Quagmire in Civil War

Cambridge University Press 2020


The Impact of Distance on Parochial Altruism: An Experimental Investigation

(with Béatrice Boulu-Reshef)

European Journal of Political Economy  2022

Parochial altruism – individual sacrifice to benefit the in-group and harm an out-group – undermines inter-group cooperation and is implicated in a plethora of politically-significant behaviors. We report experimental evidence about the impact of variation in individuals’ distance to in-group members and to out-group members on parochial altruism in a setting in which inter-group conflict is made possible. We find that distance has systematic effects on individual choice. Parochial altruism is stimulated particularly when individuals’ distance to both their in and out-group is high. Our results suggest that high distance may create a pathway to group-based individual action. Existing research focuses on the interaction between close-knit in-groups and proximate, threatening out-groups as the typical setting in which parochial altruism occurs. Our study indicates the need for future research to investigate how parochial altruism can occur across a wider range of in-group and out-group configurations.

On-Side Fighting in Civil War: The Logic of Mortal Alignment in Syria

Rationality and Society  2020

On-side fighting – outright violence between armed groups aligned on the same side of a civil war’s master cleavage – represents a devastating breakdown in cooperation. Its humanitarian consequences are also grave. But it has been under-recognized empirically and therefore under-theorized by scholars to date. This article remedies the omission. Existing research can be extrapolated to produce candidate explanations, but these overlook spatial and temporal variation in on-side fighting within a war. I provide a theory that accounts for this ebb and flow. On-side fighting hinges on belligerents’ trade-offs between short-term survival and long-term political objectives. Enemy threats to survival underpin on-side cooperation; in their absence, belligerents can pursue political gains against on-side competitors. I evaluate this threat-absence theory using evidence from the ongoing Syrian Civil War’s first years. Fine-grained fatalities data capture fluctuating enemy threats to on-side groups’ survival and situate on-side fighting and its absence. Findings support threat-absence theory and contribute to research on warfighting and political competition in civil wars and to the study of coalition dynamics in other settings, including elections and legislatures.

The Obama Administration and Civil War in Syria, 2011-2016: US Presidential Foreign Policy Making as Political Risk Management

Journal of Transatlantic Studies  2021

(full text via Leiden University)

From 2011 to 2016, the Obama administration’s Syria policy appeared to be in constant flux. Prominent accounts portray this as the result of foreign policy making in an arena with no good options, or the use of programs as smokescreens to conceal underlying goals. Both portrayals fit the foreign policy making literature, which views policy as crafted by a president who acts either as guardian of the national interest or as a consummate politician. But the record on Syria does not square with these accounts. The Obama administration neither tried to find solutions to the strategic problems that Syria posed in and of itself, in order to advance the national interest, nor exploited Syria as a political opportunity, to enhance domestic political power. I show, instead, that the trajectory of U.S. Syria policy was consistent with efforts to minimize the risk that the crisis posed to President Obama’s central foreign policy objectives and his domestic political capital and legacy. The Obama administration’s Syria policy resulted from a distinct logic of political risk management.

Governing the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Middle East and North Africa: Containment Measures as a Public Good

(with Kevin Koehler)

Middle East Law and Governance  2022

What determined how governments in the Middle East and North Africa reacted to the global COVID-19 pandemic? We develop a theoretical argument based on the political costs of different policy options and assess its empirical relevance. Distinguishing between the immediate costs associated with decisive action and the potential costs of uncontrolled spread that are likely to accrue over the long term, we argue that leaders who have fewer incentives to provide public goods to stay in power will lock down later than their more constrained counterparts. We find empirical support for this argument in statistical analyses covering the 1 January – 30 November 2020 period using the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) and our own original data on the timing of mosque closures and strict lockdowns across the region. We also illustrate our argument with a description of the response to the pandemic in Egypt.

The International Sources of Prejudice against Shi‘a in the Middle East and North Africa: Original Survey Evidence from Morocco

(with Matt Buehler)

Mediterranean Politics  2023

The increasing sectarianization of the international relations of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a defining feature of the region’s contemporary politics. Iran has sought to increase its influence among Shi‘i populations of foreign countries, while Saudi Arabia and other Sunni regimes have moved to curtail it. In heterogeneous and polarized MENA societies, like Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, where the Shi‘a constitute a sizable proportion of the population and compete for political power, it is natural to presume that sectarianization likely increases tension and prejudice against the Shi'a. Yet, little is known about homogenous MENA societies, where the Shi‘a exist as an infinitesimal, uninfluential minority that does not seek political power. This topic is examined using an original, nationally-representative survey of 2,000 respondents in Morocco. We find that about 59 per cent of individuals express interpersonal prejudice against Moroccan Shi‘a, expressing discomfort at the prospect of having a Shi‘i neighbour. Such prejudice is counter-intuitive, given that Moroccan Shi‘a constitute a miniscule minority – less than .1 per cent of the population. We investigate three hypotheses concerning the sources of anti- Shi‘i prejudice, which locate them in social marginalization, religious beliefs and practices, and views about regional politics. The first two hypotheses are drawn from the existing literature, whereas the third is our unique theoretical contribution. Our results, which find support for the connection between individuals’ views about regional politics and anti-Shi‘i prejudice, advance scholarly understanding of religious diversity in the MENA, showing how international developments can trickle down into interpersonal relations to hinder the acceptance and tolerance of sectarian minorities.

Sovereignty Rupture as a Central Concept in Quantitative Measures of Civil War

(with Nicholas Sambanis)

Journal of Conflict Resolution  2019

Empirical studies of the causes or consequences of civil war often use measures that do not correspond to theory and results are sensitive to small changes in the coding of civil wars. Civil war is an instance of “sovereignty rupture” and is inherently a polity-level phenomenon, but that understanding of civil war is not reflected in data in which civil war is coded as a dyadic conflict—the state fighting a domestic challenger. We demonstrate the consequences of conceptual ambiguity about which conflicts to code as civil war and when to code the start and end of a civil war. Using a new data set of civil wars from 1945 to 2016 that is consistent with the concept of sovereignty rupture, we replicate several studies and find that their results are often overturned or weakened when we use our data. We advocate for greater deliberateness in data selection in civil war studies, focusing on the fit between the question of interest and the concept of civil war that is underlying a given data set.

Syria, Productive Antinomy, and the Study of Civil War

Perspectives on Politics  2018

Review essay on Civil War in Syria: Mobilization and Competing Social Orders, by Adam Baczko, Gilles Dorronsoro, and Arthur Quesnay.

Read more about Civil War in Syria at Cambridge University Press .

Parochialism as a Central Challenge in Counterinsurgency

(with Nicholas Sambanis and Moses Shayo)

Science  2012

America's power preponderance since the end of the Cold War has not translated into an ability to win quickly and decisively against insurgency. The U.S. military, designed to fight Soviet tanks on European battlefields, for the past decade has fought insurgents wearing flip-flops and using improvised explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clear victories in counterinsurgency are rare, and these wars are costly and long-lasting. Peace after civil wars, of which insurgencies are a subtype, is tenuous. Is self-sustaining peace an elusive goal for U.S. intervention? How can the conduct of counterinsurgency (COIN) be better designed to shift violent, fragmented societies to a peaceful equilibrium? We describe how scientific knowledge on the determinants and characteristics of human parochialism—the tendency to cooperate with and favor members of one's group—should change the way we approach these questions.

What’s in a Line? Is Partition a Solution to Civil War?

(with Nicholas Sambanis)

International Security  2009

replication data, web appendix

Does territorial partition of countries in civil wars help to end these wars, reducing the risk of recurrence? Researchers have proposed territorial partition with or without formal recognition of sovereignty as a solution to civil wars and a way to create self-enforcing peace. Quantitative studies of the effect of partition on the risk of renewed civil war, however, suffer several main shortcomings, including conflicting results in the extant literature that result mainly from data coding differences, selective use of case histories, and methodological problems. A new data set and a benchmark empirical analysis find that, on average, partition is unlikely to reduce the risk of a return to civil war and, in some cases, may increase that risk.


Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Programs and Civil War Recurrence: An Assessment

(with Nicholas Sambanis)

Folke Bernadotte Academy
Research Report  2010

Since the early 1990s we have witnessed a significant decline in the number of ongoing armed conflicts and at the same time a dramatic increase in the number of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs. It is clear that DDR has become part and parcel of peace processes and peacekeeping operations. As the practice of DDR has matured and become prevalent, and as research has accumulated, it has become possible and timely to take stock of achievements and challenges. This thought-provoking report reviews the area and its evolution. It highlights achievements and challenges, is rich with illustrative case examples, and suggests a series of fruitful and practical solutions towards better evaluations of DDR programs. The report contains three insights: (1) Evaluations of DDR programs need to move beyond a focus on performance (that is, whether all parts of a DDR program were implemented) and instead focus on impact in terms of building peace; (2) We need to look more carefully into the micro-foundations or causal pathways of DDR, in terms of exactly why and how DDR can contribute to peace; this carries large policy implications for how DDR programs should be designed to have the largest possible impact; and (3) DDR programs should be designed to make it easier to carry out systematic evaluations. Overall, the report suggests policy relevant elements of a new research agenda and tools for evaluating DDR programs.

Book Chapters

The Algerian civil war that began in 1992 has gained notoriety for several reasons. It originated in a democratic process that came to an abrupt halt and had massacres of civilians that were shocking in their scale and atrocity. The government received significant amounts of external support despite accusations of widespread abuses relating to its prosecution of the conflict, and many recognized the possibility that Algeria represented another foothold for “radical Islam.” In part because analysts often choose to investigate puzzles pertaining to one or another of these attention-catching aspects, research on theconflict has generated a number of seeminglycompeting perspectives, each with its own conclusions about the causes of the war and the logic of its conduct. Approaching Algeria from a comparative perspective on civil wars allows a synthesis of the insights of previous research and a comprehensive understanding of the war. Attention to the details of the Algerian civil war also offers a promising opportunity to refine theories of civil war. War duration as a consequence of the interaction between governments and insurgents rather than of determining structural factors, the role of diasporal communities defined on the basis of factors other than national identity, and the nature of opportunity costs to war emerge as important areas of future inquiry.

Evaluating Multilateral Interventions in Civil Wars: A Comparison of UN and Non-UN Peace Operations

(with Nicholas Sambanis)

Multilateralism and Security Institutions in the Era of Globalization
Dimitris Bourantonis, Kostas Ifantis, and Panayotis Tsakonas, eds. 2007

Legitimacy, impartiality, and technical expertise and are often thought to be key components of United Nations peace operations, ones that enable the UN to “get the job done” and that non-UN interventions lack. Based on an ecological model of peacebuilding, however, we expect there to be no inherent difference between the effectiveness of UN and non-UN operations. Using a comprehensive dataset on peacebuilding, we establish a robust empirical result: non-UN peace operations have no statistically significant effect on successful peacebuilding while UN operations have a large positive effect. We find some evidence that non-UN peace operations complement UN operations in peacebuilding efforts and that non-UN operations undertaken by militarily “advanced” countries may be more successful at preventing the recurrence of war. We discuss candidate explanations of these results in light of the ecological model and propose an agenda for further research on the design of peacekeeping operations.


The Commander’s Dilemma: Violence and Restraint in Wartime, by Amelia Hoover Green

H-Diplo Roundtable XXI-33
March 23, 2020

Read more about The Commander’s Dilemma at Cornell University Press

“The Structure of Success: How the Internal Distribution of Power Drives Armed Group Behavior and National Movement Success,” by Peter Krause

January 15, 2015

Read “The Structure of Success” in International Security


3 Flaws in Pro-Assad Support

(with Lionel Beehner)

USA Today
February 17, 2015

Partitions in Practice: The Case Against Dividing Iraq

(with Nicholas Sambanis)

Foreign Affairs online
December 1, 2014

How the U.S. Fragmented Syria’s Rebels

Washington Post The Monkey Cage blog
September 22, 2014

How Should We Count the War Dead in Syria?

(with Laia Balcells and Lionel Beehner)

Washington Post The Monkey Cage blog
May 1, 2014

Why Are Uprisings Spreading in the Arab World?

(with Julia Choucair)

Huffington Post
February 4, 2011

Should We Privatize the Peacekeeping?

Washington Post
May 12, 2000