Islands of Stability in Fragile Countries

Donor Strategies for Managing Risks in Conflict and Disaster-Prone Areas

Under what conditions are aid programs in conflict and disaster-prone areas successful? How do international donors adapt to such high-risk environments? And to what extent does international and local actors’ anticipation of extreme events and aid delivery shape their interactions over time?

This project will explore these questions by examining the effect of local violence and natural disasters on foreign aid. Building on a growing research program on the political economy of aid, we plan to leverage multiple methods including statistical analysis of microlevel event data, mechanism testing via qualitative interviews, and a lab experiment. As a result, the project will advance our understanding of the nexus between conflict, disasters and aid flows.

This project is made possible by a grant from NYUAD’s Research Enhancement Fund.

Working Paper

Essential Decisions: Donor Strategies for Managing Risk in Conflict Zones (with Renata Ivanova).

Abstract: How do international donors adapt to high-risk environments? As fragile states have become the dominant target of foreign aid, this question is increasingly relevant for governments, international organizations and aid workers. We develop a novel theory of strategic adaptation to security risks by donor governments. We posit that conflict shocks increase risks for donors, but also improve donor ability to demand policy concessions from recipient countries. Whether expected gains—in terms of policy concessions made to donors—will outweigh the risks of aid delivery varies depending on the type of donor involved and the recipient country’s strategic importance. In the face of security risks, donor governments are likely to increase bilateral aid in strategically important countries because the value of expected policy concessions outweighs the costs of operation. Conversely, they will decrease aid in non-strategic countries. Donor governments will maintain or reduce multilateral aid in response to shocks because international institutions typically produce policy concessions whose value does not outweigh the heightened costs of operations. We empirically test our theory by using a difference-in-difference approach to estimate donor responses to conflict shocks in strategic vs. non-strategic countries across Africa and Asia in the period from 1997–2014. We check the robustness of our analysis by examining donor behavior in response to clearly exogenous shocks—natural disasters. Overall, we find support for our theory, showing that bilateral donors are resilient to security risks in strategically important countries, yet respond highly risk-averse to conflict shocks in less strategic countries.

Casualties and Commitment in Peacekeeping Operations

Working Paper

Race to the Exit? Explaining the Commitment of Peacekeeping Contributors (with Tyler Headley and Christopher Shay).

Abstract: UN peacekeeping operations are deployed to some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones and since 1948 over 4,000 peacekeepers have died. In response to suffering fatalities, some countries continue their voluntary troop contributions while others disengage, imperiling a mission’s effectiveness. We posit that the variation in countries’ commitment is the result of a latent collective action problem that materializes in the face of adversity: the more countries contribute troops to a given mission, the weaker the commitment of individual contributors, and the stronger the likelihood of disengagements from this mission—defined as unplanned, unilateral withdrawals of critical national contingents in response to fatalities. Leveraging a novel dataset on disengagements and Cox proportional hazard regression models, we find support for our core hypothesis: the higher the initial number of contributors, the more likely countries are to disengage from a given mission. In addition, we find evidence that liberal democracies are more prone to disengagement, whereas countries with high sunk costs in a given mission are less so. Our findings highlight that peacekeeping forces’ composition and the timing of their deployment matter for high-risk missions; the UN may be well-advised to incentivize early deployment and rely on a smaller number of contributors to increase countries’ commitment to mission success.

This project has been generously supported by the NYU Center on International Cooperation.