Economics of Warfare 16

Examining the sixteenth lecture from Professor Michael Spagat’s Economics of Warfare course that he gives at Royal Holloway University. It is posted on his blog Wars, Numbers and Human Losses at:

This lecture also addresses climate change. In effect, it is looking at the impact of droughts on civil war incidence. The first part of the lecture focuses on a study done by Coutteneir and Soubeyran. It is also a cross-country analysis.

The thing that caught my attention was that they choose to exclude the anti-colonial wars and “internationalized wars:” (slide 2). These are a significant number of cases, although I can understand their reasons for doing so. Certainly the drivers behind these wars was much more the local climate conditions. So, they start by removing the cases that they know are not driven by climate change.

Now, when I originally did the Iraq Casualty Estimate (see Chapter One of America’s Modern Wars) I had a significant number of these “colonial wars of national liberation” in my data set, mostly dating from the 1950s and 1960s. As I was briefing the results of my estimates inside the Army and DOD community in early 2005, this suddenly became an issue. I think one person inside an organization glommed onto this issue as a way of obviating my results. I ended up going over to give the brief in DOD and was notified that they had been informed that my results were biased by having too many “colonial wars of national liberation” in my data set. Not exactly sure how having “colonial wars of national liberation” in my data set biased my estimate of casualties and duration in an Iraq insurgency, but this was the argument they were making. So for my briefing, I did my original briefing, and then added a little addendum that addressed my results if I took out the dozen or so cases of “colonial wars of national liberation.” It did not change my results. This was a fairly embarrassing exercise in that I think that person in question wanted to dismiss my results because they either did not believe them, it violated his cosmology, or the higher ups in DOD had already decided that we would not be facing a major guerilla war. Never really knew what the reasoning was. It is alluded to in my book on page 28.

Anyhow, there are valid reasons I believe for leaving out “colonial wars of national liberation” from this climate change test, but I do not believe there was for my Iraq Casualty Estimate.

With those cases left out, Couttenier and Soubeyran do come up with a fairly consistent and positive relationship between drought and internal armed conflict (slide 2 – 3)

The next part addresses a paper by Hsiang et al. (paper is linked on slide 4). It discussed El Nino. Having lived in California in the 1980s, El Nino is something very familiar to me (as are earthquakes), but Dr. Spagat provides a nice explanation of it on slides 4-5 for his British students. The advantage of looking at El Nino (hotter and dryer periods) and La Nina (colder and wetter periods) is that you again get sort of the side-by-side laboratory effect that social scientists have to struggle to find.

His next series of slides gets into the nuts and bolts of the study, but they ended up tracking “Annual Conflict Risk” (ACR) which is 2% for countries weakly affected by these weather patterns, 3% for countries affected by La Nina (cool and wet) and 6% for countries affected by El Nino (warm and dry). See slide 15.

The next slides examine the studies in more depth, with Dr. Spagat making the statement on slide 23 that “Ultimately, though, I feel that we need some convincing case studies linking ENSO with armed conflict in specific times and places for the Hsiao et al. work to be fully convincing.”

Slides 24-29 end up discussing “panel data”

The link to the lecture is here:


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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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