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Effective Foreign Aid Following Civil War: The Nonstrategic-Desperation Hypothesis


  • I thank Claire Adida, Sarah Anderson, Luz Marina Arias, Leonardo Arriola, Michael Bailey, Harley Balzer, Marc Busch, Matthew Carnes, Terrence Chapman, Jeffrey Chwieroth, Raj Desai, Jesse Driscoll, James Fearon, Page Fortna, Daniel Hopkins, Terry Karl, Kimuli Kasara, Stephen Krasner, Alexander Kuo, Bethany Lacina, David Laitin, Abraham Newman, Christina Maimone, Yotam Margalit, Michael McFaul, Camelia Minoiu, Kevin Morrison, Christopher O’Keefe, Glenn Palmer, Dane Rowlands, Kenneth Schultz, Jacob Shapiro, Timothy Sisk, Jennifer Tobin, Michael Tomz, Erik Voeten, James Vreeland, Jeremy Weinstein, Christoph Zuercher, three anonymous reviewers, the editor, and seminar participants at Cornell, Georgetown, Penn State, Stanford, the University of Denver, the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of Ottawa, and Yale, who offered valuable feedback. Institutional support was provided by Georgetown University and Stanford University.

Desha M. Girod is Assistant Professor, Department of Government, Georgetown University, Intercultural Center 659, Washington, DC, 20057–1034 (


When does aid foster development after civil war? A testable model is needed to account for the uneven outcomes in postconflict development. This article proposes and empirically tests the novel nonstrategic-desperation hypothesis, an explanation based on the varied incentives that fragile postconflict governments face when confronted with donor development goals. Paradoxically, incentives to meet development goals only exist when donors have little strategic interest in the recipients and when recipients lack income from resource rents and are therefore desperate for income. Ten-year data on infant mortality changes following civil wars ending 1970–96 and a variety of robustness checks support the hypothesis. By focusing on how income sources constrain the choices of aid recipients, and how these constraints can provide incentives to meet donor development goals, the nonstrategic-desperation hypothesis explains how the good use of aid can take place following civil war, when institutions are weak.