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Destroyed buildings in Aleppo, Syria.

Violence and restraint: making strategic decisions during civil war


Does civil war always lead to violence against civilians? The short answer is no, according to Jessica Stanton, an associate professor in the global policy area at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Stanton's research has found that more than 40 percent of the civil wars between 1989 and 2010 did not involve large-scale attacks on civilians. "We haven't paid enough attention to the fact that not all civil wars involve violence against civilians," she says.

So why do some governments and rebel groups engage in violence against civilians while others exhibit restraint? "Both violence and restraint can be strategic," Stanton says. Understanding why some groups avoid targeting civilians may help policymakers incentivize groups to exercise restraint. Stanton is the author of Violence and Restraint in Civil War: Civilian Targeting in the Shadow of International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

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