Kristin M. Bakke, Ph.D.
University College London
I am Professor of Political Science and International Relations at University College London (UCL) and Associate Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). Focusing on political violence, my research explores how states respond to opposition within their borders, the dynamics of violence in self-determination struggles, and post-war state-building. I draw on both quantitative and qualitative methods, including surveys and fieldwork in Northern Ireland, India, Guatemala, Canada, and post-Soviet states and de facto states. I have worked in the Department of Political Science at UCL since 2009, where I am part of the Conflict & Change research cluster. I am also a core faculty member in the European and International Social and Political Studies (EISPS) program and have served as Director for Global Security at the Global Governance Institute (GGI). Prior to joining UCL, I was Assistant Professor at Leiden University and a post-doctoral fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard. I hold a BA (2000) in journalism and political science from Indiana University, Bloomington, and a PhD (2007) in political science from the University of Washington, Seattle. Within the discipline, I am an Associate Editor at the Journal of Peace Research and serve on the editorial board of the Journal of Global Security Studies and the advisory board of Nations and Nationalism. I sit on the council of the British Conflict Research Society (CRS).
Conflict Processes & War
Comparative Political Institutions
Countries of Interest
Former Soviet Union
Focusing on political violence, my research explores how states respond to opposition within their borders, the dynamics of violence in self-determination struggles, and post-war state-building and public opinion. I make use of multiple methods—large-n cross-case analyses, surveys, and fieldwork-based case studies—and collaborate with colleagues from different disciplines. My book Decentralization and Intrastate Struggles: Chechnya, Punjab, and Québec was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015 and received the Conflict Research Society’s Book of the Year Award. My work has also been published in journals such as International Security, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Peace Research, Perspectives on Politics, Political Geography, and World Politics. For more about my research, please see my website.
Post-war state-building is fraught with challenges as “war-makers” pivot to become “state-makers.” Citizen assessments of public good provision and physical security provide a measure of how state-building is perceived internally. State-building may also necessitate external dependence (Russia, for example, provides significant financial and military assistance to the post-Soviet de facto states), yet new state authorities want to be seen as more than puppets. We study the relationship between internal and external state-building dynamics in fostering citizen confidence in the post-war state. We use original population surveys to analyze public opinion and geographically disaggregated data on local violence from four post-Soviet de facto states—Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria—born of war. We examine the scalar relationships—from the individual embedded in the local context, to the regional (de facto territory) and supra-national (patron state and legitimacy in the international community)—that characterize them. We find that distrust of the patron state reduces trust in the de facto state president and translates into a lack of confidence in the prevailing order. As fears of conflict recurrence increase and disappointments about the economy worsen, these relationships are maintained across the pathways defined by the scale of patron trust-distrust.
Why are some ethnopolitical movements divided while others are relatively unified? A growing literature examines the consequences of internal divisions in ethnopolitical movements – and shows that it matters for a range of conflict outcomes – yet the mechanisms causing such divisions remain poorly understood. Our argument emphasizes competitive dynamics between states and self-determination movements and between rival factions within these movements as key determinants of fragmentation. Drawing from literatures on social movements, contentious politics, and civil war, we situate our argument vis-à-vis three alternative and complementary sets of explanations based on theories emphasizing transnational dimensions, political institutions, and structural factors within ethnopolitical groups. Using an original dataset, we test hypotheses explaining movement fragmentation over time and use a case study of Punjab in India to identify specific causal mechanisms and missing variables. Our findings show some support for three of these theories, suggesting that ethnopolitical movements divide as a result of complex and interactive processes. But our findings also underscore that central to explaining fragmentation dynamics are factors capturing competitive dynamics, including repression, accommodation of movement demands, the turn to violence, and the dynamic and changing nature of ethnopolitical demands.
De facto states, functional on the ground but unrecognized by most states, have long been black boxes for systematic empirical research. This study investigates de facto states’ internal legitimacy—people's confidence in the entity itself, the regime, and institutions. While internal legitimacy is important for any state, it is particularly important for de facto states, whose lack of external legitimacy has made internal legitimacy integral to their quest for recognition. We propose that the internal legitimacy of de facto states depends on how convincing they are to their “citizens” as state-builders. Using original data from a 2010 survey in Abkhazia, we examine this argument based on respondent perceptions of security, welfare, and democracy. Our findings suggest that internal legitimacy is shaped by the key Weberian state-building function of monopoly of the legitimate use of force, as well as these entities’ ability to fulfill other aspects of the social contract.
One of the major policy concerns surrounding violent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Pakistan, Russia's North Caucasus region, Somalia, and Syria has been that these struggles may both attract and breed transnational insurgents, or foreign fighters. Yet despite this growing worry, relatively little is known about the ways in which transnational insurgents influence the domestic struggles they join. Existing scholarship assumes that such “outsiders” strengthen domestic opposition movements by bringing with them fighters, weapons, know-how, and access to financial resources. Indeed, access to such assets explains why domestic resistance leaders may initially welcome transnational insurgents. Foreign fighters, however, can also weaken domestic insurgencies by introducing new ideas regarding their objectives and how these struggles should be waged. The introduction of new goals and tactics can not only create divisions with opposition movements, but can also complicate the ability of local leaders to attract and maintain vital public support. Domestic resistance leaders' willingness and ability to adapt the ideas of transnational insurgents to local conditions is key to determining whether and how foreign fighters strengthen homegrown insurgencies.
How do we conceptualize the fragmentation of internally divided movements? And how does variation in fragmentation affect the probability and patterns of infighting? The internal politics of non-state groups have received increasing attention, with recent research demonstrating the importance of cohesion and fragmentation for understanding conflict dynamics. Yet there is little consensus on how to conceptualize fragmentation, the concept at the center of this agenda, with authors using different definitions and measures. In this paper we conceptualize fragmentation along three constitutive dimensions: the number of organizations in the movement; the degree of institutionalization across these organizations; and the distribution of power among them. We then show how variation across these dimensions can explain variation in important conflict processes, focusing on infighting.
While theoretical models of conflict often treat actors as unitary, most self-determination groups are fragmented into a number of competing internal factions. This article presents a framework for understanding the “dual contests” that self-determination groups engage in—the first with their host state and the second between co-ethnic factions within groups. Using a new data set of the number of factions within a sample of self-determination groups from 1960 to 2008, the authors find that competition between co-ethnic factions is a key determinant of their conflict behavior. More competing factions are associated with higher instances of violence against the state as well as more factional fighting and attacks on co-ethnic civilians. More factions using violence increases the chances that other factions will do so, and the entry of a new faction prompts violence from existing factions in a within-group contest for political relevance. These findings have implications for both theory and policy.
Large-n studies of conflict have produced a large number of statistically significant results but little accurate guidance in terms of anticipating the onset of conflict. The authors argue that too much attention has been paid to finding statistically significant relationships, while too little attention has been paid to finding variables that improve our ability to predict civil wars. The result can be a distorted view of what matters most to the onset of conflict. Although these models may not be intended to be predictive models, prescriptions based on these models are generally based on statistical significance, and the predictive attributes of the underlying models are generally ignored. These predictions should not be ignored, but rather need to be heuristically evaluated because they may shed light on the veracity of the models. In this study, the authors conduct a side-by-side comparison of the statistical significance and predictive power of the different variables used in two of the most influential models of civil war. The results provide a clear demonstration of how potentially misleading the traditional focus on statistical significance can be. Until out-of-sample heuristics — especially including predictions — are part of the normal evaluative tools in conflict research, we are unlikely to make sufficient theoretical progress beyond broad statements that point to GDP per capita and population as the major causal factors accounting for civil war onset.
Over the past two decades, there has been a growing interest in reconciliation in societies emerging from conflict. The North Caucasus region of Russia has experienced multiple and diverse conflicts since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and violence continues, although at a lower level than a decade ago. We examine willingness to forgive members of other ethnic groups for violence that they have perpetuated as an indicator of the potential for reconciliation in the region. Using data from a large representative survey conducted in five ethnic republics of the North Caucasus in December 2005, we analyze responses to the forgiveness question in relation to social–psychological models of reconciliation, and we add a key geographic measure, distance to violent events, to the usual theories. Using the survey data (N = 2,000) and aggregate data for the eighty-two sampling points, we use a multilevel modeling approach to separate out the effects of individual and contextual factors. We find little support for the social identity theory expectations as ethnic hostility is not an important factor, except for in the case of the Ossetians, a mostly Orthodox minority disproportionately affected by multiple conflicts and the Beslan school killings. Instead, personal experiences of violence and terrorism, the impacts of military actions against communities, differences in general trust of others, and the extent to which the respondent's life has been changed by violence negatively influence the willingness to forgive. Conversely, respondents in ethnic Russian communities and those relatively close to violence are more willing to engage in postconflict reconciliation.
Why do decentralized states differ in their capacity to preserve peace within their borders? This is the question motivating this study, which maintains that an understanding of decentralization's divergent effect on intrastate conflicts calls for a consideration of how these institutions are embedded in the societies they govern. In particular, this article suggests that the impacts of policy and fiscal decentralization are conditioned by any given region's ethnic make-up and wealth. The argument is anchored in a case study of separatism in Punjab in India.
This article examines attitudinal differences and similarities among ethnic groups in conflict-affected societies. Conventional wisdom tells us that societies that have experienced violent struggles in which individuals of different ethnic groups have (been) mobilized against each other are likely to become polarized along ethnic lines. Indeed, both policy-makers and scholars often assume that such divisions are some of the main challenges that must be overcome to restore peace after war. We comparatively examine this conventional wisdom by mapping dimensions of social distance among 4,000 survey respondents in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the North Caucasus region of Russia. The surveys were carried out in December 2005. Using multidimensional scaling methods, we do not find patterns of clear attitudinal cleavages among members of different ethnic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nor do we find patterns of clear ethnic division in the North Caucasus, although our social distance matrices reveal a difference between Russians and ethnic minority groups.
Policymakers and scholars have turned their attention to federalism as a means for managing conflicts between central governments and subnational interests. But both the theoretical literature and the empirical track record of federations make for opposing conclusions concerning federalism's ability to prevent civil conflict. This article argues that the existing literature falls short on two accounts: first, it lacks a systematic comparison of peaceful and conflict-ridden cases across federal states, and second, while some studies acknowledge that there is no one-sizefits-all federal solution, the conditional ingredients of peace-preserving federalism have not been theorized. The authors make the argument that the peace-preserving effect of specific federal traits—fiscal decentralization, fiscal transfers, and political copartisanship—are conditional on a society's income level and ethnic composition. The argument is tested across twenty-two federal states from 1978 to 2000.
The book explores decentralized states’ diverse capacity to contain self-determination struggles. It argues that there is no one-size-fits-all decentralized fix to deeply divided and conflict-ridden states. One of the hotly debated policy prescriptions for states facing self-determination demands is some form of decentralized governance (including regional autonomy arrangements and federalism) that grants minority groups a degree of self-rule. Yet the track record of existing decentralized states suggests that these have widely divergent capacity to contain conflicts within their borders. Through in-depth case studies of Chechnya, Punjab, and Québec, as well as a statistical cross-country analysis, this book argues that while policy, fiscal approach, and political decentralization can, indeed, be peace-preserving at times, the effects of these institutions are conditioned by traits of the societies they (are meant to) govern. Decentralization may help preserve peace in one country or in one region, but it may have just the opposite effect in a country or region with different ethnic and economic characteristics.
“With Politicians Who Can’t Be Bothered to Read Peace Agreements, No Wonder Brexit Negotiations Are Such a Mess” (with Kit Rickard)
“Why Changing the Good Friday Agreement Because of Brexit Is Such a Dangerous Idea” (with Kit Rickard)
“What the People of Nagorno-Karabakh Think about the Future of Their Homeland” (with Lee J.M. Seymour)
“How ISIS Rule and Mobilization Matters for the Military Response to the Paris Attack”
“The Problem with Fragmented Insurgencies” (with Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham and Lee J.M. Seymour)
“Islamic State: No-one Wants to Talk to Terrorists, but We Always Do—and Sometimes it Works” (with Govinda Clayton)
“Foreign Fighters Don’t Always Help”
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