David F. Mitchell and Jeffrey Pickering
The empirical literature on arms buildups and the use of interstate military force has advanced considerably over the last half century. Research has largely confirmed that a relationship exists between arms buildups and the subsequent use of force, although it is historically contingent. The relationship seems to have existed in some earlier historical periods but has not been a feature of international politics since 1945. Broader work such as the steps-to-war model brings understanding to such variation by demonstrating how arms races are interrelated with other causes of conflict, such as territorial disputes and alliances. Still, many important dimensions of the arms race–conflict connection remain to be explored. Differences between qualitative and quantitative arms races, for example, have not received sufficient empirical scrutiny. Precise theory also needs to be developed on direct and indirect relationships between arms races and conflict, and such theory requires empirical investigation.
Betcy Jose and Peace A. Medie
Studies have shown that civilians are often intentionally targeted in civil wars and that civilian protection efforts launched by the international community have not always been successful, if they occur at all. Civilians, therefore, have had to rely on themselves for protection in most conflicts. However, despite the pervasiveness of civilian self-protection (CSP) and its success at protecting civilians from violence in some cases, it is rarely discussed in the civilian protection literature, and its impact on civilian targeting is inadequately explored. Addressing this gap in the study and practice of civilian protection by carefully conceptualizing CSP and appreciating its role in civil war dynamics can further scholarly and practitioner discussions on civilian protection.
CSP is defined as (a) actions taken to protect against immediate, direct threats to physical integrity imposed by belligerents or traditional protection actors; (b) primarily selected and employed by civilians; and (c) employed during an armed conflict. CSP strategies can be organized into three categories. The first, non-engagement, describes strategies in which civilians do not interact with belligerents or traditional protection actors who pose a threat to them. The second, nonviolent engagement, entails some interaction with one or more actors who may harm civilians. The third, violent engagement, includes CSP strategies that incorporate physical violence.
These CSP strategies may actually render civilians more vulnerable to threats. First, some CSP strategies might lock civilians into unpredictable relationships with belligerents, which can become dangerous. Second, allying with one set of belligerents might lead to targeting by opposition forces, who view these CSP strategies as crucial support for their enemies. Third, civilians may overestimate how successful their CSP strategies can be, exposing them to harm. Fourth, civilian use of violence may cause belligerents to view them as threats, leading to intentional targeting.
Appreciation of the reasons why civilians engage in CSP and understanding when and how this may endanger them can inspire more effective protection policies, as well as advance our understanding of civil war dynamics. For instance, further study on these issues can provide some insights into the conditions under which CSP is effective in protecting civilians and how the international community can support CSP. This information could be particularly useful in the design and execution of peacekeeping strategies that are sensitive to the efforts and needs of conflict-affected communities. Additionally, studying CSP can advance the vast literature on civilian targeting by shedding additional light on why belligerents kill civilians.
Karen A. Rasler
There is an argument that nonviolent civil resistance or protest campaigns should be studied as dynamic and complex phenomenon, rather than a single case comprised of various attributes, such as size, scale, and scope, which are then compared with other cases. As protest campaigns have increased all over the world during the last few years, international relations scholars have begun to devote more time and resources to studying them systematically with new data projects and analytical tools and methods. In light of this emerging research program, one needs to understand that protest campaigns contain large-scale processes of political contention that evolve across time and space. Such evolutionary processes are the result of the interactive relationships among multiple governmental and nongovernmental actors. These interactions reflect “highly interdependent sets of actions and reactions” that generate causal mechanisms and intersect with other large-scale processes which can produce similar and dissimilar outcomes across different political contexts. An argument will be advanced that a “relational mechanisms-process” approach articulated by McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly provides analytical leverage over such complexity. Most, international relations scholars, unlike social movement scholars, are not familiar with this approach. So, the effort herein is to not only make the case for a relational mechanisms-process approach but also to illustrate it with a partial analysis of the Egyptian uprising on January 25, 2011, which led to Mubarak’s resignation. The end result is a call for theoretical and empirical research that bridges two communities of scholars, one that is dominated by sociologists (social movement scholars) and the other that is dominated by political science (international relations political violence scholars).
Jessica Di Salvatore and Andrea Ruggeri
Peacekeeping has been one of the main conflict management tools used by the international community to restore or safeguard peace and security. Since 1948, the United Nations has established 70 peace operations and has substantially evolved, adopting approaches to peace that extend beyond purely military concerns. Indeed, the promises of peacekeeping as effective instrument of conflict reduction may, to some extent, explain the evolution toward multidimensional missions and the unprecedented number of peacekeepers deployed in the last decade. As consequence, the growing importance of peacekeeping effectiveness has sparked a new wave of research that empirically investigates whether and under which conditions UN peacekeeping works.
Peacekeepers are mostly deployed in conflict or postconflict environments where violence is either ongoing or lingering. Thus, violence remains a priority for peace missions. Consequently, peacekeeping is deemed successful or effective according to whether it curbs conflict in several dimensions. Effective missions are those responsible for decreasing the intensity of battle violence, protecting civilians, and containing conflict diffusion and recurrence in the postwar phase. Each mission, however, is deployed in different contexts and operates under variable conditions that affect the operation’s capacity to influence conflict. Concerning mission features, peacekeeping success is more likely when large contingents are deployed under robust mandates. Mission type, size, and composition signal credible commitment from the international community and empower peacekeepers to halt violence while guaranteeing the implementation of peace agreements. These nuanced understandings of peacekeeping stem from the availability of new data on both conflict and peace operations at the national and subnational levels of analysis. Moreover, the empirical study of the effectiveness of peace operations has recently been flanked by simulation-based forecasting, field experiments, and surveys investigating local-level outcomes of peace missions.
Unsurprisingly, the focus on violence and conflict outcomes as indicators of success is debatable. First, in dealing with violence, peacekeeping operations produce spillover effects that are largely neglected, such as refugee flows and terrorist violence. Second, given the wide range of functions performed by UN peacekeepers, including electoral assistance, economic reconstruction, and state building, it is reasonable to include these aspects when defining effectiveness. Third, and relatedly, no assessment of short- versus long-term implications of peacekeeping for political, social, and economic development in the host country has been forthcoming. While reducing infant mortality, inequality, and crime are not necessarily tasks for peacekeepers, it is vital to study whether and how UN missions may have shaped the quality of peace in host countries.
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.
Candice Ortbals and Lori Poloni-Staudinger
Gender influences political violence, which includes, for example, terrorism, genocide, and war. Gender uncovers how women, men, and nonbinary persons act according to feminine, masculine, or fluid expectations of men and women. A gendered interpretation of political violence recognizes that politics and states project masculine power and privilege, with the result that men occupy the dominant social position in politics and women and marginalized men are subordinate. As such, men (associated with masculinity) are typically understood as perpetrators of political violence with power and agency and women (associated with femininity) are seen as passive and as victims of violence. For example, women killed by drone attacks in the U.S. War on Terrorism are seen as the innocent, who, along with children, are collateral damage. Many historical and current examples, however, demonstrate that women have agency, namely that they are active in social groups and state institutions responding to and initiating political violence. Women are victims of political violence in many instances, yet some are also political and social actors who fight for change.
Gendercide, which can occur alongside genocide, targets a specific gender, with the result that men, women, or those who identify with a non-heteronormative sexuality are subject to discriminatory killing. Rape in wartime situations is also gendered; often it is an expression of men’s power over women and over men who are feminized and marginalized. Because war is typically seen as a masculine domain, wartime violence is not associated with women, who are viewed as life givers and not life takers. Similarly, few expect women to be terrorists, and when they are, women’s motivations often are assumed to be different from those of men. Whereas some scholars argue that women pursue terrorism for personal (and feminine) reasons, for example to redeem themselves from the reputation of rape or for the loss of a male loved one, other scholars maintain that women act on account of political or religious motivations. Although many cases of women’s involvement in war and terrorism can be documented throughout history, wartime leadership and prominent social positions following political violence have been reserved for men. Leaders with feminine traits seem undesirable during and after political violence, because military leadership and negotiations to end military conflict are associated with men and masculinity. Nevertheless, women’s groups and individual women respond to situations of violence by protesting against violence, testifying at tribunals and truth commissions, and constructing the political memory of violence.
Elizabeth Ann Stein
Considering incidents that make headline news internationally, given the modern information and communication technology revolution, the facility of citizens to rapidly mobilize represents a considerable threat to autocratic survival. While the speed with which popular movements emerge has increased exponentially, and the news of their existence spreads faster and farther, civil unrest has threatened the stability and survival of dictators for centuries. The paranoia and machinations of dictators depicted in films, such as the portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, while sensationalized, capture the astounding array of threats with which unelected leaders must concern themselves. On the one hand, they must worry about insider threats to their standing, such as conspiratorial plots from people within the dictator’s own circle or mutiny among government soldiers. On the other hand, dictators also must monitor threats originating from non-regime actors, such as new alliances forming among once-fragmented opposition groups or the possibility of sustained insurgency or a popular revolution. From force to finesse, autocratic leaders have developed a broad and evolving range of tactics and tools to diminish both internal and external domestic threats to their reign. The success of dictators’ endeavors to insulate their regimes from forces that might challenge them depends on accurate and reliable information, a resource that can be as valuable to the leader as would a large armory and loyal soldiers. Dictators invest significant resources (monetary as well as human capital) to try to gather useful information about their existing and potential opponents, while also trying to control and shape information emitted by the regime before it reaches the public. New information and communication technologies (ICTs), which have drawn a great deal of scholarly attention since the beginning of the 21st century—present both risks and rewards for dictators; inversely they also create new opportunities and hazards for citizens who might utilize them to mobilize people opposed to the regime. While civil unrest could encompass the full range of domestic, nonmilitary actors, there also needs to be a specific focus on various forms of mass mobilization. Historically, more dictators have been forced from office by elite-initiated overthrows via coups d’état than have fallen to revolution or fled amid street protests. Civil unrest, in its many forms, can affect autocratic survival or precipitate regime breakdown. While mass-based revolutions have been a relatively rare phenomenon to date, the actions of many 21st-century dictators indicate that they increasingly concern themselves with the threats posed by popular protests and fear its potential for triggering broader antigovernment campaigns. The ease of access to information (or the lack thereof) help explain interactions between authoritarian regimes and citizens emphasizes. The role of information in popular antigovernment mobilization has evolved and changed how dictators gather and utilize information to prevent or counter civil unrest that might jeopardize their own survival as well as that of the regime.
Risa A. Brooks
The protests that began in Tunisia in December 2010, and quickly spread across the Arab world, have drawn significant attention to the impact of militaries and coercive institutions on protests and revolutionary movements. The actions of the militaries were a central determinant of the outcomes of the uprisings of 2010–2011. In Tunisia and Egypt the decision by military leaders to abstain from using force on mass protests to suppress them led to the downfall of the countries’ autocrats. In Syria and Bahrain, militaries defended political leaders with brutal force. In Yemen and Libya, militaries fractured, with some units remaining allied to the leader and using force on his behalf and others defecting. In still other states, leaders and militaries were able to forestall the emergence of large, regime-threatening protests.
To explain these divergent outcomes, scholars and analysts have looked to a variety of explanatory factors. These focus on the attributes of the militaries involved, their civil-military relations, the size and social composition of the protests, the nature of the regime’s institutions, and the impact of monarchical traditions. These explanations offer many useful insights, but several issues remain under-studied. These include the impact of authoritarian learning and diffusion on protest trajectory. They also include the endogeneity of the protests to the nature of a country’s civil-military relations (i.e., how preexisting patterns of civil-military relations affected the possibility that incipient demonstrations would escalate to mass protests). Scholars also have been understandably captivated by the aforementioned pattern of military defection-loyalty, focusing on explaining that observed difference at the expense of studying other dependent variables. The next generation of scholarship on the uprisings therefore would benefit from efforts to conceptualize and investigate different aspects of variation in military behavior.
Overall, the first-generation literature has proved enormously useful and laid the foundation for a much richer understanding of military behavior and reactions to popular uprisings in the Arab world and beyond.
Indra de Soysa
The idea that civil war has to be feasible to occur, and that feasibility is largely a function of the availability of lootable income has gained wide acceptance in the specialized literature on civil war. A parallel debate exists on whether or not liberal, capitalist economies produce a lower risk of domestic conflict. A micro logic for why capitalist economies are less likely to break down in armed conflict is offered to bridge these two literatures. It argues that autarchic economic policies often associated with predatory states drive investment in the shadows for capturing rents from market-constraining policies. The survivability of groups is based on infrastructures of violence and escape rather than simply the availability of lootable income. Free-market economies are far less likely to generate investment in this form of rebellion-specific capital that ultimately facilitates an open challenge of predatory states. Such a view of conflict is able to reconcile why internal conflicts last long, how narratives of greed and grievance coexist in conflict zones, why dominant state forces fail to stamp out insurgency, and why autarchic states are highly militarized. Any theory focused on grabbing to explain the onset of conflict should endogenize the causes of survivability, which ultimately determines how many battle deaths get generated to meet the threshold for becoming a civil war.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.