International Economic Sanctions and Civilian Victimization in Civil Wars
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Belligerents of civil wars use civilian violence as an instrument of war. Civilians are deliberately targeted by both government forces and rebel groups. Scholars posit that violence against civilians results from two strategic interactions between: 1) parties to the conflict, and 2) conflict actors and civilians. In irregular warfare, belligerents seek popular support, as their victory hinges on the cooperation they receive from civilians, such as recruits, taxes, information, and shelter. Civilians offer such support in return for some benefits such as their physical security. However, their ability to provide civilian protection depends on the resources available to them. On a different avenue, current research posits that international economic sanctions affect belligerents’ ability to fight a war. Sanctions that entail restrictions on transnational transactions tip the capability balance against the targets. This project seeks to combine these two approaches to develop a causal mechanism linking economic sanctions with civilian violence. As the sanctions constrain the flow of resources to their targets rendering them weaker relative to their adversary, the sanctioned side turns to civilians in order to replenish their depleting resources vital for their survival as well as for continuing the war. Unable to selectively target those who defy and defect, the perpetrators use brute force and increase the overall level of violence to signal to others that defiance and defection are costly. Hypotheses derived from this model are then tested on the cases of one-sided violence for all civil wars in the post-Cold War period. The empirical results support the theoretical expectations, as they show that the targets of economic sanctions are likely to kill more civilians.