Research

My primary fields of training are international relations and comparative politics, and I am well versed in quantitative methods. Therefore, my research interests broadly comprise conflict processes at the international level and at the regional level with special emphasis on South Asia – a salient region both in terms of international and regional security. My primary research agenda includes two broad areas. The first area of my research explores how grievances and opportunities drive political violence, especially terrorism. I argue that resorting to terrorism is a rational choice which is conditioned by the availability of mobilization opportunities. Democracy is such an opportunity which interacts with grievances in producing terrorism. Similarly, state capacity influences the selection of strategy by rebel groups in their violent anti-state campaigns.

The second area of my research involves territorial claims and conflict ( both intrastate and interstate). Territorial disputes between states have been major predictors of interstate conflict. Similarly, struggle for territory (i.e., a homeland) has engendered some of the most violent conflicts (civil war, insurgency and terrorism) in history. With this in mind, firstly, I am interested in exploring whether territorial claims destroy peace between trading partners/economically integrated dyads. Secondly, some discriminated minorities often fight for territory or homeland, whereas others fight for policy change. It is interesting why some groups fight for separate territory and others not, and I intend to explore this matter empirically. Moreover, my future research plans also include examining such conflicts based on territorial claims in South Asia. Some of the projects that I am working on are discussed below.

  Please find my research-statement

Strategic Logic of Intrastate Conflict: A Group Level Analysis

maimai2-615x340Extant literature on intrastate conflict has explored terrorism, insurgency and civil war separately as if they are three distinct events. I argue that terrorism, insurgency and civil war are parts of a continuum of intrastate conflict. The strategic logic of intrastate political violence is such that rebel groups, in their struggle against a state for political concession, strategize their actions in anticipation of the target state’s possible response. If the state is strong enough to impose costs upon the rebels, the rebels will target unarmed civilians in pressuring the state. In case where the state is weak and cannot effectively retaliate against the rebel groups’ act of violence, though, the rebels will adopt a method of conventional warfare in directly confronting the state. ‘Mixed’ strategy, in turn, is optimal when the rebel groups are neither too strong in relation to the target state to engage it in direct combat nor too weak to attack its civilians.

Democracy, Discrimination and Domestic Terrorism: An Analysis
Co-researchers: Brandon Prins and Aaron Gold

Picture1The Ottawa shooting and Sydney café siege in October 2014, and Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, all incidents of homegrown terrorism, are related by two common threads (other than the commonality in the terrorists’ ideology) – firstly, the terrorists represent sections of people that perceive themselves to be excluded and or alienated from their respective societies, and secondly, these incidents all occurred in liberal democracies. We’re curious, then, whether democracies experience more terrorism when minority grievance is clearly present? We think the effect of regime type on terrorism is conditional on the presence of politically excluded groups whose grievances motivate them to challenge the state. We need to take into account both willingness/grievance and opportunity to understand political violence. Using a global dataset of domestic terrorism between 1998 and 2007, we explore the relationship between democracy and terrorism.

Ethnic Exclusion and Terrorism: Re-evaluating the Conventional Model
Co-researcher: Aaron Gold

Extant literature on conflict has found that the political exclusion of ethnic groups is a major driver of terrorism and civil war. However, there is little cross-national study on how exclusion produces a particular type of political violence. We argue that both terrorism and civil might be part of a continuum of intrastate conflict. One factor that might play an important role in a rebel groups’ decision-making calculus is the size of their support base. Terrorism, as a strategy of the weak, is optimal when rebel groups have a little support among their audience. In contrast, civil war is an optimal strategy when rebel groups enjoy widespread support. Using a cross-national dataset of domestic terrorism for 1970-2007, we explore relationship between terrorism and political exclusion.

Strategic Logic of Suicide Terror: Trends and Patterns
Co-researcher: Dexter Scott                                                                                            

A cursory look at the pattern of suicide terror will show that most of the attacks are carried The-Taj-Mahal-Hotel-in-Mu-002out by Islamic fundamentalist organizations which have apocalyptic goals. Religion might be instrumental to the leaders who recruit suicide bombers, but a religious imagery is an integral part of suicide attacks. Although Pape (2003) identified liberal democracies as the main targets, most suicide attacks take place in countries which are neither fully democratic not totally autocratic. Liberal democracies are mostly secular where political leaders seldom use religion as their primary mobilization strategy, thus delegitimizing extreme religious views. Moreover, presence of institutionalized conflict resolution mechanisms in fully democratic states makes suicide terrorism as a less attractive option. Another important pattern in suicide attacks is that strong countries are more vulnerable to suicide attacks than others. Rebels always fear capture; hence suicide attack is an optimal strategy where the possibility of capture is high. This paper contributes to the extant literature on suicide bombing by revisiting the strategic logic of suicide terror with recent data derived from CPOST dataset. (Pic. courtesy: The Guardian)

Democracy and Terrorism: Causal Relationship Re-Explored
(Co-authors: Brandon C. Prins and Aaron Gold)

democracyRegime responsiveness theory relating democracy and terrorism posits that terrorism arises where legal means of political expression are suppressed and effective conflict resolution mechanisms are deficient. Consequently, some scholars and policy makers argue that higher levels of democracy reduce terrorism. However, this relationship might be endogenous; higher levels of terrorism might instead lead to an erosion of democratic freedoms. The correlation between democracy and terrorism is consistently negative: states with a higher level of democratic institutions (civil liberties, political rights, rule of law, and judicial independence) have less terrorism (domestic, suicide, and transnational). However, terrorism affects a state’s level of democracy, which suggests that democracy should be treated as an endogenous variable. This study suggests that the negative correlation between democracy and terrorism emerges because stability facilitates higher levels of political freedom and a better quality of democratic institutions rather than because democracy reduces terrorism.

Threat and Transnational Terrorism: A Dyadic Analysis
(Co-authors: Aaron Gold, and Brandon C. Prins)

dyadic-rivalryStudies show that interstate rivalries are important predictors of transnational terrorism. The mutual threat perception that often results from interstate rivalry might motivate more attacks between states. This paper furthers this research program by more widely exploring the impact of external threat on transnational terrorism at the dyadic level. Territorial disputes are often considered a major threat to interstate security. Similarly, contiguity generates conflict for several reasons such as greater interaction, ease of projecting power and presence of disputes. All these factors – rivalry, contiguity and territorial disputes – increase the probability of interstate conflict. Furthermore, individuals might be socialized to consider each other enemies if these factors are present at a dyadic level. States might use also non-state actors to harm each other because proxy wars are less costly that conventional warfare. Moreover, states can easily deny their involvement. Thus, transnational terrorism might go up at the dyadic level when threats are present. Using a composite index of threat, which combines interstate rivalry, contiguity and territorial claims, this study finds that transitional terrorism dyadically increases as the intensity of threat escalates between two states.

Territory and Contractualist Peace
(Co-authors: Brandon C. Prins, and Aaron Gold)

south-china-sea-map-slide-5-dataThe Democratic Peace is currently being challenged by evidence that submits the peace between democracies is epiphenomenal to either stable borders, called the Territorial Peace, or shared contractualist economies, called the Contractualist Peace. The key mechanism for the latter is that peace is caused by jointly impersonal, positive-sum economies that promote the credible enforcement of contracts. However, the presence of a territorial dispute, the most conflict-prone of all contentious issues, shows that two states have unresolved issues, which challenges the Contractualist Peace assertion that if issues arise they will be managed peacefully and quickly. Recent evidence also shows that the lower likelihood of militarized conflict among joint democracies is less visible in the presence of a territorial dispute. We seek to extend this research program by investigating the likelihood that the peace associated with shared contractualist economies is conditional on the absence of a territorial dispute.

Please feel free to email me at (sghatak@vols.utk.edu) with any questions, comments, criticisms, or suggestions. Even if we have not met I am interested in hearing what you have to say and how I might be able to improve my research. Thank you for taking the time to review my working papers.