The Empire Strikes Back: Ethnicity, Terrain, and Indiscriminate Violence in Counterinsurgencies*

David Siroky, Valery Dzutsati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objective: The literature on indiscriminate violence has emphasized how information shapes state capacity and determines whether and where the government employs collective targeting. This article investigates the conditions that influence the government's ability to obtain intelligence in counterinsurgencies. Specifically, it suggests that the government is more likely to use indiscriminate violence in areas characterized by indigenous ethnic homogeneity and forested terrain. These features increase the cost of acquiring information about the insurgents, and reduce state capacity, thereby increasing the likelihood of indiscriminate violence. Method: We examine district-level data on the Russian government's use of indiscriminate violence and disaggregated data on ethnicity and terrain across the North Caucasus from 2000 to 2011. Results: The results indicate that ethnically homogeneous and forested areas are significantly more likely targets of indiscriminate violence, and that the effect of ethnicity is markedly stronger when the district is densely forested. Conclusion: This finding expands on previous studies by testing the observable implications of theories linking information to indiscriminate violence, and by providing new micro-level evidence for important human and physical constraints on counterinsurgencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)807-829
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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