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Posts Tagged ‘civil war’

How does globalisation, especially foreign direct investment, influence the risk of intrastate conflict? While several prominent studies have found that globalisation reduces the probability of civil war, we use new data and methods to approach the question. In particular, we test for the possibility that foreign investment is endogenous to conflict risk and appropriately use inward foreign investment stock rather than net inflow to measure an economy’s exposure to international capital markets. We find no evidence that foreign investment affects civil conflict, suggesting that governments’ fundamental security interests trump the economic losses they can expect to suffer from failing to compromise with potential rebel groups.

New from Sorens & Ruger (full text to first 50 viewers).

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Want to understand the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Iraq? You can do no better than read this masterful account by Kenneth M. Pollock at Brookings. One quote:

These [ISIS and other Sunni militants] are Militias First and Foremost, Terrorists only a Distant Second. Here as well, Prime Minister Maliki and his apologists like to refer to the Sunni militants as terrorists. Too often, so too do American officials. Without getting into arcane and useless debates about what constitutes a “terrorist,” as a practical matter it is a mistake to think of these groups as being principally a bunch of terrorists.

The problem there is that that implies that what these guys mostly want to do is to blow up building or planes elsewhere around the world, and particularly American buildings and planes. While I have no doubt that there are some among the Sunni militants who want to blow up American buildings and planes right now, and many others who would like to do so later, that is not their principal motivation.

Instead, this is a traditional ethno-sectarian militia waging an intercommunal civil war. (They are also not an insurgency.) They are looking to conquer territory. They will do so using guerrilla tactics or conventional tactics—and they have been principally using conventional tactics since the seizure of Fallujah over six months ago. Their entire advance south over the past week has been a conventional, motorized light-infantry offensive; not a terrorist campaign, not a guerrilla warfare campaign. [emphasis original]

Wonder why political violence has persisted in eastern Ukraine even though public support for the rebels is extremely low? Jay Ulfelder draws on some of Fearon and Laitin’s work to explain:

Their study recently came to mind when I was watching various people on Twitter object to the idea that what’s happening in Ukraine right now could be described as civil war, or at least the possible beginnings of one. Even if some of the separatists mobilizing in eastern Ukraine really were Ukrainian nationals, they argued, the agent provocateur was Russia, so this fight is properly understood as a foreign incursion.

As Jim and David’s paper shows, though, strong foreign hands are a common and often decisive feature of the fights we call civil wars.

In Syria, for example, numerous foreign governments and other external agents are funding, training, equipping, and arming various factions in the armed conflict that’s raged for nearly three years now. Some of that support is overt, but the support we see when we read about the war in the press is surely just a fraction of what’s actually happening. Yet we continue to see the conflict described as a civil war.

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The Risk of Civil War in Ukraine

The government and the opposition in Ukraine have begun to shoot each other, leading to 26 deaths overnight. The Ukrainian army is being mobilized, and protestors have started to storm police stations and arm themselves. Could Ukraine be facing civil war?

Several factors point to a high likelihood of civil war. The first is the existing violence. Most civil wars are preceded by low-level internal violence. On the other hand, only a minority of armed conflicts with at least 25 battle deaths eventually escalate to civil war intensity (at least 1000 battle deaths). Still, the Libyan and Syrian civil wars provide recent examples of mass protests that escalated to armed conflict and then to civil war.

The second factor suggesting high violence risk is that rebels have a geographic base in the west of Ukraine. Some reports hold forth that the Lviv region has “declared independence” from Ukraine, but this is misleading. The Lviv regional council has declared sovereignty over its territory to the exclusion of the Ukrainian central government, but it is apparently open to reconciliation if a negotiated solution can be found. Still, when rebels have support of local political authorities, they are far more capable of inflicting large-scale damages on the government, because they have access to police weapons and, even more importantly, tax revenues.

The third factor suggesting high risk of escalation is external involvement. Russian support of the Ukrainian government will diminish rebel capability, but the European Union is preparing sanctions against the Ukrainian government. It is easy to imagine that Russia would send troops to assist the Ukrainian government if necessary; it is inconceivable that NATO or individual European governments would send troops to assist the rebels. Thus, the likelihood of external involvement tells more in favor of Ukrainian government capability than rebel capability. Still, what matters for conflict escalation is not necessarily preponderance of capabilities as such, but asymmetric information about capabilities. If the Ukrainian government is wrong (or the opposition thinks they are wrong) to think that Russia will send troops, it may take a harder line than necessary to reach an agreement that the opposition could countenance – and so far this indeed seems to be happening, as from all reports Yanukovych is not taking negotiations very seriously.

Nevertheless, several factors diminish the likelihood of civil war. One of the factors diminishing the likelihood of civil war is that ideological and ethnic divisions in Ukraine, while serious, are not truly deep as in multiethnic or multireligious societies like Burma, Lebanon, and Syria or highly unequal, sharply ideologically polarized societies like Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia. It is extremely unlikely that any region of Ukraine will actually try to secede (save perhaps Crimea’s ethnic Russians), and no Marxist-Leninist insurgency is on the cards either.

Ukraine is a relatively well-off country, and GDP per capita is one of the strongest factors associated with civil peace. That association likely reflects something about institutional quality, rather than affluence as such. Ukraine’s institutions are fragile and contested, but not collapsed as in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Finally, (more…)

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In this three-part series of posts, I will be blogging my new SSRN working paper, “Designing a Constitutional Right of Secession: Applying Normative Principles and Empirical Findings.” The paper defends a right of unilateral secession for any country in which the possibility of secessionist violence is non-negligible, or where central governments are already unwilling to suppress secession militarily.

In this post, I will explain the basic argument in favor of a right of unilateral secession, that is, a justiciable right of a region to secede by plebiscite without a right of veto for other parts of the country or for the central government. I argue for a moral duty on a government to implement a constitutional or legal right to secede, not for a fundamental, abstract, moral right to secede. The difference is important because real-world politics often makes it impossible to satisfy everyone’s moral rights. The case presented in the paper is for legally recognizing a right to secede even when secession would violate some individuals’ rights. Moreover, the argument is about domestic legal guarantees for secession, not international institutions. It may be desirable for a government to recognize a unilateral right of secession even when it is undesirable for international institutions to intervene to enforce such a right.

In the next post, I will address arguments against a legal right of unilateral secession that fail. In the final post, I will explain how a right of unilateral secession should be qualified and structured in a country’s constitution.

To make the argument, I start with a set of normative assumptions and a set of empirical findings. The normative assumptions are intended to be general enough that they can be widely endorsed by people of widely differing moral and political perspectives, who nevertheless share some basic commitments. I then consider how different “secession regimes” — that is, legal approaches regulating secession — can satisfy these principles, bearing empirical findings in mind.

Here are the normative assumptions, ordered lexically so that higher principles take precedence over lower ones:

  1. Maximize physical integrity rights for all. The range of potentially permissible secession regimes is limited to those that can plausibly satisfy this principle. Physical integrity rights include individual rights against extrajudicial killing and physical assault, torture, and illegal detention.
  2. Maximize other basic liberties for all. Among those regimes that can satisfy the first principle, only those that also satisfy the second principle are potentially permissible. Political philosophers disagree on what counts as “basic liberties” that any minimally just regime must satisfy. At the very least, these liberties include wide guarantees for freedom of speech, thought, conscience, association, and equality before the law. John Rawls (1999, pp. 197-9) argues that the “fair value of equal political liberty,” a right to security of personal property, and the right to free choice of an occupation or profession count as fundamental liberties. “Free-market fairness” advocate John Tomasi (2012) also includes the right to security of productive property and the right to own a business. And so on. To the extent that there is disagreement about what counts as a basic liberty, there may be disagreement about the range of potentially permissible secession regimes.
  3. Follow the principle of Pareto optimality. For any two regimes A and B and any two sets of citizens X and Y, if the consequences of the two regimes are such that X prefer one regime to the other, while Y are at least indifferent between the two regimes, then select the regime that X prefer. This principle rules out secession regimes that make some people worse off without making anyone better off, relative to some alternative regime.
  4. Satisfy all other moral principles. Differing moral foundations yield different moral principles. I avoid making claims about moral foundations, but these foundational views may yield further principles limiting the range of permissible secession regimes. Differing views on the nature and importance of distributive justice and economic growth can justify marginally different views on the appropriate secession regime.

I consider the principle of “no forced association” under this last heading. Libertarians, for example, often claim that governments may rule only with the literal consent of each individual under their rule. (Nozick famously disagrees.) Real-world politics always requires some individuals to be coerced. Prohibiting secession coerces some people into supporting a government to which they do not consent. But allowing secession also allows secessionists to coerce the anti-secessionists in their midst. It may be ideal for governments to rule only on the basis of unanimous consent — a question outside the scope of this paper — but in practice, they do coerce nonconsenters. So we have to figure out legal rules for secession in the world as it exists. I argue that the consent principle yields only a weak presumption in favor of allowing secession whenever a majority in the seceding region votes for it. Presumably allowing secession under such conditions will reduce the number of nonconsenters. But it won’t necessarily minimize the number of non-consenters or the number and severity of rights violations, as we shall see.

The generalizable empirical findings about secessionism are as follows: (more…)

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The South Sudan Liberation Army, apparently armed by the Sudanese government, has been attacking the government of the newly independent South Sudan. Some observations about these stories:

  • No one thought it would be rainbows and leprechauns for South Sudan after independence. It’s extremely poor, highly oil-dependent, ethnically diverse, adjacent to countries that are all in the grip of significant internal violence, and likely headed for autocratic rule. You couldn’t imagine a better set of conditions for insurgency.
  • Still, the violence in South Sudan is to date several orders of magnitude lower than that experienced before the 2005 peace agreement that ultimately allowed the country to secede from Sudan.
  • Perils of generalizing from a single case: what’s really causing the insurgency in South Sudan? The Sudanese government blames “rigged elections” – but civil war research on global datasets shows little or no relationship between democracy and insurgency. The weakness of the South Sudan state and the availability of external funding are probably the dominant factors.

*The phrase comes from a Carcass song. Never mind that the “archaic nescience” theory of ethnic conflict is completely wrong; it’s still a nifty turn of phrase!

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Tensions are rising in Sudan ahead of January’s scheduled vote in South Sudan over independence. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has accused members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the primary political party in the South, of violating the terms of the peace deal, and Sudan’s government is dragging its feet on referendum preparations. Moreover, al-Bashir is now explicitly warning of war over disputed border regions. This warning is particularly disturbing since the disputed regions are holding their own “popular consultations,” in which they are virtually certain to vote to join the South. The last civil war between North and South Sudan lasted 22 years and took the lives of more than 2 million people.

While I am not certain that the U.S. government has legitimate interests in this conflict, it is worth pointing out that the U.S. has limited its own options by maintaining economic sanctions against Sudan over the Darfur war crimes issue. There is little left that the U.S. can do to deter al-Bashir from all-out war, except to threaten some kind of military intervention. That’s precisely what Nicholas Kristof advocates, predicting genocide otherwise. But how credible would such a threat be, given the U.S. military’s current overstretch?

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The “resource curse” refers to a set of cross-national relationships between resource dependence on the one hand and economic growth and civil conflict on the other. Sachs and Warner were the first to document the negative relationship between resources and growth. The notion that countries blessed with abundant mineral resources tend to suffer slow economic growth was just counterintuitive enough to appeal to most economists, and the idea quickly became a piece of conventional wisdom.

Subsequent research delved deeper without questioning the basic relationship. Was all production of primary commodities associated with slower growth, or just mineral production? (Evidence suggested the latter.) What was the causal mechanism: “Dutch disease” via appreciation of the real exchange rate, a political economy explanation such as corruption or rent-seeking, or civil conflict? (Sachs and Warner argued for the first, Robinson, Torvik, Verdier, Moene, and colleagues argued for the second, and many political scientists and economists associated with the World Bank’s Economics of Conflict program argued for the last.)

The research on resources and civil war became a massive literature in its own right. Collier and Hoeffler kick-started the program in 1998 with their “rational rebel” model of civil war. For them, resources promoted conflict by rewarding looting. Fearon and Laitin found that oil exporters were more likely to see new civil wars. Some research also found a diamond curse in the 1990s, but Ross’ work has found that oil (especially onshore oil) is the only robust channel by which resources promote intrastate conflicts. To my knowledge, no one has yet quantified the deleterious consequences that resources have on growth via the oil-civil war link or determined whether there is a growth residual that civil war does not explain.

However, some of the latest research to come out is questioning the very basis of the resource curse, the cross-national negative partial correlation between resource dependence and economic growth. The criticisms of prior research have focused on measurement and modeling issues. Typically, resource dependence has been measured as resource exports divided by GDP. In the numerator, total resource production is not available for many country-years, and exports are therefore preferred. The main problem is that re-exportation of minerals is apparently counted in some datasets, and export of processed minerals (e.g., smelter production) is definitely included. What we ideally want is mine production of raw minerals. In the denominator, GDP is used rather than population in order to test the Dutch-disease, crowding-out argument. If resources are important relative to the economy, they may draw capital and labor out of more “productive” sectors that generate dynamic gains and drive up nontradables prices.

The problem is that an economy may develop resource dependence because of growth-retarding institutions that have persisted for a long time, institutions that discourage capital accumulation and the manufacturing and service sectors dependent on abundant physical and human capital, thus generating a negative partial correlation between resource dependence and growth that is spurious due to “endogeneity.” Endogeneity simply means that the errors in the growth model correlate with one of the regressors, in this case resource dependence.

To try to address this problem, Sachs and Warner included some geographic controls, on the assumption that geography would be the main omitted variable that could drive spurious results. However, they found no effects for their geography controls. Since then, we have discovered that geography as a determinant of growth has been vastly overrated. Once Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson include political institutions (instrumented by settler mortality rates) in their growth models of post-colonial countries, geography is no longer statistically significant. What this tells us is that endogeneity may still be a problem.

In two recent papers, Brunnschweiler and Bulte argue that resource dependence is a result of poor institutions and conflict, and that when instrumented, it no longer affects either economic growth or civil war. They report that a very broad measure of resource abundance (net present value of natural capital, including mineral, agricultural, and environmental assets) is positively related to growth and therefore indirectly related to less conflict risk (richer countries experience less civil war). Whether these new papers shake the conventional wisdom or not remains to be seen. Certainly, instruments can be questioned (presidentialism and trade/GDP play a prominent role, but these do not strike me as obvious choices), and their measure of resource abundance is fraught with measurement error, but at the moment, the evidence is not looking good for the conventional resource curse.

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