Sunday, March 30, 2008

Killing Civilians Is Good For You

Apologies for the lapse - like most academics trained in international relations theory, I spent last week in San Francisco attending the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association .

Of the papers I heard presented, one sticks out: Alexander Downes of Duke University has done a quantitative analysis comparing civilian targeting in inter-state wars to the likelihood that a state will win, as well as to the number of military casualties they absorb vis-a-vis their enemy. Downes finds that killing civilians has historically been strongly correlated with winning. But, he also found this has changed over time, and that since about 1941 killing civilians has been more and more counterproductive to war efforts. He doesn't explain why.

At least one influential book - Caleb Carr's The Lessons of Terror finds the opposite - but admittedly Carr's analysis is a historian's account rather than a statistical analysis.

I couldn't find the paper in the ISA 2008 archive, but Downes has apparently expanded on his argument in a new book, Targeting Civilians in War, which I'll have to read before I report on my impression of his data.


hank_F_M said...

I'm looking forwrd to your review.

Charli Carpenter said...

I found the paper in the archive. It's at this link.

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