Insurgency and Inaccessibility

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Tollefsen, Andreas Forø & Halvard Buhaug (2015) Insurgency and Inaccessibility, International Studies Review 17(1): 6–25.

​​​​​​​A widely held belief within policy and practice contends that rough terrain and other physical obstacles to power projection hinder public surveillance, lower counterinsurgency capability, and generally constitute an important facilitator of rebellion. Likewise, sociocultural exclusion and alienation from the core are widely assumed to increase latent conflict risk th​rough their influence on identity formation and perception of collective grievances. However, there is no scientific consensus on the empirical strength or significance of such a relationship, and many quantitative studies fail to find a robust link between a country’s geographical or ethno-demographic characteristics and its estimated conflict risk. This paper represents a first comprehensive evaluation of how physical and sociocultural inaccessibility relate to contemporary civil wars. Drawing on recent advances in geographic information systems (GIS) and georeferenced indicators of terrain, settlement patterns, ethno-political status, and armed conflict, we put the purported causal relationship to empirical test. A statistical analysis of civil conflict events across post-Cold War Africa gives considerable support to the proposed theoretical framework, revealing that the various dimensions of inaccessibility all exert significant and substantive effects on local conflict risk. We find weaker evidence for the notion of substitutability; the inaccessibility indicators largely retain their individual effects when included in the same regression model.



Halvard Buhaug

Halvard Buhaug

Research Professor at PRIO; Professor of Political Science, NTNU