Research Affiliations

Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law, University of Texas at Austin 2009-
Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics 2010-


Confronting the Curse: The Economics and Geopolitics of Natural Resource Governance (with Marcus Noland, book under contract with the Peterson Institute for International Economics).

Peer-Reviewed Articles

2014. “State Capacity and Terrorism: A Two-Dimensional Approach.” Security Studies (with Joseph K. Young).


Conventional wisdom suggests that dissident groups use terrorism when they face an overwhelmingly more powerful state, yet attacks in developing countries have predominated in the post-Cold War era, suggesting that terrorism is an increasingly weak state phenomenon. Cross-national studies of terrorism find mixed results for how common measures of state capacity influence terrorism.  We argue that these indeterminate findings are due in part to a partial understanding of both what constitutes state capacity and how different aspects of state strength or weakness relate to the propensity of groups to use terrorism.  We decompose state capacity into two dimensions that we theorize are particularly relevant to dissident groups: military capacity, or the ability to project conventional military force, and bureaucratic/administrative capacity. Our analysis supports the claim that terrorist attacks are more frequently targeted at states with large, technologically sophisticated militaries, but less frequently targeted at states with higher bureaucratic and administrative capacity. We also compare two militarily capable states, France and Russia, that have different recent experiences with terrorism that help illustrate the causal mechanisms involved. Evidence from our models and cases suggest that states can be capable in different ways, and these various capabilities create differing incentives for using terror as a strategic and tactical tool.

2014. “Knowing Your Audience: How the Structure of International Relations and Organizational Choices Affect Amnesty International’s Advocacy.” Review of International Organizations (with Wendy H. Wong).


While research has addressed the effects of INGO advocacy on human rights, less is known about how INGOs choose advocacy targets and tactics. We combine insights from political economy and constructivism to understand how INGOs come to choose targets and tactics through the concepts of information and leverage politics, first articulated by Keck and Sikkink (1998), and salience politics, or the need to select cases that energize organization members and donors. Organizations must select potential targets of their advocacy and figure out how to implement their campaigns based on a consideration of leverage potential, given linkages with powerful Western states, and political salience, based on organizational imperatives. Using data on Amnesty International’s (AI) written advocacy efforts – background reports, press releases, and new data on Urgent Actions (UAs) – we find robust evidence that AI accounts for aid, trade, and security linkages with Western powers in choosing targets for its advocacy campaigns. 

2013. “Food Security and Conflict Dynamics: Causal Linkages and Complex Feedbacks.” Stability: International Journal of Security and Development 2(2): 26 (with Henk-Jan Brinkman).


This paper addresses two related topics: 1) the circular link between food insecurity and conflict, with particular emphasis on the Sahel, and 2) the potential role of food security interventions in reducing the risk of violent conflicts. While we eschew mono-causal explanations of conflict, acute food insecurity can be a factor in popular mobilization and a risk multiplier. Moreover, violent conflict itself is a major driver of acute food insecurity. If food insecurity is a threat multiplier for conflict, improving food security can reduce tensions and contribute to more stable environments. If these interventions are done right, the vicious cycle of food insecurity and conflict can be transformed into a virtuous cycle of food security and stability that provides peace dividends, reduces conflict drivers, enhances social cohesion, rebuilds social trust, and builds the legitimacy and capacity of governments.

2013. “When is the Pen Truly Mighty? Regime Type and the Efficacy of Naming and Shaming in Curbing Human Rights Abuses.” British Journal of Political Science 43 (3): 651-672 (with Wendy H. Wong)


Does naming and shaming target states affect respect for human rights in those states? This article argues that incentives to change repressive behaviour when facing international condemnation vary across regime types. In democracies and hybrid regimes – which mingle democratic with authoritarian institutions – opposition parties and relatively free presses paradoxically make rulers less likely to change behaviour when facing international criticism. Autocracies, which lack these domestic sources of information on abuses, are thus more sensitive to international shaming. Using data on naming and shaming taken from Western press reports and Amnesty International, the authors demonstrate that naming and shaming is associated with improved human rights outcomes in autocracies, but with either no effect or a worsening of outcomes in democracies and hybrid regimes.

2012. “Social Conflict in Africa: A New Database.” International Interactions 38(4): 503-511 (with Idean Salehyan, Jesse Hamner, Christina Case^, Christopher Linebarger^, Emily Stull^, and Jennifer Williams#.


We describe the Social Conflict in Africa Database (SCAD), a new event dataset for conducting research and analysis on various forms of social and political unrest in Africa. SCAD contains information on over 7,200 instances of protests, riots, strikes, government repression, communal violence, and other forms of unrest for 47 African countries from 1990–2010. SCAD includes information on event dates, actors and targets, lethality, georeferenced location information, and other conflict attributes. This article gives an overview of the data collection process, presents descriptive statistics and trends across the continent, and compares SCAD to the widely used Banks event data. We believe that SCAD will be a useful resource for scholars across multiple disciplines as well as for the policy community.

2012. “Climate Change, Rainfall, and Social Conflict in Africa.” Journal of Peace Research 49(1): 35-50 (with Idean Salehyan).


Much of the debate over the security implications of climate change revolves around whether changing weather patterns will lead to future conflict. This article addresses whether deviations from normal rainfall patterns affect the propensity for individuals and groups to engage in disruptive activities such as demonstrations, riots, strikes, communal conflict, and anti-government violence. In contrast to much of the environmental security literature, it uses a much broader definition of conflict that includes, but is not limited to, organized rebellion. Using a new database of over 6,000 instances of social conflict over 20 years – the Social Conflict in Africa Database (SCAD) – it examines the effect of deviations from normal rainfall patterns on various types of conflict. The results indicate that rainfall variability has a significant effect on both large-scale and smaller-scale instances of political conflict. Rain- fall correlates with civil war and insurgency, although wetter years are more likely to suffer from violent events. Extreme deviations in rainfall – particularly dry and wet years – are associated positively with all types of political conflict, though the relationship is strongest with respect to violent events, which are more responsive to abundant than scarce rainfall. By looking at a broader spectrum of social conflict, rather than limiting the analysis to civil war, we demonstrate a robust relationship between environmental shocks and unrest.

2011. “Civil Conflict and World Fisheries, 1952-2004.” Journal of Peace Research 48(4): 481-495 (with Sarah M. Glaser. Winner, Nils Petter Gleditsch Journal of Peace Research Article of the Year Award, 2011).


While the negative economic consequences of civil conflict are well known, does civil conflict have sector-specific effects that threaten food and economic security? This article surveys the effects of civil conflict on reported marine and inland fish catch, focusing on the effects of conflict through redeployment of labor, population displacement, counter-insurgency strategy and tactics, and third-party encroachment into territorial waters. Analysis of 123 countries from 1952 to 2004 demonstrates a strong, statistically robust and negative relationship between civil conflict and fisheries, with civil wars (1000+ battle deaths) depressing catch by over 16% relative to prewar levels. The magnitude of this effect is large: the cumulative contraction in total fish catch associated with civil war onset is roughly 13 times larger than the estimated effect of an extraordinarily strong El Niño, the ocean-atmosphere phenomenon associated with global declines in fisheries. Robust evidence of a Phoenix effect is lacking: post-conflict fisheries do not quickly bounce back to prewar catch levels due to more rapid growth. Analysis of conflict episodes indicates that conflict intensity, measured by battle deaths, negatively affects fish catch, while population displacement and conflict proximity to the coast do not. While these findings contribute to the growing literature on the economic effects of civil conflict, they also are important for regional fisheries management organizations, which must increasingly pay attention to sociopolitical factors that dramatically affect the utilization of aquatic resources.

2011. “Head for the Hills? Rough Terrain, State Capacity, and Civil War Onset.” Civil Wars 13(4): 345-370.


This article expands on the conventional discourse relating rough terrain—mountainous terrain and noncontiguous territory—to civil war onset. In addition to their direct effects on the strategic and tactical logic of insurgency, I argue these factors affect state capacity, as measured by tax capacity, and exert an indirect effect through this channel. Because tax capacity proxies bureaucratic and administrative capacity as well as material resources, it conditions the decision to rebel more than military capacity per se. I find a negative relationship between mountainous terrain and to a lesser extent, noncontiguous territory, and state capacity. Subsequently, I find tax capacity is strongly and negatively associated with civil war onset, though this relationship appears only with longer than conventional temporal lags. The cumulative (direct + indirect effect mediated by state capacity) of rough terrain is roughly 45 per cent larger than its direct effect.

2011. “Civil War: Is it All About Disease and Xenophobia? A Comment on Letendre, Fincher & Thornhill.” Biological Reviews 87(1): 163-167 (with Kristian Skrede Gleditsch).


Letendre, Fincher & Thornhill (2010) argue that pathogen intensity provides the ultimate explanation for why some countries are more prone to civil war than others. They argue that the economic and political factors highlighted in previous research on civil war are largely caused by underlying differences in pathogen intensity, and contend that disease proneness increases the risk of civil war through its effects on resource competition and xenophobia. They present empirical evidence that they interpret as consistent with their argument: a statistically significant correlation between pathogen intensity and civil war onset. In this comment, we raise concerns over their interpretation of the empirical evidence and their proposed causal mechanisms. We find that the data provide stronger evidence for the reverse causal relationship, namely that civil war causes disease to become more prevalent. This finding is consistent with the literatures on the public health effects of civil war as well as research on state capacity and public health.

2010. “Measuring State Capacity: Theoretical and Empirical Implications for the Study of Civil Conflict.” Journal of Peace Research 47(3): 273-285.


This article identifies and addresses key conceptual and measurement issues raised by measures of state capacity in studies of civil conflict. First, it reviews competing definitions and operationalizations of state capacity, focusing specifically on those that emphasize (1) military capacity, (2) bureaucratic administrative capacity, and (3) the quality and coherence of political institutions. Second, it critically assesses these measures on the basis of construct validity, focusing attention on whether they accurately capture the theoretical concept of state capacity, and whether they allow the researcher to differentiate between competing causal mechanisms. Third, it employs principal factor analysis to identify the underlying dimensionality of 15 different operationalizations of state capacity. State capacity is characterized by low dimensionality, with three factors – or dimensions of state capacity – explaining over 90% of the variance in the 15 measures. While the first factor, rational legality, captures bureaucratic and administrative capacity, the second, rentier-autocraticness, and third, neopatrimoniality, capture aspects of state capacity that cut across theoretical categories. The article concludes by suggesting a multivariate approach to modeling state capacity, and that (1) survey measures of bureaucratic quality, and (2) tax capacity are the most theoretically and empirically justified.

2007. “Trends and Triggers: Climate, Climate Change and Civil Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Political Geography 26(6): 695-715 (with Sarah M. Glaser).


The conventional discourse relating climate change to conflict focuses on long term trends in temperature and precipitation that define ecosystems and their subsequent impact on access to renewable resources. Because these changes occur over long time periods they may not capture the proximate factors that trigger conflict. We estimate the impact of both long term trends in climate and short term climatic triggers on civil conflict onset in Sub-Saharan Africa. We find that both operationalizations have a significant impact. Climates more suitable for Eurasian agriculture are associated with a decreased likelihood of conflict, while freshwater resources per capita are positively associated with the likelihood of conflict. Moreover, positive changes in rainfall are associated with a decreased likelihood of conflict in the following year. We also assess the outlook for the future by analyzing simulated changes in precipitation means and variability over the period 2000–2099. We find few statistically significant, positive trends in our measure of interannual variability, suggesting that it is unlikely to be affected dramatically by expected changes in climate.

Works in Progress/Under Review

Climate Shocks and Political Violence (with Idean Salehyan).


The dominant academic and policy discourse on the security implications of climate change has typically asserted that acute environmental scarcity–such as that caused by drought–fuels political and economic grievances and political violence. In contrast, we argue that there are good reasons why drought might have a pacifying effect on armed conflict, and that political violence should be more prevalent during periods of comparatively better agro-climatic conditions. We argue that political violence is more prevalent when basic needs are met and when the tactical environment is more conducive to attacks – conditions that hold when water is more abundant. Empirically, this paper explores the relationship between acute environmental scarcity – droughts and water availability – and political violence in a global sample of countries, 1979-2006. We find that water abundance is positively correlated with political violence. These findings are robust to alternate measures of both political violence and water abundance. We conclude with a brief discussion of the policy implications of our findings.


International Food Prices, Regime Type, and Protest in the Developing World (with Stephan Haggard).


Anecdotal evidence from the international food price crises of 2007-8 and 2010-11 raises the more general question of whether international food prices have bearing on patterns of contentious politics in developing countries. Drawing on a data set of protest in 55 major cities in 49 Asian and African countries for the period 1961-2006, we find that international food prices are associated with an increase in protests and riots. However, we find that the effects of world food prices on urban unrest are contingent on the level of income and regime type. While economic development dampens the effects of international food prices on protest, we find that democracies are more prone to urban unrest during periods of high food prices. These findings support an open-economy approach to the study of contentious politics in the developing world.

Democracy and Policy Responses to the 2007-08 Food Crisis in Developing Countries.


The 2007-08 food price spike was an international crisis that was especially threatening to the developing world, where food insecurity is prevalent and large percentages of the population are employed in agriculture. Yet policy responses varied markedly, ranging from export restrictions to consumer subsidies and direct aid to the poor. I develop a theoretical argument about why developing democracies have greater incentives to provide aid in ways that minimize market distortions and direct costs imposed on rural agricultural producers. First, democracy reduces the degree of rural-urban bias in policy choices by endowing the rural sector with more political influence than in autocratic systems, and thus diminishes incentives to combat rising prices with price controls, which harm rural livelihoods. Second, democracy endows the poor with relatively more influence over political outcomes. Thus, it diminishes incentives to enact policies that primarily benefit the middle and upper classes, such as consumer subsidies, and increases incentives to implement programs that target the poor directly, such as work-for-food programs. Using a dataset on policy responses to the 2007-08 crisis in 110 developing countries, I test these arguments. Facing a common crisis, democracies were more likely to use policy instruments targeted at the poor, such as food-for-work and food rations/stamps, and were less likely to institute policies that distorted market signals and imposed costs on rural producers, such as price controls and consumer subsidies. The analysis also provides some evidence that democracies were less likely to institute policies that exacerbated the crisis at the global level.

Climate Change, Drought, and Conflict in Africa’s River Basins (with Colleen Devlin#).


Growing populations and rapid economic growth are placing increasing demands on African water resources. Moreover, climate change is forecast to further exacerbate water scarcity in some of the most populated regions of the continent – particularly the Nile and Niger River basins. These trends fuel speculation that acute water scarcity, such as that caused by drought or decreased river runoff, will be a significant driver of Malthusian conflict between states, especially those that share rivers. We develop a dyadic bargaining model of conflict in which local water scarcity exerts countervailing effects on state incentives to engage in conflict, increasing demand for shared resources but undermining the economic resource base necessary for armed mobilization and increasing the opportunity cost associated with the use of force. Using new measures of water scarcity and accounting for time-invariant factors affecting conflict propensity, this study investigates the relationship between water scarcity and interstate disputes among riparian states in Africa, 1960-2001. The quantitative findings are further explored via a comparative case study of conflict dynamics in the Nile and Niger River basins.

Complex Feedbacks Between Fisheries, Food Security, and Civil Conflict (with Sarah M. Glaser).


The effects of climate change on human security are frequently mediated through resource systems.  For example, where rain-fed agriculture contributes to regional food security, rainfall shocks can increase food prices, subsequently raising the risk of protests, riots, and even armed conflict.  In turn, civil conflict can place further stresses on both food prices and natural resources, creating a positive feedback. The reciprocal effects between civil conflict and fisheries are relatively unexamined.  We present a global analysis of civil conflict during 1952-2004 and demonstrate a significant negative impact on national fish catch reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. To elucidate the mechanisms behind this pattern, we conduct a case study of the fisheries in Lake Victoria, East Africa.  Time series for rainfall, fish catch and effort, fish and substitute food prices, and civil conflict are examined through a complex systems approach.  The effects of fish catch and effort on food security are amplified by civil conflict and mediated by the effects of rainfall on other agricultural commodities.  Given predictions of increased rainfall variability in Africa under scenarios of global climate change, such mechanisms point to possible actions by governments to ameliorate threats to food security.


A House Divided: Intra-Regime Violence and State Repression in Africa (with Idean Salehyan).


Why do governments in Africa repress certain contentious challenges but not others? This study adopts a blended approach to studying repression by taking seriously both the characteristics of contentious events as well as nature of the regime in power. Along with previous studies of the dissent-repression nexus, we argue that the more threatening a movement is—as measured by the use of violence, opposition demands, and targets—the more likely the state is to use repressive force. However, we relax the assumption that the state is a unitary actor, and allow for the preferences of state leaders and of the security forces to diverge when it comes to carrying out repressive policies. Countries with a history of factionalism in their security forces face an additional challenge: orders to crack down on opposition supporters may not be followed or could even backfire as police and military forces defect. Weak, unprofessional militaries may be reluctant to carry out orders and divisions within society – especially ethnic divisions – may coincide with divisions in the security apparatus, making repression of popular forces a risky proposition. We test these propositions using the Social Conflict in Africa Database, and find significant support for our core theoretical conjecture: regimes with a history of past military factionalism are generally less likely to use repression. Such regimes are especially unwilling to repress ethnically-based, ascriptive movements as such groups could be especially likely to divide loyalties within the ruling coalition. These results are robust to several estimators that address the hierarchical nature of the event data.


2012-2014. National Science Foundation, “Conflict and Fisheries in the Lake Victoria Basin,” ($229,881) (with Sarah M. Glaser and Les Kaufman).

2009-2014. Department of Defense ‐ Minerva Research Initiative (MRI), “Program on Climate Change, State Stability, and Political Risk in Africa,” ($780,519) (with Idean Salehyan).

2010-2011. University of North Texas, Research Opportunity Grant, “Repertoires of Advocacy: How Human Rights NGOs Curb Abuses” ($7,500).

2008-2009. University of North Texas, Faculty Research Grant, “Climate Change and Conflict in Africa” ($5,000).

2008. Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) Travel Grant ($3,034).

^ Graduate student.

# Undergraduate student.

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