Who Takes the Blame? The Strategic Effects of Collateral Damage
82 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 6 Oct 2009
Date Written: September 27, 2009
Do armed actors in civil war reap strategic benefits from limiting civilian casualties and abiding by the laws of war? Furthermore, do civilians reward and punish armed actors for their behavior toward civilians? We study the strategic impact of civilian casualties in the Iraqi Civil War using original geo-coded data on Coalition-insurgent violence and on civilian casualties between February 2004 and December 2007. We argue that information civilians provide to Coalition forces is a key determinant of insurgent violence and provide evidence that this information ebbs and flows with how discriminately each actor treats the civilian population. We find that clear evidence that Coalition forces are punished for the collateral damage they inflict on civilians and that this indiscriminate behavior hurts the Coalition’s strategic objectives by increasing subsequent battlefield violence. We find limited evidence that civilians punish insurgent forces for their indiscriminate violence against civilians, at least in terms of reductions in subsequent violence. Besides implications for counter-insurgency policy, our data and findings advocate for the modeling of civil war-related outcomes at the sub-national level and for the inclusion of civilian agency in theories of insurgent violence.
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