Page Fortna, Ph.D.

Columbia University

Country: United States (New York)

About Me:

Page Fortna is the Harold Brown Professor of US Foreign and Security Policy in the Political Science Department, as well as a member of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, at Columbia University.  Her research focuses on terrorism in civil wars, and war termination and the durability of peace in the aftermath of both civil and interstate wars. She is the author of two books: Does Peacekeeping Work? Shaping Belligerents’ Choices after Civil War (Princeton University Press, 2008), and Peace Time: Cease-Fire Agreements and the Durability of Peace (Princeton University Press, 2004), as well as articles in International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, International Studies Review, World Politics, and the Annual Review of Political Science. Before coming to Columbia, Fortna was a pre-doctoral and then a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.  Her graduate work was done in the Government Department at Harvard University (PhD 1998).  Before graduate school, she worked at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington DC.  She is a graduate of Wesleyan University.
Fortna teaches classes on terrorism, international politics, war termination, cooperation and security, and research methods.She lives in New York and Portland Or with her husband and two daughters.

Research Interests


Conflict Processes & War


Foreign Policy

Research Methods & Research Design

Political Violence

Countries of Interest

Sri Lanka

My Research:

My current research focuses on terrorism in civil wars: why do some rebel groups resort to deliberately indiscriminate targeting of civilians as part of the repertoire of violence while others do not?  Why do they do so when they do?  And what are the effects of this choice on the conflict and the rebel organization.Previous major research projects include:1) An empirical evaluation of the effectiveness of peacekeeping by comparing civil conflicts in which peacekeepers were deployed and those where belligerents were left to their own devices in the aftermath of war.  2) A study of how peace can be maintained in the aftermath of interstate war.Most of my research combines quantitative analysis of newly collected data with qualitative work examining case studies in depth.  I have done extensive field work in Sri Lanka, and shorter field work trips to Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Mozambique, and Namibia.


Journal Articles:

(2018) Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds: Rebel Funding Sources and the Use of Terrorism, International Studies Quarterly

Why do some rebel groups resort to terrorism tactics while others refrain from doing so? How rebel organizations finance their rebellion creates variation in the extent to which terrorism undermines their legitimacy. Rebel organizations pay attention to the legitimacy costs associated with terrorism. Organizations that rely primarily on civilian support, and to a lesser extent on foreign support, exercise more restraint in their use of terrorism. Rebels who finance their fight with lootable resources such as gems or drugs are least vulnerable to the costs of alienating domestic supporters. Thus, they are more likely to resort to terrorism and to employ more of it. The article elaborates this legitimacy-cost theory and tests it using new data on Terrorism in Armed Conflict from 1970 to 2007. We find robust support for the hypothesis that groups who finance their fight with natural resources are significantly more likely to employ terrorism (though not necessarily to conduct more deadly attacks) relative to those who rely on local civilian support. Groups with external sources of financing, such as foreign state support, may be more likely to engage in terrorism than those who rely on local civilians, but not significantly so.

(2015) Do Terrorists Win? The Use of Terrorism and Civil War Outcomes 1989-2009, International Organization

How effective is terrorism? This question has generated lively scholarly debate and is of obvious importance to policymakers. Most existing studies of terrorism are not well equipped to answer this question, however, as they lack an appropriate comparison. This article compares the outcomes of civil wars to assess whether rebel groups that use terrorism fare better than those who eschew this tactic. I evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of terrorism relative to other tactics used in civil war. Because terrorism is not a tactic employed at random, I first briefly explore empirically which groups use terrorism. Controlling for factors that may affect both the use of terrorism and war outcomes, I find that although civil wars involving terrorism last longer than other wars, terrorist rebel groups are generally less likely to achieve their larger political objectives than are nonterrorist groups. Terrorism may be less ineffective against democracies, but even in this context, terrorists do not win.

Books Written:

(2008) Does Peacekeeping Work? Shaping Belligerents' Choices after Civil War, Princeton University Press

In the last fifteen years, the number, size, and scope of peacekeeping missions deployed in the aftermath of civil wars have increased exponentially. From Croatia and Cambodia, to Nicaragua and Namibia, international personnel have been sent to maintain peace around the world. But does peacekeeping work? And if so, how? In Does Peacekeeping Work? Virginia Page Fortna answers these questions through the systematic analysis of civil wars that have taken place since the end of the Cold War. She compares peacekeeping and nonpeacekeeping cases, and she investigates where peacekeepers go, showing that their missions are crucial to the most severe internal conflicts in countries and regions where peace is otherwise likely to falter. Fortna demonstrates that peacekeeping is an extremely effective policy tool, dramatically reducing the risk that war will resume. Moreover, she explains that relatively small and militarily weak consent-based peacekeeping operations are often just as effective as larger, more robust enforcement missions. Fortna examines the causal mechanisms of peacekeeping, paying particular attention to the perspective of the peacekept--the belligerents themselves--on whose decisions the stability of peace depends. Based on interviews with government and rebel leaders in Sierra Leone, Mozambique, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, Does Peacekeeping Work? demonstrates specific ways in which peacekeepers alter incentives, alleviate fear and mistrust, prevent accidental escalation to war, and shape political procedures to stabilize peace.

(2004) Peace Time: Cease-Fire Agreements and the Durability of Peace, Princeton University Press

Why do cease-fire agreements sometimes last for years while others flounder barely long enough to be announced? How to maintain peace in the aftermath of war is arguably one of the most important questions of the post--Cold War era. And yet it is one of the least explored issues in the study of war and peace. Here, Page Fortna offers the first comprehensive analysis of why cease-fires between states succeed or fail. She develops cooperation theory to argue that mechanisms within these agreements can help maintain peace by altering the incentives for war and peace, reducing uncertainty, and helping to prevent or manage accidents that could lead to war. To test this theory, the book first explores factors, such as decisive victory and prior history of conflict, that affect the baseline prospects for peace. It then considers whether stronger cease-fires are likely to be implemented in the hardest or the easiest cases. Next, through both quantitative and qualitative testing of the effects of cease-fire agreements, firm evidence emerges that agreements do matter. Durable peace is harder to achieve after some wars than others, but when most difficult, states usually invest more in peace building. These efforts work. Strong agreements markedly lessen the risk of further war. Mechanisms such as demilitarized zones, dispute resolution commissions, peacekeeping, and external guarantees can help maintain peace between even the deadliest of foes.

Media Appearances:

Radio Appearances:

(2016) Oregon Public Radio's "Think Out Loud"

Discussion of the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Reserve.

(2015) Oregon Public Radio's Think Out Loud

Discussion of research on the (in)effectiveness of terrorism.

Newspaper Quotes:

(2016) New York Times

Expertise provided for “The Surprising Science of Cease Fires: Even Failures Can Help Peace” by Max Fisher. The New York Times September 16 2016, A8.

Blog Posts:

(2019) Political Violence at a Glance

Post on the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka from an on-the-ground observer.


(2017) FoxNews.Com

Opinion piece on the need for continued funding for UN peacekeeping.