from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

You Might Have Missed: Recent Academic Journal Findings

February 6, 2015

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Simon Frankel Pratt, “Crossing off names: the logic of military assassination,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 26(1), 2015, pp. 3-23.

Those governments or commentators who publically advocate the use of military means to kill specific enemies have in recent times generally preferred terms such as ‘targeted killing.’ (p. 3)

The following proposed definition should not suffer from the problems of its predecessors, and thus offer a solid beginning for further exploration of assassination as a strategic concept:

Assassination is the premeditated killing of a specific individual to realise political objectives.

This definition contains three key elements:

(1) Premeditation

(2) Specificity

(3) Political intent

More so than the word ‘intent’ or ‘deliberation’, ‘premeditation’ carries the implication that the killing is not a reflective decision based on events during the episode of action but precedes the initiation of contact between the agent and the target. The term ‘specificity’ replaces ‘selectiveness’ as the former requires that the agent ‘name or state explicitly or in detail’ while the latter to ‘[choose] from a number or group by fitness or preference’. To select therefore implies a comparative process, which does not necessarily occur, while to specify merely means to designate. Finally, the element of ‘political intent’ requires that the motivations and goals of an assassination be political, but not anything more: the target need not meet any criteria of prominence, and the consequences of the killing need not actually achieve a politically relevant outcome. (p. 6)

Aaron M. Hoffman, et al., “Norms, Diplomatic Alternatives, and the Social Psychology of War Support,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 59(1), 2015, p. 21.

Taken together, our analyses suggest that asking people about their support for military operations and casualty sensitivity without providing cues about nonwar courses of action encourages them to respond as if they were told the alternatives to war were unappealing. Across three experiments, subjects who received no information about diplomatic alternatives to the use of force responded to our queries about their tolerance for casualties and support for war in similar fashion to those who heard that competing courses of action were unlikely to work. In contrast, subjects in two experiments who were informed that diplomacy could work typically reduced their enthusiasm for war and willingness to say any US casualties were “acceptable.”

Bridget L. Coggins, “Does State Failure Cause Terrorism? An Empirical Analysis (1999-2008),” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2014, p. 23.

Increasingly weak states are not at an increased threat of terrorism within their borders, nor do they threaten outsiders. Yet the most critically failed states (those experiencing violent political instability or emerging anarchy) are significantly more likely to experience and produce international terrorism and are also more likely to experience domestic terrorism—even when controlling for their participation in civil and international wars.

What is most striking about the accumulated findings here are the contrasts between human security failure, state capacity failure, and political collapse when it comes to terrorism. Impoverished countries with severe human insecurity problems, including Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Eritrea, present no increased threat of terrorism. Nor do most countries with highly incapable state institutions like Haiti, Guinea, Chad, or Zimbabwe. Nor, surprisingly, were these states generally predisposed to domestic terrorism. Instead, states experiencing violent political instability and political collapse are far more dangerous to themselves and others when it comes to producing international terror (Goldstone et al. 2010). If strong states hope to tackle international terrorism’s root causes, they would do well to attend to those countries in the grip of chaotic political violence and not incapable or impoverished states. Moreover, efforts toward preventing the types of state weakness associated with terrorism may serve to prevent the emergence of more serious threats.

The models also confirm the hypothesized importance of civil and international wars when it comes to terrorism. Many terrorist events, domestic and international, occur in the context of war fighting or are closely associated with an ongoing war.

(3PA: This has been the case for the United States as well. As I recently pointed out, 80 percent of the 335 Americans killed by terrorism since 9/11 died in Iraq or Afghanistan—“the very places where the United States started wars to prevent or destroy safe havens.”)

David E. Cunningham and Douglas Lemke, “Beyond Civil War: A Quantitative Examination of Causes of Violence within Countries,” Civil Wars 16(3), 2014, pp. 328-345.

We first show that many correlates of civil war were previously used in broader studies of political violence. We then present a test using a country-year data-set including a variety of different dependent variables—traditional measures of civil war as well as measures of non-state war, one-sided violence, riots, assassinations, and coups. (p. 329)

While some findings are disputed, a consensus exists that civil wars are more likely in states with lower average incomes, larger populations, that are neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic, neighbor other states in civil war, and that have experienced a civil war recently. (p. 330)

In summary, we find considerable evidence of causal similarity across all the types of internal violence, from reasonably mild riots all the way up to civil wars. In general, it seems, the same factors which have been argued and found correlated with the occurrence of civil war seem to relate to a larger range of internal violence. This suggests that many of the arguments about civil wars are really arguments about the likelihood of internal violence more broadly…

First, the relationship between regime type and conflict is interesting. The common finding that civil war is less likely in both strongly democratic and strongly autocratic regimes than in ‘anocracies’ is substantiated when the inclusive definition of internal armed conflict (25 battle deaths in a year) is used…However, we find that other forms of violence—particularly purges, coups, and revolts—are more common in autocratic regimes. And, we find that more intense types of civil wars (those that generate 1,000 battle deaths in a year) become more likely as regimes are more autocratic…

Second, wealth has inconsistent effects across types of internal violence. It is generally well established that wealthy states are less prone to civil war, but our analysis suggests that higher levels of wealth do not decrease low-level forms of violence like riots, purges, and assassinations. (pp. 339-340)

David T. Burbach and Christopher J. Fettweis, “The Coming Stability? The Decline of Warfare in Africa and Implications for International Security,” Contemporary Security Policy 35(3), 2014, pp. 421-445.

Historical comparisons and quantitative analysis based on the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) and Major Episodes of Political Violence (MEPV) datasets on the 1961 – 2013 period show that Africa has experienced a remarkable decline in warfare, whether measured in number of conflicts or fatalities. Warfare is a relatively low risk to the lives of most Africans. The years 2010 – 2013 saw an increase of 35 per cent in African battle deaths over 2005 – 2010, but they still are 87 percent lower than the 1990 – 1999 average. Changes in external support and intervention, and the spread of global norms regarding armed conflict, have been most decisive in reducing the levels of warfare in the continent. Consequently, there is no Africa exception to the systemic shift towards lower levels of armed conflict. (p. 421)

The ‘war-torn Africa’ view is out of date. Contrary to pessimistic forecasts, the reality is that Africa has become dramatically more peaceful over the last 15 years. Not only has the 1990s surge of violence abated, but the level of warfare is lower now than in any other post-colonial decade. A good case can be made that Africa is more peaceful now, in relative and absolute terms, than at any time in history. (p. 422)

According to either data source, Africans now face a lower risk of death from armed conflict than during any other post-independence decade. The UCDP data shows nearly a 90 per cent reduction in the mortality rate from battle deaths…

War is less of a threat to life in Africa than everyday accidental injuries or non-political violence. War not only kills fewer people than do malaria or HIV, but kills fewer people than many less prominent disease do. (p. 429)

More on:

Political Transitions

Defense and Security

Terrorism and Counterterrorism