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Putting Environmental Stress (Back) on the Mass Atrocities Agenda

Cullen Hendrix
Policy Analysis Brief
October 2016

Research on the direct links between demographic-environmental stressors and mass atrocities is nascent. This leaves policymakers without a coherent conceptual model of how issues such as land, water, and food scarcity, or feared shortages, might catalyze mass killings.

In this policy analysis brief, Cullen Hendrix, associate professor at the SiƩ Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, proposes a plausible conceptual model that identifies structural and actor-contingent factors linking demographic-environmental stress to mass killings. Hendrix recommends comprehensive testing of the model and various policy interventions that might help the international community be better prepared to prevent tragic events.

According to Hendrix, the model suggests demographic-environmental stress is more likely to result in mass atrocities in societies marked by high groupness and political institutions that do not constrain the executive or guarantee minority groups a say in policy formation. However, many societies with these characteristics have been able to avoid mass atrocities. Thus, Hendrix concludes that the choices that powerful political actors make about inclusive national narratives often determine whether societies with high groupness and exclusive political institutions experience mass atrocities.

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