In this set of projects, I leverage spatial event data to explore the microlevel dynamics of political violence. What explains patterns of action and reaction between actors engaged in different types of political violence? What role can violence at the local level serve in advancing broader political ends?
Christian Oswald, Melanie Sauter, Sigrid Weber, and Rob Williams. “Under the Roof of Rebels: Civilian Targeting After Territorial Takeover in Sierra Leone.” Revise and resubmit. [Working Paper] [Supplemental Information]
When are civil wars particularly dangerous for civilians? This research note shows that transition periods after rebels take over territorial control are remarkably violent for civilians. Previous research on civilian targeting in conflicts, in particular Stathis Kalyvas’ The Logic of Violence in Civil War, has focused on a dichotomy between contested territories and areas fully controlled by one conflict party to explain different levels of violence against civilians. We draw attention to the transition processes between those poles – when successful insurgents that recently gained territory turn into rebel rulers. We argue that rebels’ interaction with civilians during this transformation is particularly violent due to lacking resources and knowledge to govern peacefully. To test this dynamic argument, we draw on methodological advances in integrating event data and combine the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data project and the UCDP Georeferenced Event Dataset to study patterns of violence in Sierra Leone from 1997-2001. We perform spatiotemporal inference that shows that civilian targeting increases in the period after rebels capture territory from the government compared to areas without territorial takeover. This finding refines research on the question when and where civilians are targeted in civil war.
Navin Bapat, Daniel Gustafson, and Rob Williams. “Terrorism, Stealth Aggression, and Political Opportunism.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Peace Science Society (International), South Bend, IN, November, 2016.
Why do governments respond to terrorist attacks with repression, given that terrorism typically produces insignificant damage, and repression often increases popular support for terrorists? This study argues that governments use repression in response to terrorist attacks for both strategic and opportunistic reasons. Strategically, attacks may signal that terrorists are destabilizing the government’s control of its territory. Since state power is endogenous to the territory it controls, these losses may precipitously weaken the government and make it vulnerable to internal and external challengers. Governments therefore turn to violence in an effort to maintain territories that are critical to maintaining power. On the other hand, the specter of destabilization allows opportunistic leaders in quasi-democratic regimes to repress political adversaries and retain office indefinitely in the name of fighting terrorism. We find support for these hypotheses using data on African, Asian, and Middle Eastern states from 1992-2010.