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Doctoral Dissertation Research In Political Science: Rebel Organization And Civilian Abuse


<p>In civil wars over the past half-century, some 18 million people lost their lives. In many of these wars, despite a Mao Tse-tung image of rebels winning hearts and minds, civilians pay the heaviest cost, with high levels of displacement, malnutrition, and disease. These indirect costs of war are ultimately more damaging than the fighting. But there is significant variation in the relative costs paid by civilians and those paid by soldiers. For example, in Sri Lanka, the ratio of civilian to soldier deaths was 1:1; meanwhile in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that ratio was more than 100:1. This leads to the question of why some rebel groups create order in their territories, while others abuse and prey upon the civilian population. State-of-the-art answers to this question in political science focus mostly on how rebels get funded and on the strategic balance between rebels and state militias. The dissertation proposes a new theory of rebel group behavior based on the internal dynamics of rebel organizations. It assumes that rebel leaders have an economic incentive to create order in their territories but are often unable to prevent group members from looting and abusing the civilian population. While earlier theories saw a positive relationship of resources and predatory behavior, this project's theory predicts that rebel leaders will exert more effective control over their subordinates when they have access to financial resources. A second factor predicting restraint on predatory behavior is that of close ethnic/social ties between leaders and their commanders. Finally, the project has identified a third factor so far ignored in the literature. The researcher finds that the goals of external patrons matter, and in cases of predatory behavior, there are incentives by foreign suppliers to support weak leaders who can be more easily manipulated, resulting in abusive, factionalized groups. Applied to the civil war in Liberia, 1989-2003, this model predicts variation among Liberia's rebel groups, depending on the factors listed above. To test the model, the project uses a remote sensing methodology developed in the earth sciences. Satellite images are processed to measure changes in crop area as a proxy for civilian abuse during Liberia's war. These crop estimates are combined with systematic data on rebel group characteristics collected through 14 months of field work, as well as geographic and demographic data. Preliminary results indicate significant variation in crop area over time, consistent with the model's predictions. The model is further tested on an original, cross-national dataset of rebel groups, 1945-2003.The study of civil war has been constrained by a lack of reliable, micro-level data. This dissertation develops a rigorous method for overcoming these limitations while also offering a theoretical contribution to the field. Through its emphasis on food security and intra-group bargaining, the dissertation provides concrete implications for designing humanitarian interventions and successful peace agreements.</p>

Laitin, David D; Lidow, Nicholai
Stanford University
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