Dude, Where’s My Conflict? LSG, Relative Strength, and the Location of Civil War

Kenneth Boulding’s (1962) notion of a loss-of-strength gradient (LSG) has been successfully applied to explain the military reach of states. The capability of a country (a.k.a. its national strength) is largest at its home base and declines as the nation moves away. Capable states are relatively less impeded by distance and can therefore influence more distant regions. Given armed conflict, battles are expected to occur in areas where the projected powers of the antagonists are comparable. When the aggressor’s projected power is greater than the national strength of the defender, the latter side should give in without violence. This paper is a first attempt to apply Boulding’s theory of international power projection to the study of civil war. Using new data on the point location of conflict onset and a variety of measures of state and rebel strength, this paper tests empirically one corollary of the LSG model: that civil wars in general locate further away from the capital in more powerful regimes.