Strategies of Violence and Restraint in Civil War

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BiblioBazaar, 2011 - 508 pages
Why do some governments and rebel groups deliberately attack civilians during civil war? Why do other groups refrain from targeting civilians, largely complying with the norms of noncombatant immunity codified in international humanitarian law? This dissertation seeks to explain variation in both government and rebel group violence against civilians during civil war. I argue that much wartime violence against civilians is strategic in nature. I identify four different strategic motivations for the use of violence against civilians: to control civilians or territory; to cleanse territory of a particular ethnic or political group; to coerce the opponent; or to destabilize the government. Restraint, I argue, is also often a deliberate strategy in civil war, with governments and rebel groups avoiding direct attacks on civilian populations and demonstrating respect for international humanitarian law as a means of winning domestic and international support. I posit that understanding which of these strategies a government or rebel group will adopt---control, cleansing, coercion, destabilization, or restraint---depends primarily on the war aims of the rebel group and the regime type of the government. These two factors, together, determine the extent to which the government or rebel group can withstand domestic public criticism in response to attacks on civilians; affect the government or rebel group's ability to make international appeals for diplomatic support; and influence the ways in which the government or rebel group seeks to legitimate its struggle, both domestically and internationally. To carry out quantitative tests of these arguments regarding government regime type and rebel group war aims, I constructed an original data set on government and rebel group violence against civilians in 86 civil wars from 1989 to 2005. As a complement to the statistical work, a series of case studies trace the causal mechanisms driving violence and restraint in civil war. Two in-depth case studies, of conflicts in Uganda and Indonesia, are based on field research conducted in summer 2005 and 2006; in addition, this dissertation includes brief case studies of conflicts in Azerbaijan, Colombia, El Salvador, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

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