Communication networks and the transnational spread of ethnic conflict

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Journal of Peace Research 52(3), 285-296

Theories of conflict diffusion have long argued that domestic conflict spreads from one country to others. One set of mechanisms explaining this relies on material flows across borders that incite violence in neighboring countries. Another set of mechanisms, however, relies on informational flows. Information about ongoing violence elsewhere triggers strategic learning and demonstration effects in subnational conflict actors which may increase the likelihood that these actors ultimately resort to violence. While the first set of mechanisms can be – and has been – assessed using spatial proximity to define connections between countries, this article provides a test of the second mechanism by analyzing communication flows. The article shows that the occurrence of ethnic conflict in a country’s main communication partners significantly increases the probability of domestic ethnic violence, and that this effect operates in conjunction with, and is at least as strong as, the spatial contagion effect of conflict in the geographic neighborhood.