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Random or Retributive?: Indiscriminate Violence in the Chechen Wars


This article provides a critical examination of the current theoretical debate concerning the effects of indiscriminate violence. It argues that indiscriminate violence has been treated as an essentially random counterinsurgency tactic, but that the important distinction between its random and retributive variations has been overlooked, along with critical issues of timing and location, which has made it difficult to evaluate its efficacy in quelling rebel violence. Prior research has shown that both random and retributive violence reduced insurgent activity in the targeted locations and in the short term, but it does not necessarily follow that indiscriminate violence is effective. This article uses microlevel ethnographic evidence from Chechen villages during the period from 2001 to 2005 to show that indiscriminate violence deployed retributively against village communities generated insurgent activity in other areas because local avengers and rebels from the targeted populations sought to avoid further retributive violence against their village communities. Moreover, the insurgent activity occurred at least nine months after the initial act of retributive violence. Indiscriminate violence deployed randomly against village communities generated insurgent activity within the same targeted area, since the insurgents did not fear retributive violence in retaliation, and occurred with a delay of at least six months. As a result, the rebel reaction to indiscriminate violence is not observed immediately or, in the case of retributive violence, in the same location. This finding has crucial implications for evaluating the efficacy of indiscriminate violence in counterinsurgency operations, and underscores the importance of understanding how the social and political context can shape the way populations react to different forms of violence.

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
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