Hit Where it Hurts: City Vulnerability During Wartime

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Bryce Reeder (Assistant Professor, University of Missouri): reederbw@missouri.edu

Gary Uzonyi (Associate Professor, University of Tennessee): guzonyi@utk.edu

Governments become more likely to grant concessions to rebels when the costs imposed by ongoing conflict begin to mount, incentivizing negotiations to avoid future costs. To impose costs, rebels must move away from the networks that support them in the periphery and target cities. This is because cities are economic, cultural, and economic hubs where governments extract revenue, train and organize their armed forces, and maintain vital infrastructure. When rebels begin to successfully assault urban centers and undermine the functions they serve, a regime is severely weakened. Not all cities are created equal, however. In this project, we posit that some cities are more vulnerable than others to rebel assault. This is not only because of their geographic location and connectivity to transportation networks, but also because rebels have the incentive to assault cities most vital to regime survival. These cities can be material targets, in that they reduce the relative power of the regime, or symbolic targets, which seek to undermine regime credibility in a region. In addition, if rebel forces are able to capture a city it can function as a launching point, propelling rebels to further expand their military campaign. Using local-level data on rebel assaults and city characteristics, we assess the relationship between material and symbolic factors and the likelihood a city is targeted by rebel forces. By doing so, we expand the literature on war dynamics by explaining why rebels choose the targets they do, while also highlighting the implications of city capture for conflict diffusion.