Other Projects/Works in Progress

Conference papers and articles in preparation (details of impact projects I’m working on can be found here):

Strategies for Controlling Territory and Populations in the Aftermath of Separatist Wars: A Conceptual Framework

This paper proposes a conceptual framework for identifying and categorising strategies for controlling territory and populations in the aftermath of separatist wars. I argue that research on post-war environments should extend its focus beyond peacebuilding and spoiling activities and frameworks based on positive/negative peace and recognition/counter-recognition to include investigations of the strategies used by conflict actors to shape de facto territorial and demographic control – that is, how they create ‘facts on the ground’. To that end, I present a conceptual framework of control strategies used by states, separatists and other conflict actors that aims to more fully capture their range of post-war activities and to provide a conceptual toolkit necessary for theory development and empirical research on the aftermath of separatist wars and the formation and trajectory of post-war environments. Drawing on civil war research and the central importance of de facto control in armed conflict, my framework uses the core characteristics of territorial and demographic control as a basis to conceptualise and operationalise four categories of control strategies: territorial access and denial, territorial presence and absence, population location and composition, and population loyalty and compliance. I then apply this framework to the context of post-war environments and illustrate its value in making sense of what conflict actors do in the aftermath of separatist wars. To support the validity of the framework, I draw on comparative evidence from a wide range of separatist conflicts focusing primarily on the Caucasus, the Balkans, and eastern Europe. I conclude with suggestions for how to develop a full explanatory theory that must link strategy selection to actors’ objectives and the constraints and opportunities of the post-war environment.

How are UN observer missions shaped by local conflict dynamics and international politics? Evidence from the archives of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia

How are the initiation, deployment, and early activities of a United Nations observer mission shaped by local conflict dynamics and international politics? To answer this question, I use a case study of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), deployed in response to the Georgian-Abkhaz war (1992-1994). Using the mission’s archives to reconstruct the United Nations’ involvement in the conflict, the case study explores how the UN managed its response to a separatist war in a newly independent former Soviet republic and subsequently established a role monitoring conflict regulation mechanisms and facilitating efforts to reach a political settlement. The case study is structured around these interrelated questions: How did the UN become involved in the Georgian-Abkhaz war and why did its involvement take the form that it did? How was UNOMIG’s involvement affected by (a) conflict dynamics and the military situation and (b) international politics? In exploring these questions, I consider three levels of analysis. The first is the relationship between the UN and the two main conflict parties – the Abkhaz secessionists and the Georgian state. The second is the relationship between the UN and the Russian Federation. The third is the internal dynamics of the UN, primarily the relationship between the Security Council, the Secretariat in New York and the field mission. Given that both parties to the conflict and Russia expressed a preference for some sort of UN involvement, the UN needed to create and develop a form of intervention – UNOMIG – that could at least partially satisfy the multiple competing and sometimes contradictory demands being imposed on it. UNOMIG needed to meet the UN’s responsibility for maintaining international peace and security and respond to and accommodate the dynamics of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict and Russia’s interests, while being further constrained by what the UN Security Council would agree to, the limited resources available to an overstretched UN, and a need to adhere to the UN’s own peacekeeping principles. These factors determined the kind of mission that was deployed and the ways in which it could operate. Much of the time, the UN was not so much mediating between and reconciling these competing demands as being shaped and shoved down a path with little room for manoeuvre.

Dealing with the ‘orphans of secession’: Understanding state and secessionist strategies towards ‘new minorities’ in the aftermath of separatist wars

When separatist wars result in the creation of partially recognised states and other forms of de facto political authority, the conflicts can remain unresolved for decades. While these conflicts usually split along ethno-nationalist lines, with a geographically concentrated minority seeking independence from the ‘parent’ state, an under-researched consequence of these wars is the creation of a ‘new’ minority within the separatist entity who are coethnics with the majority in the ‘parent’ state. With further partition or population transfers generally ruled out as unviable options, the continued presence of these minorities – and how parent state and separatist political elites respond to them – becomes crucial for understanding variation in the consequences of separatist wars (such as post-war violence, stalled peace processes, and IDP/refugee returns). The significance of ‘new minorities’ – the orphans of secession – across multiple issue areas make them a powerful resource for both peacebuilders and spoilers to capitalise on or exploit, while their marginalised political status also means they can be isolated and neglected. To investigate these post-war dynamics, I use a paired comparison and ‘duel-process tracing’ of post-war Gali region (in Abkhazia, populated by ethnic Georgians) and north Kosovo (populated by ethnic Serbs). I show how separatist political elites (in Sukhumi and Pristina) and parent state elites (in Tbilisi and Belgrade) use new minorities as leverage against each other; how separatist elites move between strategies of integration, isolation, and punishment; and how parent state elites move between strategies of contesting separatist control, leveraging the issues for political gain, and protecting their coethnics. I develop a framework for analysing this variation in strategies by showing how separatists and parent states must formulate post-war constrained objectives as alternatives to realising their maximalist aims of full separation and full reincorporation, respectively, and subsequently develop strategies towards the new minority to achieve these objectives. To further explore the links between constrained objectives and strategies, I highlight an ambivalence in the attitudes of parent state and separatist elites between, on the one hand, the people of a new minority and, on the other, the territory in which they reside: in the context of the aftermath of a separatist war, the political salience of – and intrinsic and instrumental value attached to – people and territory, and the extent to which they are perceived to be out of alignment and can be realigned, shapes the way that political elites deal with new minorities.

Internal wars and international relations: How does political violence shape international politics from the inside-out?

Abstract: How do internal wars affect international relations? Political violence in civil wars is highly localised; while scholars have identified important connections between on-the-ground manifestations of armed conflict and the high politics of IR and international security, these links remain under-theorised. Most attention has been on influences from the ‘outside-in’ but civil war studies have looked less at influences from the ‘inside-out’, neglecting how dynamics of internal armed conflicts influence international politics, and how war outcomes/post-war settlements shape the international system. The paper explores theoretical developments and empirical insights that may be generated from this approach. The paper has two purposes. First, it is a stock-taking exercise, reflecting on research on the international dimensions of internal war and the nature of the relationship between internal war and international relations. Second, based on these reflections, it tries to lay the groundwork for future research agendas that build on the works discussed. My intended audience is civil war scholars, for whom I have proposals on where their research agenda could go next in their exploration of the international dimensions on internal war, and International Relations scholars, for whom I have proposals on how their research agenda can be informed by scholarship on internal war.

Reading Field Research

How can the scholarly community improve the ethical production of knowledge about armed conflict? I argue in this paper that we must become better readers of field research. Recent years have seen a welcome proliferation of written work and professional activities in academia (including publications, knowledge exchange, workshops and training) on how field research in conflict-affected areas can be done well – in both a methodological and an ethical sense. To extend this important work, and to ensure that it improves the quality of research practice and generates new knowledge that accumulates and can be further developed, the scholarly community needs to think about the criteria and standards by which we engage with field research and the knowledge that it generates. Given the unique risks (and opportunities) involved in conflict research at all stages of the research cycle, this requires that we become better readers of field research, capable of informed, sympathetic and critical engagement and of being responsible members of a self-regulating academic community. Conflict scholars should be ‘literate’ in field methods with an appreciation of the ethical, logistical, emotional, and methodological aspects of field research in conflict-affected areas and the implications for knowledge production. I discuss how this might work in various contexts and at different stages of the research cycle in the following areas: how the research is justified; the ethical conduct of the research; the generation of data and evidence via field research in conflict-affected areas; field research legacies and accountability for research practices; evaluating the contribution of field research to knowledge. 

Researching civil wars: Aligning theory, methods, and evidence

The paper shows how qualitative research in general, and process-tracing combined with fieldwork in particular, can contribute to civil war research by bringing theory, methods and evidence into alignment. It outlines the assumptions and methodological implications of mechanism-based approaches that use the theory and process-tracing practice of causal mechanisms, and then shows how, in combination with a serious commitment to fieldwork, this approach can advance the study of civil wars. Researchers need to: (1) be more innovative with concept formation and ‘casing’ (and, by extension, with research designs) to capture the processual character of conflict dynamics and guide data collection, especially regarding the spatiotemporal scope of cases; (2) theorise causal mechanisms that demonstrate ‘productive continuity’ in generating outcomes, and specify their observable implications and evidentiary signatures for testing; (3) redouble and refine data generation efforts in conflict-affected areas – that is, expend more ‘shoe leather’ in pursuit of good theories and empirical evidence. The benefits of this effort can be maximised by exploiting the advantages associated with fieldwork, not only for generating process-tracing evidence and acquiring deep, context-specific knowledge, but also as a means of improving a researcher’s ability to evaluate evidence, discriminate between competing explanations, and manage the iterative back and forth between theory and evidence. The paper concludes by discussing how to effectively and feasibly evaluate process-tracing evidence, i.e., how to judge the weight, utility, and admissibility of evidence, and the ethics of collecting and using it, in the context of studying violent conflict.