Learning How (Not) to Fire a Gun: Combatant Training and Civilian Victimization

Year: 2011 HiCN Working Paper No. 110

What is the relationship between the type of training combatants receive upon recruitment into an armed group and their propensity to abuse civilians in civil war? Does military training or political training prevent or exacerbate the victimization of civilians by armed non-state actors? While the literature on civilian victimization has expanded rapidly, few studies have examined the correlation between abuse of civilians and the modes of training that illegal armed actors receive. Using a simple formal model, we develop hypotheses regarding this connection and argue that while military training should not decrease the probability that a combatant engages in civilian abuse, political training should. We test these hypotheses using a new survey consisting of a representative sample of approximately 1,500 demobilized combatants from the Colombian conflict, which we match with department-level data on civilian casualties. The empirical analysis confirms our hypotheses about the connection between training and civilian abuse and the results are robust to adding a full set of controls both at the department and at the individual level.