Inequality and political violence

Inequality and political violence

Whereas many researchers doubt that inequalities and grievances are related to the outbreak of political violence, our research argues that ethnic inequality and ethnonationalist mobilization are likely to trigger civil war. Following the publication of Cederman and Girardin (2007), we have spent several years collecting data on, and analyzing, ethnic groups and their participation in conflict processes. The book Inequality, Grievances and Civil War authored by Lars-Erik Cederman, Kristian Gleditsch (Univ. of Essex) and Halvard Buhaug (PRIO), provides an overview of this research.

Ethno-political inequality and civil conflict

Focusing on civil wars in the period following the end of World War II, our research demonstrates that groups excluded from influence over the executive, especially those whose power was recently reduced and those who are entirely blocked, are much more likely to engage in civil violence than those who enjoy secure access to state power (see Cederman, Wimmer and Min 2010; Cederman, Gleditsch and Buhaug 2013, Chap. 4). This research relies heavily on the EPR Core Dataset, which documents ethnic groups’ access to executive power worldwide.

In a subsequent study, responding to criticism alleging that the effect of ethnic exclusion on conflict is due to reverse causation, Wucherpfennig, Hunziker and Cederman (2016) show that political exclusion is indeed endogenous to the outbreak of civil war. Explaining conflict onset in post-colonial states, the study exploits differences in the colonial empires’ approach to the ethnicity of colonized populations within each colony. With this correction it can be shown that ethnic leaders typically include, rather than exclude, potential troublemakers. This therefore suggests that previous studies have underestimated the effect of exclusion on conflict.

Like in the case of conflict onset, our research shows that the duration of civil war is also related to ethno-political inequality. Introducing the ACD2EPR data, Wucherpfennig, Metternich, Cederman and Gleditsch (2012) find that rebel groups representing excluded ethnic groups fight longer civil wars than those representing included groups or no ethnic group at all (see also Cederman, Gleditsch and Buhaug, Chap. 8).

Currently, we are (also) exploring the link between political inequality and civil war in specific settings, together with partners from Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guatemala, India and Zambia. This research is part of the project on Ethnic Power Relations and Conflict in Fragile States, which is funded by the R4D program of the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. This project relies extensively on qualitative, case-based research, but will also produce a new dataset on political organizations and ethnicity called EPR Organizations.

Ethno-economic inequality and civil conflict

In addition to political exclusion, our research suggests that economic inequality among ethnic groups also influences the probability of conflict. In these cases, grievances usually emanate from resentment linked to governmental neglect and backwardness. Since it is notoriously difficult to find data on relative wealth at the group level, our research team has adopted a novel spatial approach that estimates regional income based on geographic data on economic wealth. Using the settlement areas drawn from the GeoEPR Dataset as “cookie cutters,” inspired by earlier applications of this overlay method (see Buhaug, Cederman and Rød 2009; Cederman, Buhaug and Rød 2009), we compute the relative wealth of ethnic groups since 1990 and show that ethno-economic inequality is indeed related to civil war onset (see Cederman, Weidmann and Gleditsch 2011 and Cederman, Gleditsch and Buhaug 2013, Chap. 5).

In a more recent study, Cederman, Weidmann and Bormann (2015) extend this approach by relying on remote sensing data on nightlight from satellites and a series of surveys. By and large, their findings confirm the previous results on economic inequality and conflict, indicating that the most robust link is between relatively poorer groups and conflict outbreak.

Ethno-political inclusion, power sharing and civil conflict

If exclusion begets conflict, then inclusion should yield peace. Yet, once conflict has broken out, reducing ethnic inequality may be much harder and may not bring the hoped-for pacifying effect. Furthermore, ethnic inclusion can be implemented in different ways, for example through governmental or territorial power sharing. In a study that evaluates the potential of territorial power sharing as a means of reducing conflict risk, Cederman, Hug, Schädel and Wuchperfennig (2015) show that autonomy arrangements have a preventive effect. They also show that, even after conflict, their effect is mostly conflict-dampening, provided that such institutions are combined with power sharing at the center. Following up this study with a closer focus on the post-Cold War period, Cederman, Gleditsch and Wucherpfennig (2016) confirm Ted Gurr’s conjecture that ethnic warfare has been declining thanks to a “regime of accommodation.”

This and related research was conducted in the context of the project on Ethnic Inclusion and Power-Sharing Institutions, in collaboration with Professor Simon Hug (University of Geneva) and with funding offered by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Ethno-political inequality and civilian victimization

Funded by the Swiss Network of International Studies, the ongoing project on Civilian Victimization and Conflict Escalation, carried out in collaboration with Professors Simon Hug and Livia Schubiger (LSE), has the goal of advancing our understanding of the consequences of violence against civilians by armed actors for subsequent patterns of conflict escalation. In collaboration with Professors Hanne Fjelde and Lisa Hultman, researchers at Uppsala University, this research/project will also produce a new dataset on the ethnicity of victim groups in cases of one-sided violence.

Various dimensions of ethnic inequality

Rather than treating ethnicity as a mere combination of substantive diacritica, Bormann, Cederman and Vogt (forthcoming) introduce an extension to the EPR Dataset, called EPR Ethnic Dimensions (EPR-ED), which covers language, religion and race, conceptualized as distinct biogeographic origins that have become relevant as social categories through European colonialism. Contrary to much of the literature on religion and conflict, this study finds that linguistic cleavages are on average more important as predictors of civil-war violence than religious ones.

Ethnic inequality and conflict beyond the state’s borders

All the research on inequality and conflict described above makes the assumption that domestic factors cause civil war. An important strand of the ICR Group’s research adopts an “open polity perspective,” focusing on how transborder ethnic links influence conflict patterns.

Using data on ethnic links drawn from the geocoded GREG Dataset, Cederman, Girardin and Gleditsch (2009) find that the spread of conflict depends on ethno-political configurations, rather than ethnic solidarity per se. Extending this perspective, Cederman, Gleditsch, Salehyan and Wuchperpfennig (2013) rely on EPR-compatible data on Transborder Ethnic Kin in an analysis that explains how the power balance between politically included ethnic groups in the host and home states influences the risk of civil war in the former (see also Cederman, Gleditsch and Buhaug 2013, Chap. 6). This research shows why the “Russian Near Abroad” has been relatively peaceful since the end of the Cold War and why the Ukraine is the most likely exception from this rule.

The project on the Causes and Consequences of Irredentism, which is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, is currently investigating how, and under what circumstances, irredentism emerges, and how it may drive different types of conflict, including both civil and interstate war.

Warfare may also spread across state borders through refugee flows. While the vast majority of all refugees are peaceful, forced migration may undermine the stability of host countries in various ways, with civil conflict as a consequence. For more information, see the completed project Refugee Flows and Transnational Ethnic Linkages, which we ran together with Professor Idean Salehyan, presently at the University of Texas at Dallas, and Professor Simon Hug, with funding from the Swiss Network for International Studies.