Sexton, Renard (2016). "Aid as a Tool against Insurgency: Evidence from Contested and Controlled Territory in Afghanistan." American Political Science Review, 110(4), pp. 731–749. (link to author's copy

Abstract: Findings in political science, economics and security studies suggest that during civil war aid can be used to help establish control of contested areas and reduce levels of insurgent violence by winning the “hearts and minds” of the population. These accounts typically ignore the strategic implications of aid distribution by pro-government forces, namely that rebel groups should resist the implementation of aid projects that would undermine their position. Using a new dataset of fine-grained and geo-located violence incidents in Afghanistan and random variation in the administration of some US counter-insurgency aid, I show that insurgents strategically respond to counter-insurgency aid in contested districts by resisting through violent means. The results indicate that civilian aid only reduces insurgent violence when distributed in districts already controlled by pro-government forces; when allocated to contested districts civilian aid in fact causes a significant increase in insurgent violence. The results also indicate that the effect of counterinsurgency aid on violence varies by project type, and can be overwhelmed by macro-level strategic changes in the conflict. 

Working Papers

"How Government Reactions to Violence Worsen Social Welfare: Evidence from Peru"  with Mike Findley (UT Austin) and Rachel Wellhausen (UT Austin). (invitation to revise and resubmit, AJPS)

Abstract: Dissident violence against a government inflicts substantial and widespread immediate harm on security forces and civilians. But the longest-lasting consequences for civilians may be indirect, due to the government’s response itself. We explore how governments trade off “butter” for “guns” in the wake of dissident violence, and, in turn, how these budgetary shifts affect local social welfare. We use newly collected subnational violence and government budgeting data for Peru, allowing attacks on soldiers that take place during the three-month national budget negotiation period to instrument for local health spending. In reduced form, using data from 2008-2012, one soldier killed implies a shift of 1.5 percent out of the local health budget, resulting in 75 additional infant deaths two years later. We also provide evidence that public opinion and voting behavior incentivize politicians to make these sacrifices in health and other social service budgets. Our results thus causally identify a budgetary mechanism that translates dissident violence into a longer-term deterioration in social welfare. The results also suggest that foreign aid could play a crucial role in supplementing regular government budgets in times of dissident violence. 

Sexton, Renard. 2017. "Global markets, local conflict: How political institutions shape extractive industries conflict, with evidence from Peru."  (under review)

Abstract:  Extractive industries have the potential to produce economic benefits, including jobs and tax revenues, but also generate local externalities that grow with international prices via greater production. In contrast with most literature on trade and domestic politics that predicts social turmoil when the global economy is weak, in this paper I provide evidence from Peru that in the extractives sector high prices cause a significant increase in social conflict. This effect manifests primarily where local governments have low capacity and low accountability. When weak, local governments do not sufficiently enforce limits on environmental pollution or appropriately compensate communities, and cannot credibly commit to doing so as prices rise. In addition, I show that acutely polluting minerals greatly drive conflict, at rate six times higher than chronic, less observable polluters. These findings shed new light on the role that local political institutions play in managing social conflict in the face of volatile international markets.

"Strategic Violence during Democratization: Evidence from Myanmar" (with Darin Christensen and Mai Nguyen).  (under review)

Abstract: Facing a democratic transition from dictatorship, we argue that the military can maintain its control of valuable rents by stoking violence. The logic, while perverse, is straightforward: the new civilian government relies on security forces to manage domestic and external threats and is, thus, reluctant to strip military elites of their authority over conflict-ridden regions. We find evidence of this dynamic in Myanmar, a country transitioning from four decades of military rule. Fearing that the new civilian government will assume control of jade-mining areas and the associated rents, the military foments unrest in mining townships to deter the development of an alternative and legitimate authority. Using geocoded data on conflict and the locations of jade mines, we find support for this argument: just as Myanmar embarks on its political transition in 2011, we observe a sharp increase in conflicts involving government security forces in jade-mining areas.

Accountability and transparency in the mining sector of Peru: A field experiment. (Funded by J-PAL Governance Initiative, implemented in partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action, Lima and Propuesta Ciudadana.) AEA registry.

Description: Extractive industries represent a major part of the local economy in many rural parts of Peru, but political capture, corruption and poor management mean that many rural communities do not experience development improvements. Seeing only the negative externalities of extractive industries and without information about whom to hold accountable, communities turn to protest and violent conflict targeting mining companies and the central government. Ahead of national elections in spring 2016 in Peru, this project will implement a community-level experiment that will test the impact of information about access to and distribution of mining sector royalties at the local level on attitudes and accountability towards political incumbents, mining firms and the central government. 

Works in Progress

  • Survey of leaders who participated in government conflict mediation workshops in Peru (fieldwork scheduled for September 2016). Funded by the National Science Foundation, being implemented in partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action, Lima.

Description: In Peru, and across Latin America, there has been an increase in protests and conflict related to the mining sector in recent years. In response, the government of Peru in 2012 established the National Office of Dialogue and Sustainability (ONDS), to carry out dialogue workshops that bring together local leaders, civil society actors and mining company representatives. In this project we will survey three to four participants from 60 of the dialogue workshops in order to learn about the content and efficacy of the workshops in mediating conflict. This work will be used to both learn about how changes in leadership and strategy at ONDS affect the ability of the workshops to mediate conflict, and to provide baseline information for a future RCT with the ONDS where new mediation techniques are rolled out in a randomized fashion to learn which are the most effective at reducing conflict. 

  • Explaining and addressing social and economic conflict in extractive industries in Myanmar (with Darin Christensen, field project starting December 2016). Funded by the International Growth Center, being implemented in partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action, Yangon.

Description: Extractive industries are an important source of economic activity in many of the world’s poorest countries. Mining projects can provide direct investment in rural areas, infrastructure development, employment, and increased tax revenues. However, the reality of mining investments in poor and weak states is often more grim. Our own research in other contexts, such as Peru and sub-Saharan Africa, finds that mining projects regularly provoke protest and other social conflicts. 

We ask two questions with the goal of illuminating the costs, benefits and best methods of managing of new mining investments: 1) What are the consequences of mining investments for local economic development, politics, social change, and conflict?  2) Can providing credible information and community consultations in mining areas reduce conflict and increase the extent to which mining contributes to local development?

  •  Do peacekeepers deter violence, overcome commitment problems and/or demonstrate resolve? (under development with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and DPKO New York.)
  • Adaptive Triangulation: A new method for collecting conflict data in difficult areas (w/ Drew Dimmery; under development with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. )