Unloading food aid in Nicaragua, September 2007.
Oswaldo Rivas / Courtesy Reuters

The future of humanitarian assistance and security policy in chaotic places such as Syria and Iraq could rest on a single question: Does aid in conflict zones promote peace or war? It seems intuitive to assume that hunger and exposure push people to violence and that aid should, therefore, lead to peace. This idea has been the bedrock of scores of “hearts and minds” campaigns dating back to the Cold War, which have invested billions of dollars on the principle that assistance can buy compliance and, eventually, peace.

Yet recent evidence indicates that sending aid into conflict-affected regions can actually worsen violence in some cases. Over the past decade, our research collective, the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project (ESOC), has conducted a suite of studies in conflict zones to test this relationship. Among other countries, we studied the Philippines, a state riven by a variety of long-term conflicts in areas

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  • ELI BERMAN is a Research Director at the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and Professor of Economics at the University of California, San Diego. JOSEPH H. FELTER is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. JACOB N. SHAPIRO is Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
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