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Article

Ömer Faruk Örsün, Reşat Bayer, and Michael Bernhard

Is democratization good for peace? The question of whether democratization results in violence has led to a spirited and productive debate in empirical conflict studies over the past two decades. The debate, sparked by Mansfield and Snyder’s foundational work, raised a challenge to the notion of a universal democratic peace and elicited numerous critical responses within the literature. One set of such responses has emphasized issues of replicability, mismatches between the research design and directionality of the proposed causal mechanism, the role of outliers, and model specification. In addition, two issues have not been discussed sufficiently in the existing literature. First, conceptually, is the issue of concept stretching, specifically the form Sartori labeled the “cat-dog” problem. While past criticisms were mainly about model specification, we debate whether Mansfield and Snyder’s findings can be seen as a product of concept misformation. Second, quantitatively, are conceptual and empirical issues that Mansfield and Snyder use to capture state strength in their most recent attempts to provide ongoing evidence for their theory. The most optimistic estimates show that even when democratization has a statistically significant association with war onset at lower levels of institutional strength, the effect is substantively insignificant.

Article

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.

Article

Vally Koubi and Gabriele Spilker

What is the relationship between resource scarcity and abundance, on the one hand, and intrastate conflict, on the other? Under what conditions do natural resources cause conflict? Which types of resources can better predict the onset, intensity, and duration of intrastate conflict? These questions and other related questions are needed to discuss how renewable as well as non-renewable resources influence the onset, intensity, and duration of intrastate conflict. In particular, there are two strands of the literature: the first strand deals with renewable resources, such as water, cropland, forests, fish stocks, etc., and examines how the scarcity of such resources leads to resource completion and subsequently to a greater risk of conflict. In this context, it also discusses the more recent literature on climate change and conflict. The second strand deals with non-renewable resources that tend to have a high value-to-weight ratio, such as fossil fuels and minerals, and evaluates how abundance of such resources affects potential “greed” and “grievance” motives of rebels to take up arms as well as a state’s capacity to put down a rebellion, both of which can lead to civil conflicts. Overall, with the exception of the very recent empirical work on climate change as a “threat multiplier,” the bulk of the empirical evidence provides non-robust and often even contradictory results and thus does not allow for a clear-cut conclusion: while some studies support the link between resource scarcity/abundance and armed conflict, others find no or only weak links. The inconclusiveness of the results might be due to various factors, such as the inability/failure of the extant literature to adequately address the mechanisms via which resource scarcity and abundance could lead to conflict as well as which types of natural resources, including climatic changes, matter most. Moreover, empirical studies differ with regard to the type of conflict under study, ranging from violence against the government (civil wars [1,000 deaths], civil conflict [25 deaths], and low-intensity conflict [protests and riots]) to intercommunal violence (conflict that occurs between competing groups within a state), the operationalization and/or measurement of the types of resource scarcity and abundance, and the appropriate level of analysis (individual, household, subnational, national).

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

Social science literature does not identify a direct effect of religion on the occurrence of intrastate conflict. Yet religion as a sociopolitical identity does have several fairly unique features that render religious differences particularly useful to political entrepreneurs in the course of conflict. First, religions often have codified guidelines, typically written, that convey normative behaviors—what one should do to attain salvation, for example. The presence of such guidelines can reinforce the organizational strength of particular groups and underscore the nonnegotiable status of their beliefs, both of which can be useful in the course of conflict. Second, the religious identity includes multiple levels of division that do not exist within other identity types—including interfaith differences, differences between sects within religious traditions, and divisions between secularists and strong religionists. Such divisions create opportunities for outbidding that exacerbate tensions and conflict. Third, religious group membership confers nonmaterial benefits, such as perceived access to salvation, that can motivate behavior in very tangible, this-worldly ways, for example by encouraging fighters to choose martyrdom over negotiated settlements. Finally, religious networks link adherents transnationally in a manner that no other identity type can, creating opportunities to mobilize resources and support from abroad for a conflict within borders. These features suggest that, whereas religion is no more likely than other types of identity divisions to cause conflict, it can be particularly powerful for political entrepreneurs to wield as a tool in conflict settings. In some cases, conflicts are viewed as religious because the religious labels of competing sides differ, even if the conflict itself has nothing to do with religion. In other cases, conflicts may be described as religious if the content over which adversary sides fight is itself religious in nature; violence over the imposition of Islamic sharia law in a religiously mixed country may be one such example. Even when intrastate conflicts are fought over religious content, however, from the perspective of political scientists the matter is still one of political choice. This underscores the critical role that political entrepreneurs play in the shaping of conflicts as religious. Understanding the power of codified behavioral guidelines, multiple layers of division, non-material payoffs, and transnational networks that religious identity provides, political entrepreneurs can use religion to exploit the (sometimes unrelated) grievances of their supporters and thus escalate conflict where doing so pays political dividends. In this way, scholars recognize that intrastate conflicts with various causal foundations frequently become fights in the name of God.