How Do Civilians Attribute Blame for State Indiscriminate Violence?

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Journal of Peace Research






Sage Publications Ltd.

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State indiscriminate violence against civilians has been viewed as counterproductive for the government. This conclusion hinges on the assumption that indiscriminate violence aggrieves civilians against the government even when the rebels provoke the state by using civilians as human shields. An alternative view suggests that civilians recognize if the rebels exploit them as human shields and blame the rebels if such provocation occurs. We ask: do civilians evaluate all state indiscriminate violence in the same way or do they think of state indiscriminate violence differently when it is provoked by insurgents? Accounting for the covariate differences between individuals with and without personal experience of warfare in the survey data from postwar Ukraine, we find that personal exposure to violence shapes one’s blame attribution for provoked state attacks on civilians. Individuals unexposed to violence tend to take into account whether the government was provoked by the rebels. By contrast, individuals with personal experience of warfare tend to blame the government for indiscriminate attacks regardless of rebel provocation. This finding has implications for counterinsurgency scholarship and policy. It is likely that the difference between unexposed and exposed to violence civilians emerges in geographically isolated conflicts. If so, targeting of civilians may have different effects on the escalation of insurgency in geographically concentrated as opposed to widespread cases of violence.

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