Congratulations Katie Webster, who has won the Peace Science Society's 2017 Stuart A. Bremer Award for the best graduate-student paper presented at the annual meeting. Her paper was entitled "Rethinking Civil War Onset and Escalation."
Why do some civil conflicts simmer at low-intensity, while others escalate to war? This paper challenges traditional approaches to the start of intrastate conflict by arguing the need to distinguish both theoretically and methodologically between the onset and escalation of civil conflict. I develop a novel, strategic argument about two causal mechanisms that differentially drive low-intensity violence (LIV) versus full-blown war: the information environment and the types of rebel group in operation. I posit that before LIV, the state often does not even know the identity of its challenger, making bargaining highly unlikely; negotiations become more probable as the state gains key information through violence. This is reinforced by strategic behavior by the prospective rebel groups, whereby only the strongest groups make it past LIV. If this approach is correct, it forces a reexamination of the seminal findings in civil war literature by showing how failing to properly account for LIV when examining war has led to inaccurate results.