Efforts to study security impacts of forced migration more systematically have increased alongside the availability of new data and more diverse analytical tools and methods. Still, many important dimensions of the forced migration–conflict connection remain to be explored, and innovative research as well as new data collection efforts are necessary. Integrating insights from other fields, including economics, psychology, and sociology, and returning to the task of theory-building based on case-study research offer a promising path forward.

Article

Erika Forsberg and Louise Olsson

Prior research has found robust support for a relationship between gender inequality and civil war. These results all point in the same direction; countries that display lower levels of gender equality are more likely to become involved in civil conflict, and violence is likely to be even more severe, than in countries where women have a higher status. But what does gender inequality mean in this area of research? And how does research explain why we see this effect on civil war? To explore this, we start with reviewing existing definitions and measurements of gender inequality, noting that the concept has several dimensions. We then proceed to outline several clusters of explanations of how gender inequality could be related to civil war while more equal societies are better able to prevent violent conflict, as described in previous research. It is clear that existing misconceptions that gender inequality primarily involves the role of women are clouding the fact that it clearly speaks to much broader societal developments which play central roles in civil war. We conclude by identifying some remaining lacunas and directions for future research.

Article

Demobilization of ex-combatants is a major obstacle in the transition to a stable postconflict society. The combatants must be convinced to abandon the armed confrontation and hand over their weapons in light of security concerns and a lack of alternative means of income. The challenges to overcoming the commitment problem differ in terms of numbers of combatants who must be demobilized for conflicts that end in a decisive victory and conflicts that reach a military stalemate. Peace agreements can offer several solutions for overcoming the parties’ commitment problems, but often the implementation of the provisions is incomplete. Third parties can offer to monitor an agreement and provide security guarantees. International actors increasingly assist with demobilization and reintegration programs for former combatants and help to overcome security-related concerns and economic challenges. Another solution offered is military power-sharing arrangements and the integration of rebel fighters into the national military. These measures are intended to reduce the pool for potential recruitment for existing or new rebel groups. If ex-combatants are left without means of income to support themselves and their families, the risk is higher that they will remobilize and conflict will recur. Reintegration in the civilian labor market, however, is often difficult in the weak economies of war-affected countries.