Power Mismatch and Civil Conflict: An Empirical Investigation

Number: 703
Year: 2023
Author(s): Massimo Morelli, Laura Ogliari, Long Hong

This paper empirically shows that the imbalance between an ethnic group’s political and military power is crucial to understanding the likelihood that such a group engages in a conflict. We develop a novel measure of a group’s military power by combiningmachine learning techniques with rich data on ethnic group characteristics and
outcomes of civil conflicts in Africa and theMiddle East. We couple thismeasure with available indicators of an ethnic group’s political power as well as with a novel proxy based on information about the ethnicity of cabinet members. We find that groups characterized by a highermismatch betweenmilitary and political power are between 30% and 50% more likely to engage in a conflict against their government depending on the specification used. We also find that the effects of power mismatch are nonlinear, which is in agreement with the predictions of a simplemodel that accounts for the cost of conflict. Moreover, our results suggest that high-mismatched groups are typically involved in larger and centrist conflicts. The policy implication is that powersharing recommendations and institutional design policies for peace should consider primarily the reduction of power mismatches between relevant groups, rather than focusing exclusively on equalizing political power in isolation.

Keywords: Civil War, Military Power, Political Power, Mismatch, Machine Learning