Today’s Conflict Consortium Virtual Workshop featured Whitney Taylor‘s co-authored paper (with Holly Nyseth Brehm) “Sanctioning Atrocity: To What Effect?” An excellent panel comprised of Risa Brooks, Halvard Buhaug, Jacqueline DeMeritt, Matt Krain and Babak Rezaee offered feedback. You can watch the session here.
The paper is a pretty straight forward statistical analysis of the impact of international sanctions upon the duration and magnitude of genocides. Taylor & Brehm address the selection process (onset of a genocide) with a two equation modeling strategy, and find that sanctions (and several measures of the characteristics of sanctions) have no discernible impact upon either the magnitude nor the duration of genocides.
The discussion kicked off with a suggestion to invest greater attention to developing and advocating a theoretical argument. Lauding the paper’s attention to the important goals of reducing both the magnitude and duration of these types of events, commentators pushed Taylor to rely less on existing arguments about why sanctions work, and extending those research designs to the study of genocidal events, and more on developing their own theory of why sanctions might (not) impact the genocide practices of states.
A number of folks identified additional literature that might be engaged. Lebovic & Voeten (2006, 2009) which explore the impact of naming and shaming on countries human rights practices, and DeMeritt (2012) and Krain (2012) who examine their impact on one sided killing and genocides. Conrad & Moore (2010) and Davenport & Appel (2014) study the termination of torture and repression spells, respectively, and were also mentioned as potential sources for ideas about how to enrich the theory. Other papers I am forgetting were also mentioned.
The major thrust was to consider whether to leave the paper largely as is–an extension of existing ideas and logic about a process (sanctions) to a focused area of state behavior (genocide) that serves as something of a brush clearing function–or raise the piece’s ambition by developing specific, and novel, arguments about how the process might unfold differently in that setting. In particular, we encouraged Whitney to think more about the distinction between the direct and indirect routes by which sanctions bring pressure, and whether focused sanctions might be the only type we should expect to have an effect. She shared that so few states have employed focused sanctions to pressure genocidal activities that their statistical models can gain no leverage. This fact seems interesting in itself.
Naturally a variety of geeky technical issues were raised, some of which address purely technical issues (e.g., boot strapping standard errors) but others of which have potentially more empirical and theoretical implications. For example, the decision to work within a country-year unit of observation and not explore lags may mask relationships that operate over accumulated time.
To wrap up, Taylor & Brehm shared an interesting paper that spurred a fun conversation. Hopefully they will be able to make good use of the discussion as they move forward with their project. Whatever the ultimate outcome, I enjoyed the session.