Places to Hide: Terrain, Ethnicity, and Civil Conflict
Forthcoming, Journal of Politics
36 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2019
Date Written: June 21, 2018
Terrain is central to understanding why some countries have contentious ethnic divisions, while others do not. While most existing research specifies a direct effect of rugged terrain on civil war, i.e., rugged terrain impedes state efforts to counter rebellion, we argue that terrain has an overlooked indirect effect on civil war via its historical influence on ethnic diversity. We argue that access to variable rugged terrain facilitated the development and survival of more distinct ethnic groups by 1.) restricting interaction between populations in rugged areas and nearby territories, and 2.) complicating state repression. Both of these channels imply that ethnic groups residing in variable rugged areas are also at greater risk of political marginalization or discrimination. Using geo-coded data on civil war, terrain and both the distribution and political status of ethnic groups, we demonstrate that rugged variable terrain directly and indirectly affects the incidence of civil war. Around 25% of rugged terrain’s effects on civil conflict are transmitted indirectly through its influence on the distribution and exclusion of politically relevant ethnic groups.
Keywords: civil war, terrain ruggedness, ethnic diversity, political violence
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