The Revenge Effect

In a previous post, I have featured a widely published diagram which had obviously been created for enlightening its attentive viewers in the incredibly complicated situation in the war on terror in Afghanistan 9 years after 9/11. I have referred to an interesting analogy in Medicine, in particular, systems biology where teachers now and then like to use such ‘confusiograms’ when they want to bother their students. Such diagrams may create a lot of frustration but hardly lead to deeper understanding apart from merely strengthening students’ opinion about their teacher of being an idiot.

Some fundamental relationships between parties are so simple, though, that they apparently do not need further proof. Revenge is one of them. Showing the obvious in a manuscript submitted for publication will certainly prompt most reviewers to recommend rejection rather than acceptance for publication in a scientific journal with merits.

Well, whether a paper gets published or not may also depend on the authors’ merits and the analysis’ prudence. Luke N. Condra, Joseph H. Felter, Radha K. Iyengar and Jacob N. Shapira have presented a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper where they study the effect of civilian casualties (CIVCAS in the inhumane jargon of war strategists) in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In their paper, Condra et al. examine the effect of over 4000 civilian deaths from January 2009 to March 2010 and used uniquely-detailed micro-data from both Afghanistan and Iraq to assess the impact of civilian casualties on insurgent violence. In their analysis they were able to distinguish short-run ‘information’ and ‘capacity’ effects from longer run ‘recruiting’ and ‘revenge’ effects. In Afghanistan, there was strong evidence for the latter, i.e., International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) -generated civilian casualties drive increased insurgent violence over the long-run. “When ISAF units kill civilians this increases the numbers of willing combatants, leading to an increase in insurgent attacks.” According to the authors’ model, every innocent civilian killed by ISAF predicts an additional 0.03 attacks per 1000 population in the following next 6-week period. For instance, two counterinsurgent-generated civilian casualties from a typical incident in a district of, say, 83’000 people may thus be responsible for an additional 6 violent incidents in an average-sized district in the following 6 weeks. In Afghanistan, ISAF-generated civilian casualties lead to a long-term radicalization of insurgents and their recruitment.

As a consequence, if ISAF whishes to minimize insurgent recruitment, it must minimize harm to civilians despite the greater risks this entails.  There was no evidence of a similar reaction to civilian casualties in Iraq, suggesting insurgents’ mobilizing tools may be quite conflict-specific.

More information on the study and its results can be found here.


Last update July 8, 2010.

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