Angie Bittar

A Case of Mistaken (Ethnic) Identity: Rethinking Civil War Duration, Ethnic Saliency, Terrorism, and the Real Factors Discouraging Resolution

March 25, 2021   /  

Student Name: Angie Bittar
Major: Political Science (focus in International Relations)
Minor: Psychology
Advisors: Matt Krain, Jeff Lantis (second reader)

The field of political violence has consistently emphasized understanding the way that civil wars end, with less emphasis placed on the circumstances which elicit extended civil war duration. This analysis shifts the focus of study on to the internal factors of civil war, following the question: What are the domestic factors of civil war that cause some wars to be more durable and resistant to resolution than others? Building off of several prominent theories within the field of political violence and the anthropological study of ethnic saliency, I hypothesize that civil wars that are characterized as identity based will be more susceptible to a renewed security dilemma in the face of terrorism, resulting in more durable conflicts. Using a series of regressions and hazard models to analyze data on civil wars and terrorist events from 1970 to 2014, I test my primary hypothesis, as well as my secondary hypothesis which asserts that identity based civil wars will experience terrorism at a higher frequency than their non-identity based counterparts. The results do not provide support for my hypothesis regarding civil war type, but instead demonstrate a significant link between terrorism, particularly a form a terrorism known as spoiling, and the extended duration of civil wars. My findings overwhelmingly suggest that spoiling is likely a highly predictive indicator of war durability, while civil war type does not seem to be having a significant impact on duration or on the frequency of spoiling. I conclude with a brief look into the implications for future research and policy, emphasizing the need for a better understanding of this overlap between terrorism and civil war.

Angie will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-2pm EDT (PST 6am-11am, Africa/Europe: evening)

37 thoughts on “A Case of Mistaken (Ethnic) Identity: Rethinking Civil War Duration, Ethnic Saliency, Terrorism, and the Real Factors Discouraging Resolution”

    1. Thank you so much, Dr. Lantis! I was definitely channeling a lot of your comparative foreign policy class, particularly in my literature review!

  1. Interesting work Angie. When you talk about terrorism, does it matter where the terrorist group comes from (inside the waring nation or outside)?

    1. Thank you so much Dr. Stavnezer! For my study, it was a little tricky to be really deliberate with where terrorist groups are coming from given the available data on spoiling. In the future, I would love to be able to work with some more precise data and identify in particular terrorist groups that are operating from within the state in order to focus on the domestic influences of civil war! I think it would also be very interesting to compare that to a similar study that works only with extra-national terrorist groups to see if one is having a greater impact on the duration of conflict.

  2. Angie – What a joy it was to work with you on this! You have truly embraced your role as part of this field, and have so much to contribute to it. Do you think you will continue to pursue this set of questions in the Master’s program in Geneva next year? If so, which set of questions intrigue you most?

    1. I cannot thank you enough Dr. Krain! You really made this process so transformative for me and I am so grateful to have had your guidance! I am definitely playing with the idea of taking this topic to IHEID, but I think I want to start narrowing my focus to look more closely at some of the parts (i.e., terrorism, spoiling, communal conflict) before I delve back into the whole again. So far, I’m planning to study Global Development with an area focus of Power and Conflict, so I’m hoping that my first semester will help me start to see some future possibilities for this work and give me a better idea of how I can build on it! I am especially interested in looking more into the question of what impacts the recurrence of civil war, as my results really opened some really interesting questions on that front.

    1. Thanks so much, Krista! Absolutely couldn’t have done it without the amazing support from you and all the peer mentors!

    1. That means so much to me, Hallie! Political violence has been really interesting to me, really since I began studying international relations, and I knew that I wanted to study a topic that could have a real impact on the IR policies of the world today. With my experience as a Syrian, I’ve always really wanted to better understand the inner workings of civil war, so it was definitely tricky to narrow down just one question, but I’m really excited to keep studying in the field in the future!

  3. A fascinating subject! The concept of β€œnation” across language and ethnic barriers has always been an understudied subject, imo. Terrific work!
    As an aside, I’m curious how you define and distinguish acts of terrorism versus other acts of civil war violence within your paper?

    1. Thank you so much! In terms of differentiating terrorism, the Global Terrorism Database was an incredible help, both in providing resources to understand conceptually how terrorism, and spoiling specifically, differs from other forms of political violence, and in setting rigid boundaries of what was and wasn’t considered terrorism by scholars. The GTD also provided me with a massive amount of data that I was able to tailor to the specific definition of terrorism that was relevant to my study. The amount of data available through the GTD is incredibly robust, so I am hoping to eventually do some work on also setting more standard criteria in order to differentiate types of terrorism – maybe a sneak peak into a future PhD project!

  4. Fantastic project Angie! I’m really impressed by the time and effort you put into this project – it shows. Excited to hear about your future work and what you get up to in Geneva!

    1. Thank you so much! Being in your class this semester really gave me a whole lot to think about while I was writing my conclusion, so I just might be hitting you up for some recommended reading over the summer and throughout my masters program!

  5. What a novel and interesting look at the topic! I was wondering if, as you continued through the literature review, your understanding of the field shifted at all. Were your initial thoughts on the matter central to your models, or did you mold your study while navigating through the literature?

    1. This was actually one of my biggest takeaways from the IS process as a whole! I went into the study of terrorism and civil war seeing them as two distinct forms of political violence that operate independently, albeit coexisting and likely affecting each other. Throughout my literature review, it became really apparent to me that there is a unique connection between the process of civil war and terrorism that isn’t comparable to other forms of political violence. Especially given the results I’ve found, I think there is something about civil wars in particular that exacerbates occurrences of terrorism. If I were to wager a guess (maybe even a future research topic!), I would say that there may be something about the power imbalances at work in civil conflicts that makes terrorism a more rational course of action for parties involved.

  6. This project was very interesting! What was your favorite part of the IS proces?

    1. Thank you! I would really have to say that the analysis was (surprisingly!) my favorite part of the process; it felt like I was really seeing months of work start to blossom with just a couple STATA commands! I’ve always been a bit nervous about treading into the data side of political science, but it was so rewarding to see some clarity in my research question while also unveiling new questions that I’m looking forward to delving into soon!

  7. Angie I’m so proud of you! Watching you work on this and work through your vast knowledge of political science has been so inspiring. You’re look into terrorism specifically from a lease that combats western idealism/white savorism of the Middle East is such a novel look at a subject I know means so much to you. I’m so happy I got to see it !

    1. Thank you so much, Vic!! I can’t imagine how you put up with months of me ranting about hazard models and spoiling data, but I’m so thankful for all your support!

  8. This is a fantastic project! As someone who works in the field of peacebuilding, this project brings to light some important findings on how to navigate civil war resolution, given the nuanced causes and actions that take place during civil wars. Do you think the theoretical framework and analysis of this project can be expanded to future research or even applied to specific civil wars? Great work, thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much! My very first class on political violence had a heavy focus on peace building and resolution processes, and it really inspired me to continue studying the field, so this really means a lot to me! I definitely think that the analysis brings about some really interesting questions for future research and identifies where we as a field may need some updated data as well. I am personally hoping to investigate some of the mechanisms impacting civil war recurrence, as it seems to be operating differently from duration. In terms of policy, I would first want to see a lot more work done to corroborate the results of my study, but I think the first application to actual civil wars would be to focus on reducing the conditions that produce terrorism. Spoiling definitely seems to be the trigger for increased duration, and I think paying specific attention to that activity could be incredibly beneficial to resolution attempts.

      1. I definitely agree, there are so many culminating factors that play into understanding civil war and its aftermath. Thank you for taking on this research and I wish you the best in the future!

  9. Hi Angie:
    Congratulations on completing your IS, and what an interesting topic you have chosen to tackle. Makes me want to rewind several years and make my way to Kauke Hall for more Poli Sci learning… I found this observation from your summary so interesting:
    β€œ civil wars that are characterized as identity based will be more susceptible to a renewed security dilemma in the face of terrorism, resulting in more durable conflicts.”
    I am curious…since identity can be defined on so many levels, did your research find certain types of identity associations more resistant to resolution than others?
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. This was definitely a big question that I had as well! For the purpose of my study, I wasn’t able to dive into the concept of identity as much as I would’ve liked, as I decided to focus on the interaction between identity based conflict (conflict based on opposing ethnic, religious, or linguistic identity) and spoiling. The data that I used didn’t distinguish between identity types, but it would definitely be interesting to work toward developing that data and tackling a similar study! I think it would be particularly interesting, given the amount of overlap that exists between those identity types, to see if there is a different level of significance stemming from the type of identity.

  10. Angie, you’re one of the hardest working people I know. Success chases individuals like you and your talent is evident here. Your excellent analyses of data and careful study of material in addition to your intelligence has produced work that exceeds all expectations for an IS. You’ve got a really bright future!

  11. Great Job Angie, it has been an honor to be in a class with you. We have the same major but we seem to have avoided each other over the years.

  12. Woah I didn’t know we could comment on this! I’ve already said most of my comments via text so I’ll just say this part again-

    FANTASTIC WORK ANGIE!!! This is so great! I’m so proud of you! You worked really hard and made a project that not only was interesting, but also brings up some important conversations that we need to be having.

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