Professor Neil Narang won the award for "Best Paper" of the year on Conflict Processes from the American Political Science Association for his paper titled, "A Strategic Logic of Attacking Aid Workers: Evidence from Violence in Afghanistan, 2008 – 2012". The research asks why armed groups direct violent attacks against humanitarian aid organizations. Attacks against aid workers are puzzling because humanitarian aid missions are obligated under the Geneva Conventions to remain politically neutral in providing basic human needs, and yet humanitarian aid workers are frequently the targets of violent attacks.
Professors Narang argues that much of the violence directed against humanitarian aid organizations is not random, but a strategic attempt to push aid workers out of particular regions to undermine support for the government. Using newly compiled data, he finds significant empirical evidence that armed groups direct violence against aid workers in provinces where civilian support for the government is higher, and that insurgents appear to have the greatest incentive to concentrate attacks in more marginal provinces, where undermining support for the government could swing a province in insurgents’ favor.
The results have important policy implications. Today, impartiality and neutrality are the most broadly accepted principles governing the provision of humanitarian relief worldwide. And yet, Professor Narang's research suggests that impartiality and neutrality may be impossible when humanitarian assistance relieves warring parties of the burdens attached to waging war, often times asymmetrically.