Ethnic Violence Across Space
Ethnic violence requires spatial proximity between ethnic groups, but the role of distance between groups for conflict remains understudied. We develop a structural model of spatial violence in which ethnic groups recruit fighters strategically across space to maximize their impact. Spatial decay of violence determines the equilibrium placement of fighters and implies specific spatial patterns of conflict. We then estimate the structural parameters of the model using fine-grained data on ethnic groups and violence from 24 ethnically divided countries. We find that in more than half of these, spatial decay is substantial: half of all ethnic violence dissipates after 350km. Consequently, violence is higher near ethnic borders, although a substantial share of violence originates from distant locations. Using the estimated parameters of the model, we also find that ethnic conflict is strongly asymmetric, especially in states with higher state capacity. Counterfactual estimates suggest that setting up barriers can reduce violence but pacifying groups with more grievances is often more effective.
In this project we bring a new view to the conflict litereature by modeling violence as an interaction across space. Our idea is that perpetrators of violence need an operational base and this generates spatial patterns around this base which can be identified in the data.
The project has shifted gears in 2020 as we changed the application of our model to 24 countries instead of one region (Northern Ireland). The model we developed can give rise to a new index of violence potential where situations are more risky where ethnic groups live in very mixed areas. This should not be regarded as an argument for segregation. Ethnic conflict is more likely to arise where ethnic differences are pronounced and ethnicities live segregated.
Published paper is available here. Link to the most recent draft is here. This project builds on a previous joint project on spatial violence which used data from Northern Ireland called The Peace Dividend of Distance: Violence as Interaction Across Space and which is available here.