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Water over the Bridge: Civilian Targeting and Militarized Interstate Conflict Processes

  • Replication Data   .csv (R)  .dta (Stata)  (coming soon)

Abstract: To what extent does civilian targeting independently shape interstate conflict processes? I argue that indiscriminate foreign attacks on civilians increase that population’s perception of threat, motivating their leaders to retaliate, while increasing the costs of ineffective threats and diplomatic concessions. Because civilian targeting activates an independent threat against a leader’s sovereignty, targeted state leaders have an incentive to not only reciprocate, but to use militarized force. However, mutual ratification of international humanitarian law may alter state interests against civilian targeting behavior.

     I documented civilian targeting behavior and resulting fatalities for each militarized confrontation between two or more states from 1946 to 2010. This enables research viewing interstate conflict as a continuous process, comprising interconnected sub-war behaviors, rather than discrete periods of peace and conflict. My statistical analyses take advantage of this dynamic, examining durations of peace months between conflict events. 

     My results find strong support for the hostile effects indiscriminate civilian targeting can induce between states, even at low levels with few fatalities and even between joint democracies. Joint ratification of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions within the disputing dyad has a pacifying effect that may prevent these types of initial civilian targeting actions. By studying the effects of civilian targeting behavior as the conflict progresses alongside preventative factors such as joint ratification of international law, we can improve our understanding of individual moments that may obstruct peace.


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