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When do natural disasters lead to negotiations in a civil war?

Stephen Nemeth and Brian Lai
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Stephen Nemeth: Department of Political Science, Oklahoma State University
Brian Lai: Department of Political Science, University of Iowa

Journal of Peace Research, 2022, vol. 59, issue 1, 28-42

Abstract: The effect of natural disasters on the end of civil wars has received little attention from scholars. We argue that the effect of disasters on conflict negotiation is dependent on which combatant is victimized by disaster. Drawing on a bargaining model, we argue that disasters create costs that alter the capabilities of the rebels and government. In order for these changes to lead to negotiations, the effects of a disaster have to lead to the mutual expectation that military victory is unlikely in the short term. When both sides are hit by a natural disaster, this mutual expectation is likely to form because both sides face significant costs to engaging in conflict in the short term. When one side is impacted, the non-affected side is likely to see an opportunity to gain against its rival while the side facing the devastation of a natural disaster may see only a temporary setback that it can recover from. This may lead both sides to not update their beliefs about the costs of war, or their chances of victory. We evaluate these hypotheses by examining all territorial civil wars from 1980 to 2005 using a more precise measure of disaster location. We find that when both sides are hit by a disaster, the likelihood of negotiation consistently increases. When only one side is impacted, the effect on negotiations is not consistent across model specifications.

Keywords: civil war; natural disaster; negotiation (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1177/00223433211061952

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