Research and Policy Seminar with Nils Hägerdal

The Center for Strategic Studies hosted a Research and Policy Seminar with Post-doctoral Research Fellow Nils Hägerdal on April 13. Hägerdal presented his paper, “Blowback Operations as Rebel Strategy: How Sunni-Shia Violence Spread from Syria into Lebanon, 2013-14,” co-authored with Peter Krause from Boston College.

The central question of the paper is when and why do conflict and violence spread across international borders? This research goes beyond existing theories of cross-border spillover of civil wars by introducing the new argument that actors involved in a civil war in one state can strategically engage in other forms of political violence in the neighboring country. The authors introduce a new theoretical framework modeling blowback operations as strategic means by which civil war combatants perpetrate terrorist attacks in the home country of a foreign actor to coerce the actor to end a military intervention.

The authors use a mix of quantitative and qualitative evidence to show how the military intervention by Hezbollah in Syria led to a bombing campaign by Sunni jihadists in Lebanon. Surprisingly, the findings show that Sunni jihadi groups are very deliberate about their targeting of civilian populations and discriminate between the general Shia population in Lebanon and supporters of Hezbollah. Specifically, the attackers primarily targeted Hezbollah’s political strongholds rather than indiscriminately attacking Shia civilians in Lebanon.

The article contributes to the scholarly understanding of the diffusion of political violence beyond civil war. It also adds nuance to understandings of the patterns of targeting in blowback operations by state and non-state actors. Finally, it introduces a new, detailed sub-state level dataset on terrorist attacks in Lebanon in 2013 and 2014, accounting for both the attacks that occurred and those that were prevented by Lebanese security forces.

The participants at the seminar offered feedback and comments on the paper, making suggestions about the formulation of hypotheses, presentation of evidence, and generalization of key findings. CSS looks forward to Hägerdal and Krause publishing this important research and contributing to the discussion about different forms of political violence and the strategic logic of blowback operations.

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