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Fatality Thresholds, Causal Heterogeneity, and Civil War Research: Reconsidering the Link Between Narcotics and Conflict

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 June 2016


Determining the appropriate fatality threshold criteria for case selection in the civil war literature has proven contentious. Yet, despite continued debate, our survey of the literature finds that scholars rarely examine their findings across multiple thresholds. Of those that did evaluate their findings in this way, nearly half found that their results changed at different thresholds. Because minor and major conflicts often exhibit different causal patterns, scholars should explore their empirical findings across a range of theoretically motivated thresholds. To illustrate the utility of this approach, we demonstrate that the relationship between narcotics and conflict intensity varies across thresholds. We then introduce a dynamic theory that emphasizes the endogeneity of rebel groups’ decisions to turn to drug cultivation during civil war.

Original Articles
© The European Political Science Association 2016 

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Noel Anderson, PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Building E40, Room 404, 1 Amherst Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA (; Alec Worsnop, PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Building E40, Room 404, 1 Amherst Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA ( The authors thank Päivi Lujala for sharing her data. They also thank Mark Bell, Fotini Christia, James Conran, Cassidy D’Aloia, Kristen Eck, Brian Haggerty, Morgan Kaplan, Gary King, Nick Miller, Roger Petersen, Stathis Kalyvas, Jennifer Pan, Molly Roberts, Kirssa Cline Ryckman, Kai Thaler, Omar Wasow, Catherine Worsnop, seminar participants at MIT, Harvard, and Yale, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on previous drafts of this paper. All errors remain the authors’ own. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit


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