Military Empowerment and Civilian Targeting in Civil War

Posted: 13 Aug 2009

Date Written: 2009


Civilians constitute a large share of casualties in civil wars across the world. They are targeted to create fear and punish allegiance with the enemy. This maximizes collaboration with the perpetrator and strengthens the support network necessary to consolidate control over contested regions. I develop a model of the magnitude and structure of civilian killings in civil wars involving two armed groups who Â…fight over territorial control. Armies secure compliance through a combination of carrots and sticks. In turn, civilians differ from each other in their intrinsic preference towards one group. I explore the effect of the empowerment of one of the groups in the civilian death toll. There are two effects that go in opposite directions. While a direct effect makes the powerful group more lethal, there is an indirect effect by which the number of civilians who align with that group increases, leaving less enemy supporters to kill. I study the conditions under which there is one dominant effect and illustrate the predictions using sub-national longitudinal data for Colombia's civil war.

Keywords: Civil War, Civilian Targeting, Colombia, Panel Data

JEL Classification: C23, D74

Suggested Citation

Vargas, Juan F., Military Empowerment and Civilian Targeting in Civil War (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Juan F. Vargas (Contact Author)

Universidad del Rosario ( email )

Calle 12 No. 6-25
Bogota, DC

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