Denial and punishment in the North Caucasus
A growing literature on the subnational diffusion of armed conflict rests on the proposition that political violence triggers more violence, in the same locality and elsewhere. Yet state efforts to contain such uprisings remain largely unexplored, theoretically and empirically. Drawing on a mathematical model of epidemics, we formalize the logic of conflict diffusion and derive conditions under which state coercion might limit the spread of insurgent violence. Using a new dataset of insurgent and government violence in Russiaâ€™s North Caucasus from 2000 to 2008, we evaluate the relative effectiveness of four coercive strategies: (1) denial, which manipulates the costs of expanding insurgent activity to new locations, (2) punishment, which manipulates the costs of sustained fighting in contested areas, (3) denial and punishment, which does both, and (4) no action, which does neither. We find denial to be most effective at containing insurgent violence. Punishment is least effective, and even counterproductive. Not only does such a strategy fail to prevent the spillover of violence to new locations, but it may amplify the risk of continued fighting in contested areas. In the Caucasus, denial is found to be the least inflammatory counter-insurgency option for Russia. For it to succeed, Russia should physically isolate centers of insurgent activity from regions of nonviolence and avoid the temptation of punitive reprisals.
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