2021. (UN-)protected Elections – Left for Good? Withdrawal of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and its Effects on Violence during Electoral Periods in War-Affected Countries

How does the withdrawal of United Nations peacekeeping operations (PKOs) influence local-level violence during election times? Many large PKOs recently ended and peacekeeping personnel numbers are decreasing. Yet, research on peacekeepers’ exit remains in its infancy. We help fill this lacuna and examine how peacekeepers’ withdrawal from subnational locations affects violence during electoral periods, which are both popular intervention endpoints and violence-prone moments in post-war trajectories. We argue that electoral periods incur more violence shortly after the withdrawal of PKO troops because domestic forces require time to adapt and fill security gaps. Moreover, withdrawal entails an abrupt shortfall of election assistance, opening opportunities for fraud that often triggers violence. In the medium-term, however, violence in previous deployment locations may subside because of the peace-conducive imprints of peacekeepers’ activities on institutions, security forces, and citizens. We test our argument across first order administrative units of all African countries hosting a PKO in the period 2001-2017. Controlling for trends in violence prior to peacekeepers’ exit, our two-way fixed effects models suggest that a local reduction in the number of PKO troops during electoral periods is indeed associated with a spike in violence. While the level of violence after the month of withdrawal decreases again, elections in locations that previously hosted troops are not generally more peaceful than elections in locations that never hosted troops. Taken together, peacekeepers’ phased exit generates local insecurity and their medium-run protection legacies during electoral periods are weak at best.

2021. UN Peacekeeping and Democratization in Conflict-Affected Countries (with Rob Blair and Jessica Di Salvatore)

Abstract: Does UN peacekeeping promote democracy in countries torn by civil war? Existing studies are limited and reach contradictory conclusions. We theorize that peacekeepers help overcome three key obstacles to democratization in conflict-affected countries: a lack of credible commitment to the democratic process, security, and capacity. We test our theory by combining three original datasets on UN mandates, personnel, and activities covering all UN missions in Africa since the end of the Cold War. Using fixed effects and instrumental variables estimators, we show that missions with democracy promotion mandates are strongly positively correlated with the quality of democracy in host countries, but the magnitude of the relationship is (1) larger for civilian rather than uniformed personnel; (2) stronger when peacekeepers engage rather than bypass host governments when implementing reforms; (3) driven in particular by UN election administration and oversight; and (4) more robust during periods of peace than during civil war.

Protecting The Vote? Peacekeeping Presence And The Risk Of Electoral Violence

Hanne Fjelde & Hannah Smidt

Democracy assistance, including the promotion of electoral security, is often a central component of contemporary peacekeeping operations. Preventing violence during post-conflict elections is critical for the war-to-democracy transition. Yet, we know little about the role of peacekeepers in this effort. To fill this gap, we provide the first comprehensive sub-national study of peacekeeping effectiveness in reducing the risk of electoral violence. We combine geo-referenced data on peacekeeping deployment across all multidimensional peacekeeping missions in Africa over the past two decades with fine-grained data on electoral violence. We find a negative association between peacekeeping presence and the risk of electoral violence. The relationship is of similar magnitude in the pre- and post-election period. However, the association is more strongly negative for violence perpetrated by non-state actors compared to violence perpetrated by government-affiliated actors. Analyses using two-way fixed effects models and matching mitigate potential selection biases.

A Red Flag for Public Goods? The Correlates of Closing Civic Space

Governments around the world increasingly restrict independent civil society organizations (CSOs). Different theories converge on the expectation that independent and active CSOs are important for ensuring the delivery of core public goods in conformity with international norms and priorities, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A joint and yet unexplored implication is that restrictions on the activity of CSOs will signal the under-delivery of core public goods. Using original data on a wide variety of government-imposed restrictions on CSOs for a global sample of countries in the 1994–2016 period we test this implication. Our analyses focus on three international priorities: protection of physical integrity rights, control of corruption, and environmental protection. Controlling for unobserved cross-country heterogeneity and a variety of potential confounding variables, we find that contemporaneous and past restrictions on CSOs negatively correlate with the achievement of these priority goals. While actors central to liberal international order, including the UN, have long warned of the negative consequences of restrictions on CSOs, our analyses provide the first systematic evidence that restrictions are indeed a red flag for governments’ failure to deliver public goods that enable human progress.

2021. Civil Society Under Attack: A Warning Sign of the Erosion of Democratic Institutions

Abstract: Do government-imposed restrictions on civil society organizations (CSOs) affect future democratic decline? We argue that restrictions designed to demobilize CSOs such as funding cuts and smear campaigns are a CSOs monitor and mobilize against government violations of democratic norms. Thus, governments have incentives to restrict CSOs before attacking democratic institutions. By reducing scrutiny and criticism, restrictions on CSOs facilitate the dismantling of institutional checks on government power. Accounting for unobserved cross-country heterogeneity and reverse causation, our statistical analysis of a global sample of countries in the 1989–2018 period shows that restrictions on CSOs predict decline in the quality of formal democratic institutions in future periods. The in-depth study of three typical cases in different world regions (Kenya, Turkey and Venezuela) provides qualitative evidence of the expected causal pathways linking restrictions targeting CSOs to the subsequent erosion of democratic institutions.

2021 Introducing the Peacekeeping Mandates (PEMA) Dataset

Abstract: Research on UN peacekeeping operations has established that operation size and composition affect peacekeeping success. However, we lack systematic data for evaluating whether variation in tasks assigned to UN peacekeeping mandates matters and what explains different configurations of mandated tasks in the first place. Drawing on UN Security Council resolutions that establish, extend, or revise mandates of 27 UN peacekeeping operations in Africa in the 1991-2017 period, the Peacekeeping Mandates (PEMA) dataset fills this gap. It records 41 distinct tasks, ranging from disarmament to reconciliation and electoral support. For each task, the PEMA dataset also distinguishes between three modalities of engagement (monitoring, assisting, and securing) and whether the task is requested or merely encouraged. To illustrate the usefulness of our data, we re-examine Hultman, Kathman, and Shannon’s (2013) analysis of operations’ ability to protect civilians. Our results show that host governments and rebel groups respond differently to civilian protection mandates.

2020 Keeping electoral peace? Activities of United Nations peacekeeping operations and their effects on election-related violence

Abstract: In war-torn countries, elections are held to support peacebuilding, but they sometimes trigger new violence. While PKOs regularly accompany electoral periods, we lack systematic knowledge on how they influence election-related violence. I argue that variation in peacekeepers’ activities is fundamentally important: Only if PKOs assist with securing and organizing elections, can they reduce election-related violence. Using novel data on PKOs’ election-related activities and accounting for endogeneity in both peacekeeping deployment and activities, the analyses of all 630 elections in conflict-affected countries support this expectation. The result implies that the design of PKOs is crucial for effectively managing post-war political transitions.

2020 UN Peacekeeping Operations: From Mandate to Practice (with Robert Blair, Brown University, and Jessica Di Salvatore, Warwick University).

Abstract: Under what conditions do UN peacekeeping operations (PKOs) carry out the tasks written into their mandates? Faithful mandate implementation is the backbone of peacekeeping legitimacy among its various stakeholders, including UN Security Council members, troop-contributing countries, host governments and citizens in conflict-torn countries. Yet, PKOs are increasingly tasked with implementing complex mandates. At the same time, PKOs are increasingly deployed to active conflict zones, as in Mali or South Sudan. We argue that as conflict dynamics shift quickly and unpredictably and complex mandates strain resources and invite coordination problems among specialized UN agencies, these two trends—increasingly complex mandates, increasingly implemented in active conflict zones—hinder the implementation of mandated peacebuilding and security tasks. We test this argument using new data on both peacekeeping activities on the ground and UN Security Council mandates in Africa from 1995 to 2016. Using different instrumental variable approaches and fixed effects models, we find that mandate complexity and government violence indeed reduce PKOs’ “process performance” in peacebuilding tasks. Our findings imply that the trend towards increasingly complex operations in ongoing conflict likely results in a mismatch between what PKOs are mandated to do and what they actually do on the ground.

2021. Peacekeepers without helmets: How violence shapes local peacebuilding by civilian peacekeepers (with Allard Duursma)

Abstract:United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations are increasingly deployed during armed conflicts and, at the same time, increasingly staffed with civilian personnel and tasked with local peacebuilding. Do these trends work at cross-purposes? Does armed violence prevent local peacebuilding by civilian peacekeepers? Shifting the research focus from military to civilian components in peacekeeping, we argue that the latter’s peacebuilding efforts are concentrated in violence-affected areas where they are most needed. Civilian peacekeepers’ professional and personnel incentives drive this choice. We test our argument using novel, geo-referenced data on peacebuilding by “Civil Affairs” personnel of the peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic. Fixed effects and instrumental variable models support the expected positive relationship between violence and local peacebuilding. Evidence further suggest that peacekeepers’ incentives explain this relationship rather than greater UN military capacity and protection in violence-affected areas, domestic demand for international support in these areas, or violent retaliation against peacebuilding.

2016 From a Perpetrator’s Perspective: International election observers and post-electoral violence, Journal of Peace Research 53(2): 226-241.

Abstract: Do international election observers deter or spur violence after election day? This article argues that only when conceptually and empirically distinguishing between violence by governments and opposition groups, can we assess the impact of international election observation. Disaggregating post-electoral violence uncovers that observers can deter governments from using force, but they have the opposite effect on opposition groups. When expecting criticism from observers, opposition leaders can easily deny their responsibility for violence by individual party militants, while weaponry and official insignia betray police and military involvement in violence and force the government to bear command responsibility. Governments also anticipate higher international costs for engaging in post-electoral violence than opposition groups, which are not usually targets of international punishment. On the other hand, international election observers unintentionally incite opposition groups to organize violence, as oppo- sition groups seek to benefit from international attention and support that come with the presence of observers. Observers’ exposure of fraud reverses this differential effect: because governments expect international costs for election rigging anyway, observers cannot deter repression after highly fraudulent elections. But their alertness to electoral malpractice alleviates opposition groups’ incentives for post-electoral violence. Using data on 230 state-wide elections in Africa from 1990 to 2009, the analysis supports the observable implications of this argument. The findings of this article imply that international election observation missions make the post-electoral environment more peaceful when it comes to government repression after non-fraudulent elections. But observers ought to develop greater local expertise to identify opposition grievances before these groups resort to violence and be attentive to the possibility of increased repression after exposing cheating.