Academic journal article Trames

The Origins of Genocide in Civil War

Academic journal article Trames

The Origins of Genocide in Civil War

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

During the early 1990s, the former Yugoslavia was in turmoil. Tito failed to name a successor before his death and the six nations that comprised the land of the Slavs was growing increasingly tumultuous as the respective leaders competed for power and even tually engaged in multiple civil wars. When Slobodan Milosevic realized that the Krajina (translates to border in English) region of Croatia was something the Serbian population would not be able to secure, he decided to fight back by claiming a different piece of land for Greater Serbia. A few days later the portion of the population that was not Serbian, but residing in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina (despite the fact that it was declared a UN safe zone) was rounded up and either displaced or killed.

Regime type, prior conflict, level of development, ethnic, religious, and ideological differences are the factors generally associated with the risk of genocide or politicide (Fein 1979, Harff 1987, 2003, Fein 1993, Krain 1997). These factors have also been attributed with explaining the onset of other episodes of violence, especially the onset of civil war (Fearon and Laitin 2003, Sambanis 2001, Horowitz 1985) despite the fact that only a handful of the civil wars since 1955 have resulted in genocide or politicide. Something aside from the factors that lead to civil war are driving the inhumane acts of genocide/ politicide; otherwise such behavior would have been much more widespread in the recent past than it has been. I address this discrepancy by considering the following question: Why does the violence in some civil wars escalate to genocide/politicide, but not others?

In the following paragraphs, I discuss the scarce, but extant literature that in light of current research and statistical advancements make this study possible. Next, I develop a theoretical argument for why some civil wars escalate to genocide/politicide. Then, using a Heckman selection (Heckman 1979) model I test the argument that the duration and intensity of a civil war have an impact on the onset of genocide/politicide. I conclude with suggestions for future research and a discussion of the potential policy implications of this and similar work.

2. The current literature

The literature can be divided into two approaches; these approaches are based on the level of analysis examined. Some scholars (Melson 1990, 1996, Midlarsky 2005, Mitchell 2004) have examined the mechanisms by which individuals (leaders and their followers) are able to implement genocide or politicide. While others (Downes 2006, Valentino 2004, Harff and Gurr 2004, Harff 2003, 1987) have examined the environmental factors that make genocide or politicide more likely.

I focus on the environmental factors that make such events possible for three reasons. First, it allows me to engage a large portion of the existing quantitative analyses, as much of the literature that has been conducted at this level of analysis (Downes 2006, Valentino 2004, Harff and Gurr 2004, Harff 2003, 1987). Second, 80% of the cases identified as genocide or politicide (Harff 2003) occurred during a civil war. Finally, I focus on the factors that allow such atrocities to occur because even the vein of literature that focuses on leaders argues that in order to understand when and how leaders implement or allow these policies to be carried out, we must first understand the circumstances that either fail to prevent it, endorse it, or outright demand it (Mitchell 2004).

Harff (2003:58) defines Genocide/Politicide as the promotion, execution, and/or implied consent of sustained policies by governing elites or their agents-or, in the case of civil war, either of the contending authorities-that are intended to destroy, in whole or part, a communal, political, or politicized ethnic group. (1)

Using this definition, she argues that six preconditions account for 74% of such events between 1955 and 2000. …

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