November 15, 2021

Strategic Violence


  • Perspectives on strategic ethnic violence
    • elite vs ‘on-the-ground’
  • Example: Tulsa Race Riot
  • Wilkinson (2004)

Strategic Ethnic Violence:

Fearon and Laitin (2000) identify different strategic logics:

  • “elite manipulation”
  • “on-the-ground”

Strategic Violence from Below

  • Ethnic Security Dilemma (Posen 1993)
    • if offensive/defensive actions indistinguishable; attacking first is advantageous
    • mobilization for self-defense provokes counter-mobilization
    • rational to attack “defensively”
  • Policing boundaries:
    • non-elites may use violence to secure their access to resources (e.g. jobs) from new/rival groups (Dancygier)
  • Opportunism:
    • exploit ethnic divide for personal gain (Das)

Elite Manipulation

Political elites may encourage violence for several reasons:

  • Win Elections:
    • increase attractiveness of ethnic vs other parties
    • suppress/displace voters for rival parties
  • Consolidating power:
    • shift balance of power within ethnic group
    • establish political dominance of one ethnic group

Violence as a means to accomplish these goals (directly or indirectly)

An Example

Tulsa Race Riot

What factors seem important in explaining this riot?

How important are strategic calculations?

Horowitz (2001)

Key causal contributors to “Deadly Ethnic Riots”:

  1. hostile relationship between ethnic groups
  2. an event that elicits anger/outrage from one of these groups (precipitating event)
    • typically an even that transgresses ethnic boundary, perceived as threat to moral relationship
  3. sense that killings are justified (Relational Models Theory)
  4. assessment that the risks of engaging in violence are low (limited retaliation, punishment)

Horowitz (2001)

Applied to Tulsa:

  1. racial tensions in US have a long history
  2. alleged sexual assault, ‘attack’ on white man, armed black men are precipitating events
  3. white belief that violence is justified response to sexual assault, threat of armed African American men
  4. mob deputized by police; National Guard mobilized and assisted the mob

Limits of strategic explanations

Violence too complex to have one cause: purely strategic explanations are lacking:

  • moral/psychological responses
  • structural/cultural context

BUT moral psychology, cultural context may change too slowly to explain when and where violence takes place…

Wilkinson (2004)

Theorizes two different strategic logics for violence, we focus on one today, one Wednesday:

  • motives of perpetrators
  • what about motives of the state (actors able to stop violence)?

In Tulsa, the state chose when to stop/allow rioting. National Guard able to stop rioters when committed to that purpose.

Wilkinson wants to explain: what leads governments to stop or permit riots to continue?

Gujarat (2002)

In late February 2002, a train carrying Hindu nationalists home to Gujarat from Ayodhya\(^*\) caught fire, 58 people died

  • the cause of fire is disputed, but allegations that Muslims had set fire to the train
  • Hindu nationalists across India held demonstrations, processions, or attacks against minorities during this period, explicitly linked to the violence in Gujarat.

Precipitating events across India (see squares)

But… major riots (circles) limited to Gujarat

Wilkinson (2004)

As in Tulsa, government in Gujarat did not stop the riots.

BJP (Narendra Modi) government:

  • transferred officials who prevented riots/arrested Hindu militants
  • delayed calling the army
  • punished people filing police reports
  • instructing officials to not act to prevent violence

Wilkinson (2004)

Unlike Tulsa, in other Indian states:

  • state governments moved swiftly to quash conflict
  • few riots; places with deaths entirely due to police firing on rioters.

Why did Gujarat permit riots to occur while other states did not?

Wilkinson (2004)

Government strategy dictated by elections: will only stop violence if they directly or indirectly depend on votes of people targeted by the riots

This can happen under two sets of conditions:

  1. When many parties compete successfully, minority group voters can determine who wins. Permitting riots that target this group may cost any ruling party victory at the next election.

  2. When only a few parties are competitive, parties that do not win minority votes anyway face no incentive to stop riots against that group.