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Third-Party Actors and the Intentional Targeting of Civilians in War


This article examines the relationship between third-party actors and the intentional targeting of non-combatants in interstate war. It argues that war participants kill fewer civilians in war when their expectation of third-party punishment is high. Combatants will anticipate a high likelihood of third-party sanctions when their alliance and trade networks are dominated by third parties that have ratified international treaties prohibiting the intentional targeting of non-combatants. The study hypothesizes that war combatants kill fewer civilians in war as the strength of ratifiers within their alliance and trade networks increases. Quantitative tests on a dataset of all interstate wars from 1900–2003 provide strong statistical and substantive support for this hypothesis.

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Department of Political Science, Michigan State University (email:; Department of Political Science, University of Illinois (email: Authors listed in alphabetical order. Equal authorship implied. We thank Sarah Croco, Nick Grossman, Jakana Thomas, Paul Huth, the editor and three anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions. Data replication files are available in Harvard Dataverse at: and online appendices are available at

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
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