My research is about violence after war. Contrary to received wisdom, violent societies are not a natural outcome of war. Violence is not ubiquitous in post-war countries. It does not emerge everywhere all the time; its distribution varies significantly across time and space. Explaining where violence occurs allows us to understand why it does–which is the objective of my dissertation, a history-grounded investigation in the nature and impact of post-conflict violence and the dynamics of its variation.
My project explains why the winners of a war kill their former enemies after the hostilities have officially ended. They do so to convert their military advantage into political dominance. The winners cleanse the territories under their control as a way to consolidate their military victory and sanction their political power. Post-conflict targeted assassinations are therefore a strategy to establish political hegemony and, as such, they occur in the areas where the winners’ influence concentrates. In other words, my explanation centers on the forward-looking, strategic dimension of postwar violence, which most existing accounts overlook by privileging past dynamics, i.e., revenge, justice demands, or the conflict’s “root-causes.”
The end of a war, no matter how decisive its military settlement, does not automatically lead to a definitive political solution. Most often, a transitional period begins, during which the question of who governs and how to distribute power ought to be solved. In other words, the winners have to transform their military advantage into a political victory. This process happens during the time lag between the official end of the hostilities and the return of “normal” politics. It is during this time that the foundations of a new political system are laid and so are the bases for durable peace or renewed conflict. Violence plays a crucial role in this transition from civil war to peaceful democratic politics. It intertwines with the emerging electoral competition. It becomes an integral part of the political contestation process and a strategy to influence the post-war allocation of power.
The fast-changing political system at war’s end creates a sense of urgency, which is the underlying condition for targeted extra-judicial assassinations of former enemies. But violence emerges only under specific conditions. The war experience and its military resolution forge the winning actors’ preferences, particularly in regards to how political power should be distributed and attained. The wartime legacies combine with forward-looking expectations to create a series of mismatches, which give the winners incentives to kill, and organization, which gives them the capacity to do so. The mismatches create a more complicated net of incentives than the dichotomies of winner-loser or military vs. political actors would predict. Instead, the causes of post-war targeted killings during transitions rest in the relative strength of the parties within the winning coalition and the relative position of party affiliates within these parties.
My empirical strategy focuses on a structured, sub-national comparison of post-WWII Italy. I generalize these findings to contemporary settings, by developing a topology of post-conflict violence, by mapping cases of post-conflict violence across the world since 1945, and by testing my theoretical findings in a contemporary case study–post-Qadhafi Libya. My research bridges academia and practice by providing a basis for more suited data collecting strategies and more tailored intervention policies in post-conflict settings, with the ultimate goal of increasing international peacebuilding and conflict prevention capacity.