Peer-reviewed journal articles

Corinne Bara, Annekatrin Deglow & Sebastian van Baalen (2021) Civil war recurrence and postwar violence: Towards an integrated research agenda. European Journal of International Relations (online first).

Violence after civil war is a challenge to sustainable peace. Many armed conflicts today are recurrences of previous wars and much of the literature on violence after war explains why armed groups return to the battlefield. But even if peace prevails, many other types of violence take place in postwar environments. This postwar violence is likewise subject to a growing multidisciplinary literature. Using citation network analysis, we show that research on war recurrence and postwar violence has developed in relative isolation from each other—although these phenomena are interrelated. This compartmentalization leads us to overlook important similarities and differences in the drivers of different forms of violence after war. We demonstrate this by reviewing the literature in both of these closely related fields. While war recurrence and postwar violence share a set of common risk factors, some factors can have opposite effects on the two outcomes. Because these insights only emerge when systematically comparing the two strands of literature, we propose a novel framework for the study of violence after wars that aims at overcoming the compartmentalization of research within these two fields. The framework serves both as a conceptual lens and an analytical tool to categorize and compare different forms of violence after war. We then outline how the framework aids scholars in pursuing an integrated research agenda, with concrete suggestions for research questions that should be studied to expand our understanding of violence after wars.

Sebastian van Baalen (2020) Local elites, civil resistance, and the responsiveness of rebel governance in Côte d’Ivoire. Journal of Peace Research (online first).

Why is rebel governance more responsive in some areas than in others? In recent years, scholars have started to examine the determinants of rebel governance. Less attention has been given to explaining variation in the responsiveness of rebel governance, that is, the degree to which rebels are soliciting and acting upon civilian preferences in their governance. This article seeks to address this gap by studying local variation in rebel responsiveness. I argue that rebel responsiveness is a function of whether local elites control clientelist networks that allow them to mobilize local citizens. Strong clientelist networks are characterized by local elite control over resources and embeddedness in local authority structures. In turn, such networks shape local elites’ capacity for mobilizing support for, or civil resistance against, the rebels, and hence their bargaining power in negotiations over rebel governance. Drawing on unique interview and archival data collected during eight months of fieldwork, as well as existing survey data, the study tests the argument through a systematic comparison of four areas held by the Forces Nouvelles in Coˆte d’Ivoire. The analysis indicates that the strength of local elites’ clientelist networks shapes rebel responsiveness. Moreover, it provides support for the theorized civil resistance mechanism, and shows that this mechanism is further enhanced by ethnopolitical ties between civilians and rebels. These findings speak to the burgeoning literature on rebel governance and to research on civil resistance. In addition, the results inform policy debates on how to protect civilians in civil war.

Sebastian van Baalen & Kristine Höglund (2019) “So, the killings continued”: Wartime mobilization and post-war violence in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Terrorism & Political Violence 31(6): 1168–1186.

Many post-war states experience continuous low-intensity violence for years after the formal end of the conflict. Existing theories often focus on country-level explanations of post-war violence, such as the presence of spoilers or the nature of the peace agreement. Yet, post-war violence does not affect all communities equally; whereas some remain entrenched in violence, others escape the perpetuation of violent conflict. We argue that communities where wartime mobilization at the local level is based on the formation of alliances between armed groups and local elites are more likely to experience post-war violence, than communities where armed groups generate civilian support based on grassroots backing of the group’s political objectives. We explore this argument in a comparison of three communities in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, which have experienced different levels of post-war violence. The analysis supports the main argument and contributes to the research on the microdynamics of civil war by outlining the implications of certain strategies of wartime mobilization and how these may generate localized legacies.

Sebastian van Baalen (2018) “Google wants to know your location”: The ethical challenges of fieldwork in the digital age. Research Ethics 14(4): 1–17.

Information communications technologies (ICTs) like laptops, smartphones and portable storage devices facilitate travel, communication and documentation for researchers who conduct fieldwork. But despite increasing awareness about the ethical complications associated with using ICTs among journalists and humanitarians, there are few reflections on digital security among researchers. This article seeks to raise awareness of this important question by outlining three sets of ethical challenges related to digital security that may arise during the course of field research. These ethical challenges relate to (i) informed consent and confidentiality, (ii) collecting, transferring and storing sensitive data, and (iii) maintaining the personal security and integrity of the researcher. To help academics reflect on and mitigate these risks, the article underscores the importance of digital risk assessments and develops ten basic guidelines for field research in the digital age.

Sebastian van Baalen & Malin Mobjörk (2018) Climate change and violent conflict in East Africa: Integrating qualitative and quantitative research to probe the mechanisms. International Studies Review 20(4): 547–575.

How does climate change affect the risk and dynamics of violent conflict? Existing research shows that climate change can increase the risk of violent conflict and significantly alter the dynamics of existing conflicts. Less is known about the exact mechanisms through which climate change affects violent conflict. In this article, we address this lacuna in light of the first systematic review of both quantitative and qualitative scholarship. Through an analysis of forty-three peer-reviewed articles on climate-related environmental change and violent conflict in East Africa published 1989–2016, we evaluate to what extent the literature provides coherent explanations that identify relevant mechanisms, actors, and outcomes. In addition, we discuss the expected temporal and spatial distribution of violence and the confounding political factors implied in the literature. Against this background, we offer a number of suggestions for how future climate-conflict research can theorize and explore mechanisms. Future research should distinguish between explanations that focus on causes and dynamics of climate-related violent conflict, theoretically motivate when and where violence is most likely to occur, systematically examine the role of state policies and intervention, and explore the implications of each explanation at the microlevel.


Jesper Bjarnesen & Sebastian van Baalen (2021) Democratic Backsliding in Côte d’Ivoire: Legislative Elections Tighten Ouattara’s Grip on Power. NAI Policy Notes 2021:1. Uppsala: The Nordic Africa Institute.

The ruling RHDP’s victory in legislative elections in March 2021 has tightened incumbent President Alassane Ouattara’s grip on political power in Côte d’Ivoire. Though Ouattara has taken a conciliatory stance towards the opposition since his re-election, his control of political institutions, low voter turnout, electoral violence and the president’s international status heighten the risk of further democratic backsliding in Côte d’Ivoire.

Jesper Bjarnesen & Sebastian van Baalen (2020) Ouattara’s third-term bid raises old fears: Risk of violence in Côte d’Ivoire’s upcoming presidential elections. NAI Policy Notes 2020:5. Uppsala: The Nordic Africa Institute.

The unexpected death this summer of the front-runner in the upcoming elections and incumbent President Ouattara’s contested move to run for a third term in office have increased the risk of electoral violence in the ethnically divided Côte d’Ivoire. The threat of a return to armed conflict, as we saw after the 2010 elections, should not be excluded.

Malin Mobjörk, Maria-Therese Gustafsson, Hannes Sonnsjö, Sebastian van Baalen, Lisa Dellmuth & Niklas Bremberg (2016) Climate-related security risks: Towards and integrated approach. Report. Stockholm: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The security implications of climate change have attracted increasing attention in policymaking and research circles since the early 2000s. Since climate change has far-reaching implications for human livelihoods and activities, the potential security implications are broad and complex. Responses from different policy communities—foreign affairs, defence, environmental and development—are therefore required. These communities are currently at different stages of developing strategies to integrate climate-related security risks into their work.

This report provides an overview of climate-related security risks and policy responses for addressing those risks. First, it presents findings on six thematic areas in which climate change can pose security risks. Second, it investigates how policy organizations integrate climate-related security risks into their policies and practical work. The analysis provides a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges presented by different integration strategies. In doing so, it offers relevant insights and practical alternatives to help address and work with the security risks posed by climate change. This knowledge is prerequisite to policymakers seeking to accurately assess the value of current strategies and identify how policies, strategic guidance, internal organization and procedures could be improved in order to respond better to climate-related security risks.

Working papers

Sebastian van Baalen (under review) Reconceptualising rebel rule: The responsiveness of rebel governance in Man, Côte d’Ivoire.

This study considers the concept of rebel governance responsiveness by the Forces Nouvelles (FN) in Côte d’Ivoire. Responsiveness refers to the degree to which a government’s political decisions correspond to its citizens’ desires. The concept of responsiveness is vital for assessing regime types and constitutes an essential metric of democracy. However, the idea is rarely invoked in analyses of how rebel groups relate to civilian preferences in how they govern citizens in rebel areas. The study makes three contributions. First, it develops a conceptualisation of rebel responsiveness across four domains: representation, security, taxation, and welfare. Second, it demonstrates the concept’s usefulness through a case study of two ethnic communities in Man, Côte d’Ivoire, using unique interview and archival data. The study shows that while the FN governed both ethnic communities, rebel responsiveness differed in significant ways. This finding highlights that focusing on the mere existence, rather than the responsiveness, of rebel governance is insufficient for capturing the nature of civilian life under rebel rule. Third, the study shows how focusing on rebel governance’s responsiveness can uncover new insights about civil war.