You Might Have Missed: Academic Journals VI
from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

You Might Have Missed: Academic Journals VI

A woman looks into a book at the exhibition of "Catalan culture" at the Frankfurt book fair, October 9, 2007.
A woman looks into a book at the exhibition of "Catalan culture" at the Frankfurt book fair, October 9, 2007. Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

This is the sixth blog post in this series. The previous five were published in February, July, and October 2015, and January and May 2016, and highlight earlier academic findings. This post was coauthored with my research associate, Jennifer Wilson

Melissa Dell, Pablo Querubin, “Nation Building Through Foreign Intervention: Evidence from Discontinuities in Military Strategies” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 22395, July 2016, pp. 1-26.

This study identifies the causal impacts of bombing South Vietnamese population centers by exploiting discontinuities in an algorithm used to target air strikes. Bombing increased Viet Cong military and political activity, weakened local government administration, and lowered non-communist civic engagement. Consistent with this, evidence suggests that the Army’s reliance on overwhelming firepower led to worse outcomes than the USMC’s more hearts and minds oriented approach. This study illustrates that the top down force strategy can backfire when targets are embedded amongst civilian populations. (p. 26)

More on:

U.S. Foreign Policy

International Relations

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Foreign Aid

Instrumental variables estimates document that the bombing of South Vietnamese population centers backfired, leading more Vietnamese to participate in VC military and political activities … Specifically, moving from no strikes during the sample period—a relatively rare event—to the sample average increased the probability that there was a local VC guerrilla squad by 27 percentage points, relative to a sample mean of 0.38. It also increased the probability that the VC Infrastructure—the VC’s political branch—was active by 25 percentage points and increased the probability of a VC-initiated attack on local security forces, government officials, or civilians by 9 percentage points. (p. 2)

Finally, bombing increases attacks on local security forces, government officials, and civilians by 9 percentage points, relative to a sample mean of 16 percent of hamlet-months witnesses an attack… bombing increases the probability that the VC extorted residents by 23 percentage points, relative to a sample mean of 0.27. (p. 16)

Respondents in Corps I were 16 percentage points more likely to state that they liked Americans and significantly less likely to respond that they hated Americans. Moreover, respondents were 39 percentage points more likely to state that there was no hostility towards the U.S. in their community, 11 percentage points more likely to state that there is harmony between Americans and Vietnamese, and 38 percentage points more likely to state that the American presence was beneficial. (p. 26)

[The] comparisons of nearby hamlets on either side of the corps boundary suggest potential pitfalls of the top down approach that are quite consistent with the bombing results. Specifically, regression discontinuity estimates document that public goods provision was higher on the USMC side of the boundary for targeted public goods. Moreover, hamlets just to the USMC side of the boundary were attacked less by the VC and were less likely to have a VC presence … Our estimates highlight ways in which an intensive focus on top-down strategies could pose challenges to achieving U.S. objectives, particularly when insurgents are embedded amongst civilians as they are in the Middle East today. (p. 3)


Justin George, “State Failure and Transnational Terrorism: An Empirical Analysis,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, August 16, 2016, pp. 1-25.

Based on a country panel from 1995 to 2013, this study examines the relationship between state failure and transnational terrorism with respect to perpetrator’s proximity to the target and logistical complexity of attacks. [The] study shows that failed states experience significantly more transnational terrorism when the perpetrators are from the home country. But these states do not produce terrorists who cross borders and carry out attacks in other countries, neither do they attract foreign perpetrators. The latter suggests that conditions in failed states present major operational challenges to foreign terrorists. State failure also causes more logistically complex attacks due to lack of effective counterterrorism measures by failed states. (p. 1)

More on:

U.S. Foreign Policy

International Relations

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Foreign Aid

These results suggest that terrorists prefer carrying out complex attacks like hostage taking, assassinations, and armed attacks, in failed states. Such states provide perpetrators greater territorial control, easy accessibility to arms and weapons, and decreased surveillance, which are important facilitators for logistically complex attacks. (p. 20)

The first 20 percent of the stronger states account for 35 percent of the noncontiguous attacks and 17 percent of contiguous attacks, whereas they experience only 9 percent of within attacks. On the other hand, the 20 percent most fragile states account for 17 percent of the noncontiguous attacks, 26 percent of the contiguous attacks, and 48 percent of total within attacks. (p. 11)

The first 50 percent of countries, which are stronger states, experience just 16 percent of total logistically difficult attacks, while they account for 43 percent of logistically simple attacks. But, the 20 percent most fragile countries contribute to 55 percent of logistically difficult attacks and just 22 percent of the logistically simple attacks. (p. 12)

Finally, the study has two important implications on counterterrorism measures and associated foreign aid policies for countries. First, as shown in the study, foreign terrorists face similar challenges that any other foreigner faces, while traveling to failed states. One of the major impediments that foreign perpetrators confront is the hostility by local tribes and clans. Thus, any effective counterterrorism measures by developed countries in failed states should accommodate the local power structures and institutions along with the respective central governments. Second, the transition from a failed state to a capable state will take some time and it is possible that this transition period could be the ideal time frame for terrorist organizations to strengthen themselves. Hence, foreign aids aimed at building state capacities in these states should be contingent on effective counterterrorism initiatives by failed states. (p. 22)


Dov H. Levin, “Partisan Electoral Interventions by the Great Powers: Introducing the PEIG Dataset,” Conflict Management and Peace Science, September 19, 2016, pp. 1-19

Between 1946 and 2000, the US and the Soviet Union/Russia have intervened in about one of every nine competitive nation-level executive elections. Partisan electoral interventions have been found to have had significant effects on election results, frequently determining the identity of the winner. (p. 2)

Overall, 117 partisan electoral interventions were made by the US and the USSR/Russia between January 1, 1946 and December 31, 2000. Eighty-one (or 69 percent) of these interventions were done by the US while the other thirty-six cases (or 31 percent) were conducted by the USSR/Russia. (p. 7)

Approximately 44.4 percent of all intervention cases … are repeat interventions, in other words, cases in which the same great power after intervening once in a particular country’s elections decided to intervene again in (one or more) subsequent elections. (p. 9)

When publicly justifying their partisan electoral interventions long after they took place, policymakers and “on the ground” operatives frequently claim that they did those electoral interventions largely because the “other side” was intervening in this manner as well. However, … only seven (or 6.3 percent) of the intervened elections in [the dataset] are cases of a double electoral intervention—i.e. that the US was backing one side while the USSR/Russia was backing another side during the same election. (p. 11)

The relative dearth of such double interventions seems to indicate that this factor (the decision of the other superpower to electorally intervene) was usually a relatively minor part of the decision process which led or did not lead to an electoral intervention. (p. 12).

No evidence exists that countries with fragile democratic institutions are more likely to be the targets of such interventions than “full” democracies … Indeed in forty-three cases (or 38.4 percent of all interventions) in which an intervention had occurred, the target had a combined Polity2 maximum score of ten—a score usually reserved to countries whose democratic credentials are beyond doubt (such as Sweden or the US). (p. 12).

An electoral intervention in favor of one of the sides contesting the election has a statistically significant effect, increasing its vote share by about 3 percent. (p. 13).


Francesco Trebbi, Eric Weese, Austin L. Wright, Andrew Shaver, “Insurgent Learning,” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 23475, June 2017

We provide historical evidence of nuanced learning by insurgents regarding bomb making and emplacing techniques … We examine insurgent learning using newly declassified microdata on improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during the ongoing Afghanistan conflict. These data allow us to track the effectiveness of insurgents and counterinsurgents over time. (pp. 1-2)

We find little evidence of any substantial changes in the detonation rate. IEDs were just as likely to explode in 2014 as they were in 2006. (p. 2)

IEDs at the end of the coalition occupation were just as damaging as at the beginning. We find no evidence of net changes in casualty rates for coalition forces. On the other hand, Afghan forces who currently carry out nearly all domestic security operations experienced a marginally increasing casualty rate over the course of the counterinsurgency campaign. These results indicate insurgent learning kept pace with changes in the technological investments made by counterinsurgents. (p. 2)

If anything, IEDs have gotten deadlier over time, with about a 75 percent casualty rate for recent years. However, this could be due to reductions in coalition troop levels: in recent years, more of the IED attacks have been against Afghan government targets, which in general travel in standard pickup trucks, rather than armored vehicles. (p. 17)

The fact that casualty rates for coalition forces do not change or even increase slightly is a surprising result. Armored vehicles were becoming increasingly prevalent during this period, and there were a wide variety of new anti-IED technologies being deployed by [the Joint IED Defeat Organization] … either this new equipment and technology was actually useless, or there was also substantial improvement in the quality of IEDs during that period. (p. 19)


Andrew Boutton, “Of Terrorism and Revenue: Why Foreign Aid Exacerbates Terrorism in Personalist Regimes,” Conflict Management and Peace Science, December 21, 2016, pp. 1-26.

These findings suggest that the provision by the U.S. of counterterrorism aid has the potential to generate perverse incentives for recipient governments to perpetuate a terrorist threat rather than reduce it, as doing so may endanger future U.S. aid levels. My argument is … personalist regimes will view a worsening terrorist threat as a source of leverage which can ensure continued assistance (p. 3).

The study specifically examines whether [terrorist] groups based in states governed by personalist regimes will be less likely to fail in a given year as U.S. foreign aid increases as well as whether personalist regimes will experience more terrorist attacks in a given year as the amount of U.S. foreign aid increases (p. 9).

Using data from Jones and Libicki (2008) as well as from the Global Terrorism Database, this study finds that higher average U.S. aid levels lead to longer-lasting terrorist campaigns in personalist regimes. Similarly, increasing aid levels to personalist regimes leads to more terrorist attacks—especially anti-U.S. attacks—in a given year (p. 21).

As U.S. security assistance increases … in non-personalist regimes the probability of group failure increases slightly, but the effect is nowhere near statistical significance. Thus, aid to non-personalist regimes makes little difference for the duration of terrorist groups in those states. However, [the data] shows that increases in security-related aid to personalist regimes are associated with a steep monotonic decrease in probability of failure. This translates into longer-lasting terrorist campaigns in these states (p.12).

Non-aid recipient personalist regimes are less susceptible to terrorism relative to other regime types. However, increases in U.S. aid reverse this effect, leading to higher levels of terrorist activity. Furthermore, across the board, the marginal effects in the ‘‘anti-U.S. attacks’’ models are much larger than for non-U.S. attacks, suggesting that the effect is more pronounced for attacks against U.S. interests. This is evidence in favor of the argument that personalist dictators strategically cultivate terrorism against certain targets (p. 15).

The findings indicate that if the United States wishes to continue using economic and military assistance to combat terrorism, it needs to be more vigilant about how aid is used by recipient governments, and to carry out threats to withdraw aid if certain benchmarks are not met (pp 21-22).


Mary Beth Altier, Emma Leonard Boyle, Neil D. Shortland & John G. Horgan, “Why They Leave: An Analysis of Terrorist Disengagement Events from Eighty-seven Autobiographical Accounts,” Security Studies, March 2, 2017, pp. 305-332

Our findings suggest that the experience of push rather than pull factors—especially disillusionment with the group’s strategy or actions, disagreements with group leaders or members, disappointment with day-to-day tasks, and burnout—increase the likelihood terrorists will choose to leave and are more frequently reported as playing a large role in their exit decisions. Further, our findings indicate that a loss of faith in the ideology underpinning terrorist behavior (or “de-radicalization”) is not one of the most commonly cited causes for disengagement, nor a prerequisite. (p. 307)

In more than half (59 percent) of all cases of individual voluntary disengagement, the person was experiencing [disillusionment with the strategy or actions of the group] at the time of his or her disengagement compared with just 24 percent of individuals in the control group. Further, in more than half (55 percent) of all cases of individual voluntary disengagement, this disillusionment is reported as playing a large (37 percent) or small (18 percent) role in leaving. (p. 320)

In more than half (55 percent) of all cases of individual voluntary disengagement, individuals reported experiencing disillusionment with group leaders, compared to just 17 percent of those in the control group. For those whose disengagement was voluntary, disillusionment was reported as playing a role in the decision to leave in 45 percent of all cases. (p. 320)

For only a select few, the decision to disengage centers around family demands or desires. The desire to dedicate more time to one's family or the feeling that being involved in terrorism was too hard to balance with family life … played a large role in explaining just 6.1 percent and 4.1 percent of all exit decisions, respectively. (pp. 322-323)

Positive interactions with moderates, including family and friends, are thought to be another important pull factor out of terrorist life … Yet, friends and/or family were reported as playing a role in convincing the individual to leave in just 14 percent of cases, and their role was usually secondary. (pp. 323-324)

Our results suggest that counterterrorism policies focused on influencing the most prevalent push factors may be more effective in persuading terrorists to disengage than those that rely solely on influencing pull factors. (p. 332)


Burcu Savun, Daniel C. Tirone, “Foreign Aid as a Counterterrorism Tool: More Liberty, Less Terror?,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, May 5, 2017, pp. 1-29

We find that good governance and civil society aid is associated with lower rates of terrorist attacks, particularly in countries where terrorism is not a part of a broader civil war. (p. 3).

A US$10 million increase in government and civil society aid reduces the incidence of terrorist attacks by 1.6 percent, ceteris paribus, while the mean aid allocation (around US$60 million) would reduce the threat by approximately 9.6 percent. (p. 12)

U.S. military aid … reduces the number of terror incidents when there is no active civil conflict but increases them when there is. (p. 12)

Contrary to the arguments that suggest terrorism is immune to the effects of aid because it is not borne out of economic circumstances, we show that governance and civil society aid provides a potentially peaceful way to assist afflicted governments without having to resort to invasive counterterrorism responses. Our findings, therefore, provide additional rationale for policy makers to continue using democracy assistance programs to promote both democracy and security in aid-receiving countries. (pp. 18-19)


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