Skip to main content Accessibility help

Strategic Violence During Democratization: Evidence from Myanmar

  • Darin Christensen, Mai Nguyen and Renard Sexton

Democratic transitions are often followed by conflict. This article explores one explanation: the military's strategic use of violence to retain control of economically valuable regions. The authors uncover this dynamic in Myanmar, a country transitioning from four decades of military rule. Fearing that the new civilian government will assert authority over jade mining, the military initiated violence in mining townships. Using geocoded data on conflict and jade mines, the authors find evidence for this strategic use of violence. As Myanmar started to transition in 2011, conflicts instigated by the military in jademining areas sharply rose. The article also addresses alternative explanations, including a shift in the military's strategy, colocation of mines and military headquarters, commodity prices, opposition to a controversial dam, and trends specific to Kachin State. With implications beyond Myanmar, the authors argue that outgoing generals can use instability to retain rents where plausible challengers to state authority provide a pretense for violence.

Hide All
Acemoglu, Daron, and A.Robinson, James. 2005. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press.
Acemoglu, Daron, Ticchi, Davide, and Vindigni, Andrea. 2010. “A Theory of Military Dictatorships.American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 2, no. 1: 142. doi: 10.1257/mac.2.1.1.
Barany, Zoltan. 2016. “Armed Forces and Democratization in Myanmar: Why the US Military Should Engage the Tatmadaw.” Report. Washington, D.C.: Center for International and Strategic Studies. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Brenner, David. 2015. “Ashes of Co-optation: From Armed Group Fragmentation to the Rebuilding of Popular Insurgency in Myanmar.Conflict, Security & Development 15, no. 4: 337–58. doi: 10.1080/14678802.2015.1071974.
Burbidge, John B., Magee, Lonnie, and Robb, A. Leslie. 1988. “Alternative Transformations to Handle Extreme Values of the Dependent Variable.Journal of the American Statistical Association 83, no. 401: 123–27. doi: 10.2307/2288929.
Callahan, Mary P. 2003. Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Callahan, Mary P. 2012. “The Generals Loosen Their Grip.Journal of Democracy 23, no. 4: 120–31. doi: 10.1353/jod.2012.0072.
Callahan, Mary P., and K.Emmerson, Donald. 1998. “Political Legacies and Prospects for Democratic Development in Southeast Asia.NBR Analysis 9, no. 3. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Chang, Wen-Chin. 2004. “Guanxi and Regulation in Networks: The Yunnanese Jade Trade between Burma and Thailand, 1962–88.Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 35, no. 3: 479501. doi: 10.1017/S0022463404000244.
Chang, Wen-Chin. 2006. “The Trading Culture of Jade Stones among the Yunnanese in Burma and Thailand, 1962–88.Journal of Chinese Overseas 2, no. 2: 269–93. doi: 10.1353/jco.2006.0024.
Chen, Xi, and D.Nordhaus, William. 2011. “Using Luminosity Data as a Proxy for Economic Statistics.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, no. 21: 8589–94. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1017031108.
Christensen, Darin, Nguyen, Mai, and Sexton, Renard. 2019a. “Replication Data for: Strategic Violence during Democratization: Evidence from Myanmar.” Harvard Dataverse, V1. doi: 10.7910/DVN/SQ0UM2.
Christensen, Darin, Nguyen, Mai, and Sexton, Renard. 2019b. Supplementary material for “Strategic Violence during Democratization: Evidence from Myanmar.” doi: 10.1017/S0043887118000308.
Collier, Paul, and Hoeffler, Anke. 2004. “Greed and Grievance in Civil War.Oxford Economic Papers 56, no. 4: 563–95. doi: 10.1093/oep/gpf064.
Croicu, Mihai, and Sundberg, Ralph. 2015. “UCDP GED Codebook, Version 4.0.” Department of Peace and Conflict Research. Uppsala University. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Dal Bó, Ernesto, and Dal Bó, Pedro. 2011. “Workers, Warriors, and Criminals: Social Conflict in General Equilibrium.Journal of the European Economic Association 9, no. 4: 646–77. doi: 10.1111/j.1542-4774.2011.01025.x.
Dapice, David, and Thanh Nguyen, Xuan. 2013. “Creating a Future: Using Natural Resources for New Federalism and Unity.” Occasional Papers. Cambridge, Mass.: Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Diamond, Larry. 1997. “Is the Third Wave of Democratization Over? An Empirical Assessment.” Working Paper no. 236. South Bend, Ind.: Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame. At∼kellogg/publications/workingpapers/WPS/236.pdf, accessed November 10, 2018.
Doll, Christopher N. H., Muller, Jan-Peter, and G.Morley, Jeremy. 2006. “Mapping Regional Economic Activity from Night-Time Light Satellite Imagery.Ecological Economics 57, no. 1: 7592. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2005.03.007.
Dube, Oeindrila, and F.Vargas, Juan. 2013. “Commodity Price Shocks and Civil Conflict: Evidence from Colombia.Review of Economic Studies 80, no. 4: 1384–421. doi: 10.1093/restud/rdt009.
Economist. 2013. “Democracy on Prescription.” May 25. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Fearon, James D. 1995. “Rationalist Explanations for War.International Organization 49, no. 3: 379414. doi: 10.1017/S0020818300033324.
Feaver, Peter D. 1996. “The Civil-Military Problematique: Huntington, Janowitz, and the Question of Civilian Control.Armed Forces & Society 23, no. 2: 149–78. doi: 10.1177/0095327X9602300203.
Fergusson, Leopoldo, Robinson, James A., Torvik, Ragnar, and F.Vargas, Juan. 2014. “The Need for Enemies.Economic Journal 126, no. 593: 1018–54. doi: 10.1111/ecoj.12174.
Finer, Samuel Edward. 1962. The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics. London, UK: Pall Mall Press.
Flöter, Annegret, Lujala, Päivi, and Rød, Jan Ketil. 2005. “The Gemstone Dataset Codebook.” At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Geddes, Barbara, Frantz, Erica, and G.Wright, Joseph. 2014. “Military Rule.Annual Review of Political Science 17: 147–62. doi: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-032211-213418.
Geddes, Barbara, Wright, Joseph G., and Frantz, Erica. 2014. “Autocratic Breakdown and Regime Transitions: A New Data Set.Perspectives on Politics 12, no. 2: 313–31. doi: 10.1017/S1537592714000851.
Gledhill, John. 2012. “Competing for Change: Regime Transition, Intrastate Competition, and Violence.Security Studies 21, no. 1: 4382. doi: 10.1080/09636412.2012.650592.
Global Witness. 2015. “Jade: Myanmar's ‘Big State Secret’: The Biggest Natural Resources Heist in Modern History?” October 23. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Global Witness. 2016. “Myanmar Government Announces Ground-Breaking Reforms of Toxic Jade Business.” July 28. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Global Witness. 2017. “Cursed Treasure: Jade Riches, Deadly Conflict and Prospects for Peace in Myanmar.” At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Gravers, Mikael, and Ytzen, Flemming, eds. 2014. Burma/Myanmar: Where Now? Copenhagen, Denmark: NIAS Press.
Haggard, Stephan, and R.Kaufman, Robert. 1995. The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Hagopian, Frances. 1990. “Democracy by Undemocratic Means? Elites, Political Pacts, and Regime Transition in Brazil.Comparative Political Studies 23, no. 2: 147–70. doi: 10.1177/0010414090023002001.
Hainmueller, Jens. 2012. “Entropy Balancing for Causal Effects: A Multivariate Reweighting Method to Produce Balanced Samples in Observational Studies.Political Analysis 20, no. 1: 2546. doi: 10.1093/pan/mpr025.
Herbst, Jeffrey. 2000. States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Hijmans, Robert J., Cameron, Susan E., Parra, Juan L., Jones, Peter G., and Jarvis, Andy. 2005. “Very High Resolution Interpolated Climate Surfaces for Global Land Areas.International Journal of Climatology 25, no. 15: 1965–78. doi: 10.1002/joc.1276.
Hughes, Richard W., Galibert, Olivier, Bosshart, George, Ward, Fred, Oo, Thet, Smith, Mark, Sun, Tay Thye, and E.Harlow, George. 2000. “Burmese Jade: The Inscrutable Gem.Gems & Gemology 36, no. 1: 226. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Human Rights Watch. 2011. “Burma: Army Committing Abuses in Kachin State.” October 18. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Huntington, Samuel P. 1957. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Irrawaddy. 2014. “A Chronology of Myanmar's Kachin Conflict.” At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Janowitz, Morris. 1960. The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait. New York, N.Y.: Free Press.
Jolliffe, Kim. 2015. Ethnic Armed Conflict and Territorial Administration in Myanmar. Yangon, Myanmar: The Asia Foundation. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Jones, Lee. 2014. “Explaining Myanmar's Regime Transition: The Periphery Is Central.Democratization 21, no. 5: 780802. doi: 10.1080/13510347.2013.863878.
Jonsson, Michael, Brennan, Elliot, and O’Hara, Christopher. 2016. “Financing War or Facilitating Peace? The Impact of Rebel Drug Trafficking on Peace Negotiations in Colombia and Myanmar.Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 39, no. 6: 542–59. doi: 10.1080/1057610X.2015.1124628.
Keen, David. 2014. Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars Is More Important Than Winning Them. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Keller, Edmond J. 2004. “Understanding Conflicts in the Horn of Africa.” In Chandra Lekha Sriram and Zoe Nielsen, eds., Exploring Subregional Conflict Opportunities for Conflict Prevention. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Kingsbury, Damien. 2014. “Political Transition in Myanmar: Prospects and Problems.Asian Politics & Policy 6, no. 3: 351–73. doi: 10.1111/aspp.12115.
Kramer, Tom. 2009. “Burma's Cease-Fires at Risk: Consequences of the Kokang Crisis for Peace and Democracy.” Peace & Security Briefing, no. 1. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Transnational Institute. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Kyed, Helene Maria, and Gravers, Mikael. 2014. “Non-state Armed Groups in the Myanmar Peace Process: What Are the Future Options?” DIIS Working Paper no. 7. Copenhagen, Denmark: Danish Institute for International Studies. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Lacina, Bethany, and Petter Gleditsch, Nils. 2005. “Monitoring Trends in Global Combat: A New Dataset of Battle Deaths.European Journal of Population 21, no. 2–3: 145–66. doi: 10.1007/s10680-005-6851-6.
Lintner, Bertil. 2013a. “The Military's Still in Charge: Why Reform in Burma Is Only Skin-Deep.” Foreign Policy, July 9. At, accessed November 9, 2018.
Lintner, Bertil. 2013b. “A Well-Laid War in Myanmar.” Asia Times. February 1. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Lintner, Bertie. 2015. “Opposition Wins in Myanmar, but Military Still Holds the Reins.” Yale Global Online. November 12. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Linz, Juan J., and Stepan, Alfred. 1996. Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Lujala, Päivi. 2009. “Deadly Combat over Natural Resources: Gems, Petroleum, Drugs, and the Severity of Armed Civil Conflict.Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, no. 1: 5071. doi: 10.1177/0022002708327644.
Montgomery, Jacob M., Nyhan, Brendan, and Torres, Michelle. 2018. “How Conditioning on Posttreatment Variables Can Ruin Your Experiment and What to Do about It.American Journal of Political Science 62, no. 3: 760–75. doi: 10.1111/ajps.12357.
Myoe, Maung Aung. 2009. Building the Tatmadaw: Myanmar Armed Forces Since 1948. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Naing, Saw Yan. 2012. “Thousands Flee as Burma Army Attacks Jade Capital.” Irrawaddy, August 28. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Naylor, Hugh. 2015. “Houthi Rebels in Yemen Eye Oil-Rich Province, Sparking Fears of All-Out Civil War.” Washington Post, February 15. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Nyunt, Khin Maung. 1996. “History of Myanmar Jade Trade till 1938.” In Traditions in Current Perspective: Proceedings of the Conference on Myanmar and Southeast Asian Studies. Rangoon, Myanmar: Universities Press.
O’Donnell, Guillermo. 1986. “Introduction to the Latin American Cases.” In Guillermo O’Donnell, Schmitter, Philippe C., and Whitehead, Laurence, eds., Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, vol. 2, Latin America. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
O’Donnell, Guillermo, and C.Schmitter, Philippe. 1986. Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, vol. 4, Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Özbudun, Ergun. 2000. Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Przeworski, Adam. 1991. Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Reno, William. 1999. Warlord Politics and African States. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Shor, Russell. 2013. “As Jadeite Prices Soar, So Does Supply Uncertainty.” GIA. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Slater, Dan. 2014. “The Elements of Surprise: Assessing Burma's Double-Edged Détente.South East Asia Research 22, no. 2: 171–82. doi: 10.5367/sear.2014.0206.
Smith, Martin. 2007. State of Strife: The Dynamics of Ethnic Conflict in Burma. Policy Studies no. 36 Washington, D.C.: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Sone, Nyein Pyae. 2013. “The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Also Has to Pay.” Irrawaddy, July 12. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Sun, Yun. 2014. “China, the United States, and the Kachin Conflict.” Issue Brief. Washington D.C.: Stimson Center. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Transnational Institute. 2013. “The Kachin Crisis: Peace Must Prevail.” Burma Policy Briefing no. 10. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Ulmer, Alexander, and Buitrago, Deisy. 2017. “New Venezuela Oil Boss to Give Military More PDVSA Posts.” Reuters, November 27. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
USA Today. 2013. “Burmese Military Admits Airstrikes against Kachin.” January 3. At, accessed November 30, 2018.
US House of Representatives. 2008. Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008. H.R. 3890, 110th Cong., 2nd Sess. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Vanden Eynde, Oliver. 2015. “Mining Royalties and Incentives for Security Operations: Evidence from India's Red Corridor.” PSE Working Papers no. 2015-42. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Watts, Jonathan. 2011. “Dozens Killed in Burma amid Clashes over Chinese Dams.” Guardian, June 16. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Weidmann, Nils B., and Shutte, Sebastian. 2016. “Using Night Light Emissions for the Prediction of Local Wealth.Journal of Peace Research 54, no. 2: 125–40. doi: 10.1177/0022343316630359.
Woods, Kevin. 2011. “Ceasefire Capitalism: Military-Private Partnerships, Resource Concessions and Military-State Building in the Burma-China Borderlands.Journal of Peasant Studies 38, no. 4: 747–70. doi: 10.1080/03066150.2011.607699.
Zaw, Hnin Yadana. 2015. “Chinese Jade Miners in Overdrive ahead of New Myanmar Government.” Reuters, December 15. At, accessed November 10, 2018.
Zin, Min, and Joseph, Brian. 2012. “The Opening in Burma: The Democrats’ Opportunity.Journal of Democracy 23, no. 4: 104–19. doi: 10.1353/jod.2012.0069.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Christensen et al. supplementary material
Online Appendix

 PDF (710 KB)
710 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed