Walter is a professor of political science at the School of Global Policy and Strategy. She is an expert on international security, with an emphasis on civil wars. Her current research is on information and communication technology and civil wars, especially the strategic use of internet propaganda to radicalize and recruit foreign
Walter received her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago and completed postdoctoral fellowships at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University and at the Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. Walter is on the editorial board of the American Political Science Review, International Organization, Journal of Politics, Journal of Conflict Resolution and International Studies Quarterly. She is also the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, including awards from the National Science Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and Smith Richardson Foundation.
Walter co-founded (with Erica Chenoweth) the blog Political Violence @ A Glance, winner of numerous blogging awards since its inception in 2012. She is the author of “The Extremist’s Advantage in Civil Wars,” and “The Politics of Extremist Violence.”
Walter’s expertise has been sought by the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the United Nations, foreign governments and more. She has appeared on CNN numerous times and often is quoted in national and international media outlets.
Areas of Expertise (4)
The Strategic Use of Internet Propaganda
The Causes, Duration, and Resolution of Civil Wars
Terrorism and Counterterrorism
Extremist Ideology in War
UC San Diego Faculty Research Lecturer Award
(Given to 2 out of 2,000+ faculty each year) 2018
University of Chicago: Ph.D., Political Science
University of Chicago: M.A., Political Science
- American Political Science Review 2012-present, Guest Editor, 2012.
- APSA Task Force, Negotiating Agreements in International Relations, 2013
Media Appearances (3)
Syria’s Paradox: Why the War Only Ever Seems to Get Worse
The New York Times
When asked what other conflicts through history had similar dynamics, Barbara F. Walter, a University of California, San Diego, professor and a leading expert on civil wars, paused, considered a few possibilities, then gave up. There were none.
“This is a really, really tough case,” she said...
The #ManPanel problem: why are female experts still so widely ignored?
For instance, when UCSD political science professor Barbara Walter and two graduate students reviewed more than two decades of international relations articles published in peer-reviewed journals, they found that articles by women were consistently less likely to be cited than articles by men...
The Political Science of Syria’s War
Most contributors are therefore deeply pessimistic about the prospect for ending Syria’s civil war any time soon. Syria has among the worst possible configurations: a highly fragmented opposition, many potential spoilers, and foreign actors intervening enough to keep the conflict raging but not enough to decisively end the war. The University of Maryland’s David Cunningham pointed to the number of "veto players" in Syria — actors who can derail a settlement if their interests are not met. Fearon noted the centrality of the "completely typical" commitment problem inherent in any negotiated agreement, where neither side can possibly trust the other to not continue the killing if they lay down arms. Opposition networks like those that exist in Syria, Fearon explained, almost always push for regime change rather than promises of reform because they correctly believe that the dictator will renege on commitments as soon as the threat to his survival has passed. Small wonder that UCSD’s Barbara Walter concluded that "the likelihood of a successful negotiated settlement in Syria is close to zero."...
Event Appearances (1)
Cyril Foster Lecture
The New New Civil Wars Oxford University.
Barbara F. Walter
The number of radical Islamist groups fighting in civil wars in Muslim countries has steadily grown over the last twenty years, with such groups outlasting and outperforming more moderate groups. By 2016, Salafi jihadist groups accounted for most of the militant groups in Syria and half of such groups in Somalia. In Iraq, a third of all militant groups were composed of Salafi jihadists. Many analysts argue that the rise of these groups reflects an increase in radical beliefs in Muslim societies. Under certain conditions, however, rebel leaders have strong incentives to embrace an extreme ideology even if they do not believe the ideas that underlie it. When competition is high, information is poor, and institutional constraints are weak, an extremist ideology can help rebel leaders overcome difficult collective-action, principal-agent, and commitment problems. All three of these conditions have been present in the post-2003 civil wars in the Middle East and Africa, and all help explain the emergence and growth of radical groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Barbara F. Walter
Post-2003 civil wars are different from previous civil wars in three striking ways. First, most of them are situated in Muslim-majority countries. Second, most of the rebel groups fighting these wars espouse radical Islamist ideas and goals. Third, most of these radical groups are pursuing transnational rather than national aims. Current civil war theories can explain some of what is going on, but not everything. In this article, I argue that the transformation of information technology, especially the advent of the Web 2.0 in the early 2000s, is the big new innovation that is likely driving many of these changes. I offer a theory to explain why rebel groups, especially those in Muslim countries, have chosen to pursue a particular type of extreme ideology and goals. I then identify the six big implications this new information environment is likely to have for rebel behavior in the future. Innovations in information and communication technology are currently manifesting themselves in the rise of global Jihadi groups in the Muslim world, but we can expect them to be exploited by other groups as well.
Barbara F. Walter
Most contemporary civil wars are now recurrences of earlier civil wars. In contrast to classic theories of grievance and opportunity, this article advances a theory of civil war recurrence that highlights the critical role political and legal institutions play in constraining elites in post–civil war states. Such constraints serve as a check on executive power, help incumbent elites credibly commit to political reform, and create a situation where rebels need not maintain militias as a supplementary mechanism to hold political elites in line. All of this reduces the odds of repeat civil war. Using a statistical analysis of post-conflict years, this article demonstrates that strong political institutions are not only significantly and negatively related to repeat civil war but are the primary determinants of whether countries get caught in the conflict trap.
Elaine K. Denny, Barbara F. Walter
If a civil war begins, it is more likely to be initiated by an ethnic group than any other type of group. We argue that ethnic groups, on average, are likely to have more grievances against the state, are likely to have an easier time organizing support and mobilizing a movement, and are more likely to face difficult-to-resolve bargaining problems. We further argue that each of these factors was likely due to three pre-existing patterns associated with ethnicity. First, when political power is divided along ethnic lines, ruling elites can disproportionately favor their own ethnic group at the expense of others. This creates grievances that fall along ethnic lines. Second, ethnic groups tend to live together in concentrated spaces, sharing the same language and customs, and enjoying deep ties with ethnic kin. This means that ethnic groups, if they are aggrieved, will have an easier time mobilizing support to demand change. Third, the fact that ethnic identity tends to be less elastic than other types of identity means that credible commitments to any bargain – before and during a conflict— will be more difficult to make. The result is that ethnic groups will have a greater number of reasons, opportunities, and incentives to mobilize and fight than non-ethnic groups.
Daniel Maliniak, Ryan Powers, Barbara F. Walter
This article investigates the extent to which citation and publication patterns differ between men and women in the international relations (IR) literature. Using data from the Teaching, Research, and International Policy project on peer-reviewed publications between 1980 and 2006, we show that women are systematically cited less than men after controlling for a large number of variables including year of publication, venue of publication, substantive focus, theoretical perspective, methodology, tenure status, and institutional affiliation. These results are robust to a variety of modeling choices. We then turn to network analysis to investigate the extent to which the gender of an article's author affects that article's relative centrality in the network of citations between papers in our sample. Articles authored by women are systematically less central than articles authored by men, all else equal. This is likely because (1) women tend to cite themselves less than men, and (2) men (who make up a disproportionate share of IR scholars) tend to cite men more than women. This is the first study in political science to reveal significant gender differences in citation patterns and is especially meaningful because citation counts are increasingly used as a key measure of research's quality and impact.