Dissertation Defense: Stephan Pikner

Candidate Name: Stephan Pikner

Major: Government

Advisor: Desha Girod, Ph.D.

Title: Militarized Politics and Indiscriminate Counterinsurgency

Why do some states fighting a civil war use force indiscriminately? Despite the risks to regime legitimacy and questionable practical effectiveness, indiscriminate violence in civil war remains a common phenomenon. While such abuses have typically been attributed to authoritarian rule, regimes with electoral systems and broad selectorates also use indiscriminate counterinsurgency. I argue that a critical—and underexplored—mechanism behind indiscriminate counterinsurgency is the political role of the military within a broader electoral regime. If politically reliant on or unable to rein in their armed forces, a regime’s civilian leadership may defer to the military’s predisposition for using overwhelming firepower, limited ability to differentiate insurgents from the general population, and preferred goal of unconditional victory. In these cases, attempts to moderate the military’s strategy may result in the armed forces undermining the civilian leadership, threatening its political survival. Drawing on a novel extension of a recent coding of indirect military rule, I use a series of Bayesian multi-level models to test whether the interaction between militarized politics and the regime’s breadth of support drives the use of indiscriminate counterinsurgency in the post Cold-War world. I then explore the Indonesian military’s use of indiscriminate violence against civilians in Aceh in the years following the collapse of the authoritarian Suharto regime. Over the course of the four presidents that followed Suharto there was significant variation in the both political clout of the military and the breadth of support for the government, as well as in my dependent variable of indiscriminate counterinsurgency. By focusing within this single case, an intrastate conflict where the broader dynamics often linked with regime violence largely remained constant, I am able to better isolate the effect of militarized politics and selectorate size on indiscriminate counterinsurgency. Tracing how these shifts in Jakarta, particularly the political relevance and independence of the military, shaped events on the ground in Aceh provides strong qualitative evidence that complements my statistical model and supports my theorized role of militarized politics as an important causal factor in explaining the phenomenon of indiscriminate counterinsurgency.

Wednesday, April 24 at 11:30am to 1:30pm

Car Barn, 110
3520 Prospect St., N.W., Washington

Event Type

Academic Events, Dissertation Defense


Georgetown College, Government, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences



Open to the public and the press?


Event Contact Name

Paula Evans

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