Archive | Violence

What NSF-Funded Projects Have Taught Us About National Security Issues

by Erica Chenoweth (@EricaChenoweth) and Jason Lyall (@jaylyall_red5.)

Yesterday’s House of Representatives vote to defund political science research has yet again put many political scientists on the defensive. Arguing that the federal government is spending way too much money on political science research, the amendment’s sponsor, Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ), remarked,

These studies might satisfy the curiosities of a few academics, but I seriously doubt society will benefit from them. How can we justify this outcome?

We’d like to point out some of the past and current research findings that NSF supported—some of which established what policymakers and scholars now view as conventional wisdom—that may justify such spending.

  • Violent insurgencies—including ethnically-motivated ones—tend to set on not because of religious or ethnic differences, but rather because a state’s weakness permits them to. Thus the outbreak of civil wars is driven by low state capacity and the inability to deliver public goods to the population. This finding, although not without its critics, has informed a great deal of policy practice with regard to capacity-building in weak and failed states (for more on James Fearon and David Laitin’s project, click here).

  • Terrorists are generally rational actors whose behavior often responds in predictable ways to different policies. For instance, after a spate of airline hijackings, most airports installed metal detectors, which drastically reduced the number of airline hijackings. However, many terrorists simply switched to kidnappings—an example of the so-called “substitution effect”—which is a cautionary principle that informs a great deal of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism policy today (see some more work by Walter Enders and Todd Sandler).

  • Citizens in democratic countries remain supportive of democratic values in the face of terrorism when policymakers issue reminders about core democratic values, which help to keep citizens from losing confidence in democratic practices. However, citizens of illiberal democracies—i.e. many of our allies—are much more vulnerable to support non-democratic practices in the face of terrorism (see Jennifer Merolla and Elizabeth Zechmeister’s book). This research helps us to better understand how societies may remain resilient and avoid overreaction to terrorist threats.

Additional projects investigate questions such as:

This is but a small sampling.

NSF-funded research has also provided extraordinary public goods to those of us who study political violence and terrorism through the creation of data sets on civil war, repression, and terrorism. Researchers turn to these data sets routinely to better understand the causes and responses to political violence. In fact, without some of these data sets, it would be difficult to imagine where the field of international relations would be today. To name just a few:

Such datasets are clearly good investments. Once released, other researchers use them to investigate important questions related to the causes and responses to political violence. The data sets above (and many others funded by NSF) have returned countless articles on a variety of issues directly related to international security—and at very low cost relative to what private security consulting firms would charge for the same product).

In addition, NSF grants, often quite small in nature, have supported fieldwork in strategically vital regions and countries. Indeed, a short list of projects funded this year in these areas would include:

  • Driscoll’s study of Al Shabaab’s provision of security and governance in Mogadishu, Somalia

  • Lust’s investigation of Egyptian, Moroccan, and Tunisian elections during the “Arab Spring” and their respective transitions to democracy

  • Beissinger’s study of energy and water cooperation between five Central Asian states

  • Ermakoff’s study of the formation of armed self-defense groups in rural Sudan

These grants do not only facilitate the collection of new knowledge about important places, however. Since these issues and areas are often difficult to access, especially for outside researchers, they require the creative use of new methods and approaches—including GPS sampling of populations, new survey methods, and the use of satellite imagery—to provide rigorous answers to timely and often-sensitive questions.

Put differently, these small grants act as proofs of concept for the wider community of scholars who will embrace and then extend successful applications. In fact, a strong case could be made for increasing rather than reducing NSF funding given the clear multiplier effects of these small seed grants. To be sure, some of these experimental approaches may fail, but the natural outcome of this trial-and-error process should not be held out as an indictment of the NSF. Instead, it should be viewed as evidence of the NSF’s critical role as an incubator of promising new approaches and innovations.

Finally, NSF funds have had enormous impact on the production of top-quality doctoral dissertations that may never have been completed without support for fieldwork or data collection. In fact, most recent security and defense-related NSF grants have gone to graduate students (or even undergraduates; see here and here) who wish to develop new insights necessary to reduce political violence. Some of the insights that have emerged from these dissertations include:

  • David Cunningham’s finding that the more distinct armed groups there are in a civil war, the longer the civil war will endure.

  • Dara Cohen’s finding that insurgent groups that abduct recruits and rely on contraband funding are more likely to employ sexual violence against civilians, and that such groups use rape to create social cohesion.

  • Aila Matanock’s finding that negotiated settlements that allow combatants to participate in elections result in a more lasting peace.

These projects and many others yield findings that have clear implications for U.S. foreign and defense policy, which Flake cites as defensible expenditures, and they also have clear educational value for those scholars whose work will inform such policies in the future. We doubt that our colleagues have pursued these projects solely to satisfy their curiosities. Instead, they’ve pursued these projects—and received NSF’s highly competitive grants—because their topics are of vital concern to the country and the world, and they think their research can improve responses to extremely difficult (and as-yet unresolved) policy problems.

Continue Reading

Death Star? No thank you.

I wish to address the most important policy question of the millenium: should we build a Death Star?  This debate picked up this year after some Lehigh University students estimated that just the steel for a Death Star would cost $852 quadrillion, or 13,000 times the current GDP of the Earth. Kevin Drum suggests this cost estimate is too low but, in the context of a galactic economy, a Death Star is perfectly affordable and “totally worth it.” Seth Masket and Jamelle Bouie highlight the military downside of the Death Star, suggesting that more people might rebel against the wholesale genocide of the Empire, and that the Death Star would be the prime target of any rebellion. I have two thoughts to add. First, the Death Star is a bit misunderstood. It is primarily a tool of domestic politics rather than warfare, and should be compared to alternative means of suppressing the population of a galaxy. Second, as a weapon of war, it should be compared to alternative uses of scarce defense resources. Understood properly, the Death Star is not worth it.

The Death Star and the Dictator’s Dilemma

The classic problem of representative democracy is that citizens must delegate power to leaders, and then ensure that leaders do not use that power to serve their own interests. As James Madison states, “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” Dictators suffer a similar problem of delegation, but in reverse. Dictators must delegate the tasks of subduing and taxing the population to internal security forces, and of maintaining external security to subordinate governors and generals.  Any delegated power, however, could be used to displace the dictator. Internal security forces can assassinate the dictator or join in palace coups. Military leaders can use their forces to rebel against the dictator or secede from the dictator’s realm with a slice of territory. So the dictator must carefully design her security apparatus to maintain control of the population without empowering potential rivals. This challenge grows acute the more dispersed the dictator’s realm and the greater the number of external threats. (For more on the strategy of dictatorship, see here. Political scientists, feel free to add citations in the comments section).

I see the Death Star (DS) as the Emperor’s solution to the dictator’s dilemma.  First, note that its construction precedes the Rebel Alliance; the plans are first developed by the Separatists in Episode 2 and, by the time it is completed, the Rebel Alliance has just won its “first victory.” While it may have some use as a deterrent against possible invaders, the DS is primarily a tool of domestic politics. Prior to its completion, the Emperor is compelled to keep the Imperial Senate around, presumably to maintain the semblance of popular consent. But the Senate imposes some inefficiency—meddling in military strategy, perhaps, or directing spending to some favored planets. Once the DS is operational, the Emperor can disband the Senate and, instead, empower Imperial governors to suppress the local population and extract revenue.  Here’s the critical scene:

But how can the Emperor guard against rebellion by one of these governors? Or revolt by a local planet’s population? The answer is simple: he can zip around in the baddest weapon in the galaxy, destroying his foes with the push of a button. No foe could fight back, and the DS is mobile enough to respond to multiple threats in short order.

Note that this scheme provides an easy answer to the question, “how can we afford a Death Star?” If the scheme works, the Death Star will pay for itself dozens of times in the additional tax revenue from fearful planets, and by the money not spent by the military putting down revolts with conventional weapons.

But will it work?  Only if it induces cooperation through fear. Every planet blown up represents a tremendous loss of potential future revenue, so like nuclear weapons today, the actual use of the DS is a calamity. Moreover, like nuclear weapons, they only work as a deterrent if they are used judiciously. citizens throughout the galaxy must believe that failure to pay their taxes and comply with their Imperial masters will lead to detonation, but also that compliance will save them. The fact that the DS was used against Alderaan, however, would likely have had the opposite effect. Alderaan is “peaceful” and “has no weapons.” It was detonated because its teenage senator was secretly aiding the Rebel Alliance and waited too long to give up Dantoonie. To me, that’s a little too Caligula to induce rational compliance. One imagines the conversations on other planets:

Peasant 1: Did you hear the Empire blew up Alderaan?  What kind of government blows up one of the richest planets in the galaxy because of one smack-talking teenager? It could be any of us next.

Peasant Windu: Enough is enough! I have had it with these [redacted] emperors on their [redacted] Death Star!

If the net effect of the DS is to make every person in the galaxy think their planet could be the next one arbitrarily destroyed, it actually mobilizes them to join the rebellion.

If the DS is an uncertain solution to the problem of internal security, what are the alternatives?

1) Democracy? Unacceptable to the seeker of unlimited power. Your faith in your friends is your weakness.

2) A Sith Academy? During the Old Republic the Jedi did a good job of providing internal security at a very low price. Why not repeal the limitation on Siths and create a small, powerful, and cheap guard of Sith lords?

This is also unacceptable. An army of Siths, however small, would be a large pool of potential rivals and assassins, all angling to seize the throne. In the end, just having one other Sith around was the Emperor’s undoing; dozens of Sith would lead to anarchy.

For this reasons, dictators have favored delegation to minions who are ineligible to replace them, such as eunuchs, lower-class citizens, foreign bodyguards, or captives from an underprivileged social group. This leads me to:

3) Upgrading the internal security apparatus.

A) Clones. The Emperor already has a military force of clones. Why not a bureaucracy of clones? They could be designed to be smart, honest, and unambitious, and they would be relatively cheap. This would help with the knotty problems of tax collection and law enforcement.

B) Domination of planetary elites. There are tried-and-true methods for gaining compliance without having to pay for massive armies or float around the galaxy in a planet-killing machine. The emperor could compel the political and economic elites of each planet to send their children (as hostages) to Imperial schools, where they will learn about all the great things the Empire is doing. Second, the Emperor could assign Imperial bodyguards to the elite of every planet to protect those who are loyal, report on those who are not, and eliminate the worst. If the Emperor followed this approach, the Organa family would be sleeping with the fishes and Alderaan would still be paying taxes.

C) Imperial takeover of rebellious planets. Again, destroying a planet is a tremendous loss for the Imperial treasury. It would be far more profitable for the Emperor to seize rebellious planets (once subdued by his new and improved army – see below), imprison the rebels, and bring in settlers and Imperial workers to keep the planet’s economy humming.

Upgrading the internal security apparatus is a far more cost-effective option than a DS for the next Sith dictator.

The Death Star as Super-Weapon? 

When I watch Star Wars films now, I often find the battles simplistic because there is little tactical thinking. How would people actually use and respond to these futuristic weapons? The best exception to this pattern is the Rebels’ attack on the Death Star in Episode IV. Instead of attempting a large-scale frontal assault with their strongest ships (the anticipated response) they sent small ships armed with an asymmetric advantage: blueprints of the DS revealing a womp rat-sized weakness.

That is what the Rebels should have done. When I was a Congressional staffer working on defense policy in the 1990s, one of the most insightful essays I read was Richard K. Betts’ “The Downside of the Cutting Edge” (National Interest, 1996) which makes this point: once one has a force that can beat anyone in a fair fight, no one will want to fight fair. Even if the Empire eventually built a DS without a design flaw, its enemies would find some way to fight it indirectly. For example, when its not destroying planets, the DS also likes to grab passing ships in its tractor beam, drag them inside, and then scan them for bad guys. It would be simple to rig a decoy ship as a massive bomb, piloted by a robot with orders to detonate the ship once it’s inside the DS.

The Emperor should not expect, therefore, that a single super-weapon will vanquish all foes. As Seth Masket notes, the same money could be used to make some much-needed, lower-risk investments in the Imperial military. Some examples:

1) Information Security. Wouldn’t it be nice if some too-dumb-to-talk 30 year old bucket of bolts couldn’t hack into the DS’s computer system in a few seconds? I would think so.

2) Troop Transportation. How does the U.S. military get around in the desert? Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles. How do elite scouts of the future get around? On overgrown lizards:

It’s just embarrassing.

3) More robots, please. I get it: the “Clone Wars” featured Republic clones vs. the robot armies of the separatists, and the clones won. Still, though, some of those robots would be really useful in tactical situations, perhaps guided by clones on the ground.

4) More probe droids, please. After the Yavin debacle, the Empire sent out probe droids to scan remote systems. Why not keep a few loitering on every planet on a permanent basis? Then it would be lot harder for any rebellion to hide.

5) Practice, Practice, Practice. An entire legion of the Emperor’s best troops was defeated by a village of teddy bears fighting with sticks and stones. It’s just embarrassing. Clearly they needed better training in tactics, marksmanship, and hand-to-paw combat.

Again, it is my belief that a rational dictator could make better use of the resources that would be used to build Death Stars.

So, in conclusion: the Death Star is bad for internal security and a misallocation of military resources. No thank you!

Continue Reading

The Political Science of Child Soldiering in Africa

As reactions for, and against the Invisible Children campaign against Joseph Kony convulse blogs and Twitter, it may be no harm to turn to what political scientists have to say. Bernd Beber and Chris Blattman have a paper under submission on the logic of child soldiering that draws on a major data gathering project which paid particular attention to the Lord’s Resistance Army. The statistical evidence tells a grim story – Beber and Blattman also provide some practical suggestions to lower the risks to children in war-torn territories.

We conducted qualitative interviews with more than 100 former abductees, 20 community and clan leaders, and 25 commanders from the Ugandan armed forces and the LRA over ten months in 2005-07. … We randomly sampled 1,162 households in eight clusters, using the earliest sample frame available: UN World Food Programme lists compiled in 2002. 88% of sampled households were found. … Forced recruitment by the LRA was large-scale and indiscriminate. … The LRA focused on abducting young adolescents. Figure 6 illustrates the distribution of age at the time of recruitment. Three times as many youth aged 14 were abducted as those aged 9 or 23. … Violence and the threat of punishment was the main instrument of control in the LRA. … Initiation sometimes involved the forced commission of violence … Accounts of allegiance and forgetting suggest that LRA discipline, religion and propaganda did not simply change individual incentives, but fundamentally altered the beliefs and values of recruits … Not only were the LRA more like to forcibly recruit adolescents than adults, but once recruited, younger recruits received more punishments and fewer positive inducements. … Children were also more likely to be forced to commit acts that would reduce their real and perceived outside options. Being forced to kill a family member fell by 0.9 percentage points per year of age while being forced to abuse dead bodies fell by 0.7 percentage points per year (Table 1, Columns 4 and 5). These are large declines relative to the average incidences, 12% and 23%. … younger abductees stay longer before attempting escape.
Clearly, raising the cost of child recruitment is crucial, and the recent policy focus here is well deserved. Aid can be conditioned on human rights behavior. Financing from diasporas and other funders can be frozen. And the threat of prosecution is powerful. But is it sufficient? Child recruitment can still be optimal when the costliness increases, especially when children’s opportunities are poor or leaders exert control over the information that reaches them. Also, prosecution is not without difficulty. The first prosecution for child soldiering, against Lubanga, has gone poorly and narrowly missed an acquittal (New York Times 2011). And prosecutors have no means of bringing leaders like Kony to justice. This tool is powerful, but not all powerful. … Just as Western schoolchildren perform fire drills, or learn not to speak to strangers, so should children in war zones be drilled in escape and resistance to misinformation. Just such a grassroots effort was launched by Ugandan civil society, albeit too little and too late. … In retrospect, more and better education and communication earlier in the conflict could have reduced the effectiveness of LRA abduction. It is difficult to imagine UNICEF or education
ministries distributing abduction-training curricula to schools. The policy would be a frank admission of their failure to protect, and politically difficult. Nevertheless, in future conflicts, some institutionalized mechanisms for counter-propaganda, escape training, and other countermeasures ought to be a central part of the governmental and non-governmental response to war.
Continue Reading

The Syrian Conflict is Already a Civil War

The headline of Anthony Shadid’s article in Sunday’s New York Times reads “Fear of Civil War Mounts in Syria as Crisis Deepens.” The Arab League’s Secretary General, Nabil el-Araby, is quoted as saying “I fear a civil war, and the events that we see and hear about now could lead to a civil war.” Others concur, while stopping short of saying that Syria is currently in a state of civil war.

But by most standards, the conflict in Syria has been a civil war for quite awhile (see, for instance, Nicholas Sambanis‘ thorough analysis of civil war’s competing definitions). Although there is some controversy surrounding the definition, scholars typically consider a conflict a civil war when:

  • two or more armed groups are fighting within state borders over some incompatibility (change of leadership/government, territory, or major policy issue);

  • one of the combatant groups is the government;

  • at least 1,000 people have died due to combat; and

  • at least 100 people have died on either side of the conflict.

Some people add that the armed combatants must be organized, or possess an internal military structure, although this is not central to all definitions. Others reduce the necessary threshold of fatalities, thus admitting lower-intensity conflicts to the list of “intra-state armed conflicts” in general.

Regardless, the Syrian conflict clearly meets all of these criteria—in fact, the conflict probably crossed these thresholds sometime last summer. Since July (maybe earlier), there have been at least two organized armed groups fighting over the center. The incumbent government is clearly one of the combatants, with the Free Syrian Army (and maybe some other armed militias) prosecuting the conflict against it. With thousands of Syrians killed, including up to 2,000 regime loyalists, the casualty figures are straightforward—assuming these figures are accurate. All of this has unfolded within a relatively short time span, indicating a level of conflict intensity that is on par with other “typical” civil wars.

By the way, the seeming reluctance to call the Syrian conflict a civil war reminds me of a similar debate that occurred in 2006, when Iraqi and Coalition officials denied that Iraq had fallen into a civil war. The facts on the ground elicited a compelling op-ed and article by James Fearon, who pretty much established that Iraq was in the midst of a civil war—a pretty bad one, too. (In fact, I should mention that James Fearon is the one who first raised the question of Syria’s civil war status during a conversation we had a number of weeks ago).

One issue, of course, is “who declares” a civil war. I suppose this thankless task is often left to the academics who count them. So, we can add another one to the list. Despite denials, the Syrian Civil War is already well underway.

Continue Reading

Using Social Media to Measure Conflict in the Gaza Strip

Using a novel data set of hourly dyadic conflict intensity scores drawn from Twitter and other social media sources during the Gaza Conflict (2008–2009), the author attempts to fill a gap in existing studies. The author…measure(s) changes in Israel’s and Hamas’s military response dynamics immediately following two important junctures in the conflict: the introduction of Israeli ground troops and the UN Security Council vote. The author finds that both Hamas’s and Israel’s response to provocations by the other side increase (both by about twofold) immediately after the ground invasion, but following the UN Security Council vote, Israel’s response is cut in half, while Hamas’s slightly increases.

This new article, by political scientist Thomas Zeitzoff, is here (gated).  Here is an earlier working paper version, and a related post by Drew Conway.



Continue Reading

Will Assad Survive?

The entrails of the Arab Spring suggest that Assad will be the fifth dictator to fall only if the Syrian military irrevocably splits or if international military force intervenes on the side of the opposition.
Neither looks likely. The Syrian army is dominated by Assad’s Alawite minority and foreign powers have demonstrated no stomach to insert themselves into the quagmire of a civil war in Syria which would spark tensions, not just between Turkey, Israel and Lebanon, but would ominously see NATO, Russia and China picking sides.

From an op-ed by Andrew Reynolds, based on his forthcoming book, The Arab Spring: Political Transformation in North Africa and the Middle East, with Jason Brownlee and Tarek Masood.

Continue Reading

How Violence in Mexico is Designed to Work

We are delighted to welcome back UCSD professor Barbara Walter and her colleague, professor Alberto Díaz-Cayeros.  Professor Díaz-Cayeros is an expert on Mexico and professor Walter is an expert on insurgency. Below they combine their respective sources of expertise and analyze the violence in Mexico as a form of insurgency.


President Obama and his Secretary of State had their first public disagreement last year – not over Iraq or Afghanistan, but Mexico.   Hillary Clinton argued that Mexico was increasingly in the midst of an “insurgency.”  President Obama argued that the drug killings in Mexico, whose numbers far exceed U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan, is not.  That’s because the drug trade organizations (DTO’s) have only financial goals, not political ones.  The Mexican government has consistently agreed with President Obama, repeatedly rejecting any suggestion that an insurgency is taking place.

The violence in Mexico may not be a classic insurgency , but it is certainly being fought like one.  Like other insurgencies, the violence in Mexico – especially the brutal killings of government officials and civilians – is being used to intimidate local populations and control territory.  The Mexican government provides health, education and other public services to most citizens and provides order and security in the vast majority of towns and cities, including Mexico City.  But the insurgents control about 7 percent of the country, including important drug distribution routes, and they have used violence to do so.

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

How Important is Turkey’s Support of the Free Syrian Army?

This week, the New York Times reported that Turkey has begun to actively support the Free Syrian Army by providing shelter in a guarded camp. From the Times:

Turkey is hosting an armed opposition group waging an insurgency against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, providing shelter to the commander and dozens of members of the group, the Free Syrian Army, and allowing them to orchestrate attacks across the border from inside a camp guarded by the Turkish military.

Two questions immediately emerge: 1) How will the provision of sanctuary affect the rebels’ chances of defeating Assad; and 2). What are the long-term regional consequences of providing sanctuary to a rebel organization? The answer to both questions: rebel group sanctuary can be a game-changer.


Regarding the first question, a number of scholars have previously found that external sanctuary is associated with insurgent success. Jeffrey Record, for instance, reviewed a number of insurgencies and found that rebel groups that secured sanctuary abroad were likelier to succeed. Dan Byman, Peter Chalk, et al also identified sanctuary as the most important type of support an insurgent group can receive, as it allows rebels to move and organize freely, to import weapons, and to train for operations. However, they write,

Foreign assistance in the form of international sanctuaries, while often extremely useful to guerrillas, can also have a negative impact. In moving abroad, insurgents risk cutting themselves off from their base of popular support. Resting and recuperating across a border, while providing obvious benefits, also carries the danger of operational isolation from potentially lucrative political and military targets.

This seems particularly true in the Syrian case, where the Free Syrian Army’s contact with local activists and rebels is contested. From the Times:


Though many analysts contend that defectors’ attacks in Syria appear uncoordinated and local, Colonel As’aad claimed to be in full operational control. He said that he was in charge of planning “full military operations” while leaving smaller clashes and day-to-day decisions up to commanders in the field. Nevertheless, he is in daily contact with the commanders of each battalion, he said, spending hours a day checking e-mail on a laptop connected to one of four telephones — including a satellite phone — provided to him by Syrian expatriates living in the United States, Europe and the Persian Gulf.

In sum, sanctuary can help an armed insurgency, but it certainly carries a number of risks and does not guarantee success by any means.


So how will these developments affect the conflict in the longer term? Recent research is pessimistic. According to Idean Salehyan, providing sanctuary to a rebel group makes a conflict more likely to escalate to civil war—and one that lasts longer than the average civil war. Moreover, providing sanctuary increases the chances that the civil conflict will escalate into an inter-state one (in this case, between Turkey and Syria) or perhaps even wider.

Now, this research assumes that the rebel group is viable and not just a small and disorganized group. We don’t really know whether the Free Syrian Army is the real deal yet. Rebel groups have massive incentives to over-represent their size and strength in such situations. As the Times reports, the movement’s claims that it consists of thousands of followers and dozens of battalions have not yet been verified. Nonetheless, there are reasons to believe the group is coalescing. Recent attacks against government troops within Syria suggest that there is at least some coordinated contact among operatives on the inside. Apparently the Syrian Free Army is actively recruiting new members on a regular basis. With the accumulation of weapons, the ability to organize freely, and the fact that many previously nonviolent Syrian activists are now openly calling for armed uprising against the increasingly brutal state, the Free Syrian Army has considerable sympathy and support within the country. And Turkey’s decision to support the group is also telling: in a new paper, Salehyan, David Cunningham, and Kristian Gleditsch argue that states are more likely to support rebel groups when they gauge the groups to be moderately strong. This suggests that Turkey, at least, may view the Free Syrian Army as a viable entity.

Ultimately, research tells us that if the Free Syrian Army is the real deal, then Turkey’s provision of sanctuary heightens the risk of protracted civil war breaking out in Syria. Before this development, civil war was already a risk. But now the risk is much higher. Before territorial protection, the group was no more than a radical flank accompanying a nonviolent campaign. But their new sanctuary will certainly help them build their strength, if not their operational effectiveness, to become a full-blown insurgency.

The good news is that there is still a committed civilian-led uprising occurring in Syria, and although the regime’s extreme violence has dealt some severe setbacks to this movement, it is still quite active and disruptive. This is good news is because recent research shows that civil resistance activities—even when conducted in the context of armed conflict—can enhance the possibilities of more durable civil peace and democracy after the conflict ends. In other words, although some people may choose to use violence to confront the regime, the conflict does not have to devolve into a purely violent one. And if civilian-led nonviolent resistance does remain the centerpiece of the anti-Assad campaign, we can be much more optimistic about the outcome and aftermath of the conflict.

Continue Reading