Competence 2 Protect Civilians: State Capacity and Civilian Victimization in Civil Wars

Mustafa Kirisci


Why do some civil war states commit more violence against civilians than others? The existing empirical literature on civilian victimization focuses on rebel groups’ violence against civilians (e.g.Wood, 2010, 2014) and the role of third party actors (e.g. Wood, Kathman & Gent, 2012), but does not consider the effects that state capacity has on its propensity to use violence against civilians in civil wars. Drawing insights from the information and coercive model that are used to explain civilian victimization by states in the literature, I argue that while the stronger military capacity increases civilian killings by the state that involves in a civil war, the higher bureaucratic/administrative capacity decreases the level of violence directed against civilians by states. The better institutional capacity generates either incentives or disincentives to kill more civilians. By leaving standard measurements of state capacity, I find that using helicopters in civil wars strongly increases the number of civilians killed by government forces but having more motorized vehicles in the military does not have any effect on the civilian killings. Secondly, states with higher quality of providing public service kill less number of civilians but the higher state capacity to monitor the population does not have an impact on the use of violence against civilians by government forces in civil wars. These results provide some implications for policymakers at both strategic and tactical level to reduce civilian victimization in fighting rebel groups.

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