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Harff: No lessons learned from the Holocaust

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Harff. 2003. No lessons learned from the Holocaust? Assessing risks of genocide and political mass murder since. American Political Science Review 97.

In Brief

"This article reports a test of a structural model of the antecedents of genocide and politicide (political mass murder). A case-control research design is used to test alternative specifications of a multivariate model that identifies preconditions of geno-/politicide. The universe of analysis consists of 126 instances of internal war and regime collapse that began between 1955 and 1997, as identified by the State Failure project. Geno-/politicides began during 35 of these episodes of state failure. The analytic question is which factors distinguish the 35 episodes that led to geno-/politicides from those that did not. The case-control method is used to estimate the effects of theoretically specified domestic and international risk factors measured one year prior to the onset of geno-/politicide. The optimal model includes six factors that jointly make it possible to distinguish with 74% accuracy between internal wars and regime collapses that do and those that do not lead to geno-/politicide. The conclusion uses the model to assess the risks of future episodes in 25 countries."


Definition: "Genocides and politicides are the promotion, execution, and/or implied consent of sustained policies by governing elites or their agents--or, in the case of civil war, either of the contending authorities--that are intended to destroy, in whole or part, a communal, political, or politicized ethnic group." (page 58)

  1. Political Upheaval: The Necessary Precondition for Genocide and Politicide

"Political upheaval is defined as an abrupt change in the political community caused by the formation of a state or regime through violent conflict, redrawing of state boundaries, or defeat in international war."

"the argument is that the greater the extent of violent conflict and adverse regime change, the greater the likelihood that geno-/politicide will occur. There are two rationales. First, the more intense and persisting conflict has been, the more threatened authorities are likely to be, and the more willing to take extreme measures. Second, following Krain (1997), the greater the extent of political disruption, the greater the opportunities for authorities to seek a "final solution" to present and potential future challenges." (page 62)

  1. Prior Genocides: Habituation to Mass Killings?

"To test for "repeat offender" effects, a binary indicator of whether or not a previous genocide had occurred in the country since 1955 was used."

  1. Political Systems: Exclusionary Ideologies and Autocratic Rule

"Political upheaval is a necessary but not sufficient condition for geno-/politicide. ... Two characteristics of political governance have vital intervening effects--the ideological commitments of elites [she's identified a list of ideologies that are exclusionary on page 63] and the extent of democratic constraints on their actions. [she includes the Polity scale of democracy for this]"

  1. Ethnic and religious cleavages

Three possible arguments, thus three variables thrown into the regression:

  • Ethnolinguistic fractionalization
  • Active ethnic discrimination (leading to deprivation, see Gurr)
  • Elite ethnicity [if elite politicians overrepresent a particular ethnic group]
  1. Low Economic Development

"The State Failure project has consistently found that armed conflicts and adverse regime changes are more likely to occur in poor countries." (page 64) Her explanation of why she is using infant mortality rates to measure this is basically just a confession that she was fishing for a relationship.

  1. International Context: Economic and Political Interdependence

"Shifting global alliances like those that followed the end of the ColdWar decreased the predictability of international responses to instability and gross human rights violations."

  • Also, high interdependence on others discourages genocide. She proxies this by openness to trade.