Scholars frequently use country-level indicators such as gross domestic product, bureaucratic quality, and military spending to approximate state capacity. These factors capture the aggregate level of state capacity, but do not adequately approximate the actual distribution of capacity within states. This presents a major problem, as intrastate variations in state capacity provide crucial information for understanding the relationship between state capacity and civil war. We offer nighttime light emissions as a measure of state capacity. It allows us to differentiate the influence of local variation on the outbreak of civil wars within the country from the effect of aggregate state capacity at the country level. We articulate pathways linking the distribution of nighttime light with the expansion of state capacity and validate our indicator against other measures at different levels of disaggregation acrossmultiple contexts. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we find that civil wars are more likely to erupt where the state exercisesmore control.We provide threemechanisms that, we believe, account for this counterintuitive finding: rebel gravitation, elite fragmentation, and expansion reaction. In the first scenario, state presence attracts insurgent activities. In the second, insurgents emerge as a result of the fragmentation of political elites. In the third, antistate groups react violently to the state penetrating into a given territory. Finally, we validate these mechanisms using evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association. All rights reserved.