Are combatants rational strategic actors, and, if not, how meaningful are deviations from rational calculation on conflict outcomes? Do refugees tend to destabilize the communities within which they settle? Are are unemployed members of conflict-ridden societies the most likely to endorse the use of violence? Do combatants pay a strategic price when they harm civilians during the course of battle? What explains the Taliban's choice of violent tactics in its efforts to undermine Afghanistan's elections? These are just several of the questions my research addresses. 

Civilians in Conflict


The Effect of Civilian Casualties on Wartime Informing: New Evidence from Iraq, w/ Jacob Shapiro. (Forthcoming in the Journal of Conflict Resolution.)


Scholars of civil war and insurgency have long posited that insurgent organizations and their state enemies incur costs for the collateral damage they cause. We provide the first direct quantitative evidence that wartime informing to counterinsurgent forces is affected by civilian victimization. Using newly declassified data on tip flow to Coalition forces in Iraq we find that information flow goes down after government forces inadvertently kill civilians and it goes up when insurgents do so. These results confirm a relationship long posited in the theoretical literature on insurgency but never directly observed, have strong policy implications, and are consistent with a broad range of circumstantial evidence on the topic.


Civilian Abuse and Wartime Informing, w/ Luke Condra, Jacob Shapiro, and Austin Wright.

Civilian support is central to the success of counterinsurgent campaigns. Harm to civilians, and who harms them, influences when and with whom non-combatants collaborate. Drawing on newly declassied military records and a novel instrumental variables approach, we find robust, direct evidence that civilians respond to victimization by insurgents by providing intelligence to security forces in Afghanistan. These results clarify the conditions under which civilian casualties can shape the course of internal war, with implications for future research on political violence.


Employment Status and Support for Wartime Violence: 

Evidence from the Iraq War. 

The unemployed are often inculpated in violence production during state-state conflict. A common argument describes these individuals as disaffected and inclined to perpetrate aectively motivated violence. Another holds that they are drawn to violent political organizations for lack of outside opportunities. Yet, evidence supporting a general positive relationship between unemployment and wartime violence is not established. Following a large body of psychological research, I contend that loss of employment instead increases feelings of depression, anxiety and helplessness, with effects on perceptions of ecacy and the desire for retribution. Contrary to conventional wisdom, unemployed members of war-torn societies are more likely to reject the use of violence. Drawing from a major, heretofore unreleased Iraq War survey dataset, I find that unemployed Iraqis were consistently less optimistic than other citizens; displayed diminished perceptions of ecacy; and were much less likely to support the use of violence against Coalition forces.

Exploring the Micro-Foundations of Insurgent Behavior


Afghanistan Elections and Taliban Violence, w/ Luke Condra, James Long, and Austin Wright. (Invited for revision by the American Economic Review.)

Competitive elections are essential to establishing the political legitimacy of democratizing regimes. We argue that armed actors undermine the state's mandate through electoral violence. We theorize when and where insurgents attack around elections and test the argument using newly declassied microdata on the conflict in Afghanistan. Our data tracks insurgent activity by hour, to within meters of attack locations. Our results demonstrate that insurgents carefully calibrate their production of violence in and around elections to avoid harming civilians. Leveraging a novel instrumental variables approach, we find that these tactics effectively depress voting. Counterfactual exercises provide potentially actionable insights for safeguarding at-risk elections and enhancing electoral legitimacy in emerging democracies.


Information and Communication Technologies, Wartime Informing, and Consequences

for Substate Conflict. (Invited for revision by International Studies Quarterly.)

In this article, I explore the relationship between wartime informing by civilians, information and communication technologies (ICT), and the production of violence by insurgents. I theorize that the eect of ICT-facilitated informing on wartime violence depends upon the degree of organizational planning and, separately, weapons-use constraints associated with insurgent attacks. Newly declassified data on calls--both false and legitimate--placed to a "tips" telephone hotline operated by British forces in Iraq's Basra region during the recent Iraq war reveal that insurgents' eorts to overwhelm the platform were extensive--on some days, roughly 1,200 false calls were received for every ve legitimate tips provided by informants. Nevertheless, intelligence received through the line appears to have led to reductions in the most organized forms of insurgent violence as well as attacks with weaponry that were most likely to be drawn from caches before their use. Intelligence is also associated with significant increases in direct re attacks, which may reect substitution by insurgents into less well coordinated, and likely less eective, forms of attack.

Refugees and the Spread of Conflict


Do Refugees Spread Conflict? w/ Yang-Yang Zhou. (Invited for revision by the Journal of Politics.)

As the number of forcibly displaced individuals around the world continues to reach record highs, understanding how their presence affects conflict is a major outstanding academic and policy question. Using new geo-coded data on refugee sites and civil conflict data at the subnational level from 1989 to 2008, we find no support for claims that refugees increase the likelihood of civil conflict where they settle. Moreover, we find that provinces hosting refugee sites experience substantively large decreases in their likelihood of civil conflict, when there are no other provinces hosting refugee sites within the same country for a given year. We confirm these findings when examining heterogeneous effects of formal refugee camps and informal settlements. To exclude the possibility of selection on unobserved confounders, we use placebo tests to show that there are no effects of future refugee sites on conflict outcomes.