Nonviolent Repression and the Escalation of Conflicts over Self-Determination (NRECS)

Project: Research council

Project Details


Civil wars constitute the leading source of political violence today. Millions have died as a result of civil wars (i.e., intrastate armed conflicts), and millions more have been injured physically or psychologically. What is more, civil wars are a key source of poverty, hunger, public health crises, and forced displacements. Civil wars can threaten regional stability and, as demonstrated by Kashmir, even raise the specter of nuclear war. Accordingly, one of the most important goals for social scientists is to study the causes of civil wars and thereby lay the basis for effective early warning systems that can be used by policy-makers to devise effective conflict prevention efforts. Unfortunately, though, our ability to explain and, by consequence, predict civil wars remains limited. Building on recent advances in civil war research, the NRECS project argues that we can dramatically improve our knowledge about the causes of civil wars by paying increased attention to the process of conflict escalation from nonviolent claims to civil war. Furthermore, the project argues that understanding the process of conflict escalation requires a simultaneous cognitive shift away from structural explanations to the study of conflict dynamics and state repression. In this vein, NRECS aims to investigate the role of nonviolent restrictions of ethnic rights - a form of indiscriminate state repression - in the violent escalation of self-determination conflicts.

More specifically, the NRECS project will make several important contributions to existing research. First, NRECS will collect and make publicly available new data on nonviolent restrictions of ethnic rights worldwide (e.g., restrictions of autonomy or language rights) that far exceeds existing sources in terms of detail and case coverage. Second, NRECS will use that data to conduct the most systematic analysis to date of the correlation between nonviolent restrictions of ethnic rights and the risk that self-determination conflicts escalate and become civil wars. Third, NRECS will for the first time test whether the escalatory potential of nonviolent restrictions of ethnic rights is limited to major autonomy revocations or whether it extends to more minor cases (e.g., restrictions of language rights). In another first, NRECS will study the conditions under which nonviolent restrictions of ethnic rights are most strongly associated with violent escalation, and thereby address the long-standing puzzle of when repression "works" and when it backfires. Finally, NRECS will field two survey experiments in Catalonia (Spain) and Donbas (Ukraine), making it one of the first civil war studies to combine observational and experimental methods. The survey experiments will make it possible to go beyond correlation and provide causal evidence on the micro-foundations of the link between nonviolent restrictions and conflict escalation.

By collecting new data and advancing our knowledge about the causes of civil wars, NRECS ultimately hopes to improve our ability to accurately predict future civil wars. Reliable early warning of impending crises and civil wars is necessary for diplomats and policy-makers to devise effective mitigation plans, mobilize resources, and coordinate responses. To maximize the potential for societal impact, the project includes an ambitious dissemination plan to ensure that new knowledge is transferred to practitioners, including both policy-makers and non-governmental organizations dedicated to conflict prevention.
Effective start/end date1/11/2131/08/25


  • Economic and Social Research Council

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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