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Research for the Real World

International Interactions Policy Blog

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International Interactions is a peer-reviewed journal with direct relevance to a wide and interdisciplinary audience. Readers include political scientists, economists, historians, mathematicians, statisticians, anthropologists, sociologists, and other social science researchers with an interest in international relations, as well as informed professionals in business and government.

Launched in 2019, II's blog synthesizes scholarly findings for a practitioner audience. Each blog post describes the policy takeaways of a recent II article, in the authors' own words, for use by engaged policymakers who can apply this research to current issues and challenges. 

Read the most recent blog posts below. Previous posts are archived by topic: conflict, human rights, leadership, and political economy.


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Crowding out the field: External Support to Insurgents and the Intensity of Inter-rebel Fighting in Civil Wars | June 2021

Arthur Stein & Marc-Olivier Cantin, Crowding out the field: External Support to Insurgents and the Intensity of Inter-rebel Fighting in Civil Wars, International Interactions (2021). Free Access until August 31, 2021>>

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) successfully allied to defeat the Ethiopian government. In contrast, in Sri Lanka, different Tamil groups were entangled in fratricidal conflicts in parallel to their fight against the government during much of the 1980s. As the latter example illustrates, civil war environments with two or more rebel groups often give rise to ‘dual contests’; insurgent organizations fighting among themselves and against the incumbent. From a rationalist perspective, inter-rebel fighting is a theoretical puzzle. By fighting one another, rebel groups divert already scarce material resources which could be used to overthrow the central government. In doing so, they also weaken themselves in a move that can favor the government’s immediate military interests. Inter-rebel fighting also has important humanitarian consequences. Violence between insurgents can exert significant detrimental effects on the severity of civil wars, on the livelihoods of civilians in rebels’ operational areas, and on post-conflict prospects for peacebuilding.

Despite the empirical prevalence and humanitarian consequences of inter-rebel fighting, we still have an insufficient understanding of the drivers of this violence. In particular, one factor that has been largely overlooked to date is the influence that foreign actors may have on inter-rebel fighting. Yet, external sponsorship to rebel groups is today a key feature of international relations. In contemporary civil wars such as those in Libya or Syria, sponsors provide a host of material assets to support insurgents in their struggle against their governments. Empirically, these conflicts also display high levels of violence among insurgents, raising questions regarding a potential relationship between external support and inter-rebel fighting.

Our article therefore examines whether foreign sponsorship influences rebels’ propensity to get involved in high-intensity clashes against other insurgent groups. We expect that rebel groups receiving support from external states are more likely to get involved in high-intensity inter-rebel fighting than those receiving no support. We argue that this is because external support creates strategic incentives among group leaders to target other rebel contenders in order to signal resolve to their sponsors and to crowd out the battlefield in anticipation of the post-conflict period. Furthermore, rebel sponsorship can activate potent socio-psychological mechanisms among rank-and-file combatants that may remove restraints on the use of violence against other rebel fighters. We expect, therefore, that these joint dynamics will increase the prevalence of inter-rebel fighting across the conflict landscape.

To test our hypotheses, we begin by running a set of large-N regressions. First, we use data on inter-rebel fighting between 1989 and 2018 to establish whether a correlation exists between external support to insurgents and the intensity of inter-rebel fighting within rebel dyads. To refine our analysis, we distinguish between lethal and non-lethal assistance to insurgents. We find that the provision of both lethal and non-lethal assets to rebels is positively and significantly correlated with the intensity of inter-rebel fighting in which groups participate. Further analyses inductively reveal that our statistical results are likely to be partially driven by the prevalence of religious insurgencies in contemporary conflicts. Religious insurgencies indeed appear to be especially likely to get involved in inter-rebel fighting upon receiving external support. For one thing, the provision of support on the basis of a common faith may increase the saliency of incentives to target other rebel contenders among religious insurgent leaders, as such violence allows them to claim the role of sole representative of a specific creed. At the same time, at the rank-and-file level, the validation of a group’s religious credentials and the strengthening of religious bonds through foreign support may increase ‘ingroup solidarity’ and to promote ‘enduring group conflict’ with out-group members. On this basis, we then propose a case study of the Syrian Civil War, which allows us to further probe the mechanisms linking external support to inter-rebel fighting in civil wars, as well as the specific role of religiosity in such relationship.

Our article enriches the literature on both rebel sponsorship and inter-rebel conflicts, uncovering how external actors may alter conflict dynamics beyond insurgent-incumbent and insurgent-civilian dyads. Foreign sponsors can not only foster the initiation of conflicts between different insurgencies, they can also contribute to their escalation into high-intensity clashes. Our findings suggest that studies examining rebel external support will have to pay greater attention to the dynamics occurring at the level of the supported group, as the effects of sponsorship appear to be mediated, to some extent, by the organizational features of the sponsored entities. As we recognized that our theoretical framework relies on strong theoretical assumptions, further idiographic studies will be needed in the future to precisely and sequentially scrutinize the vertical and horizontal mechanisms proposed, as well as the aggregation process which ultimately leads to the observed macro-level outcomes. As direct warfare is increasingly relegated to ‘the strategic back-burner’ in favor of indirect warfare, we believe that the spectrum of potential cases studies to achieve this is vast and growing. Full article >>


State intervention, external spoilers, and the durability of peace agreements | May 2021

Sema Hande Ogutcu-Fu, State intervention, external spoilers, and the durability of peace agreements, International Interactions (2021). Free Access until July 31, 2021>>

How does state intervention in civil conflict affect post-agreement durability? Intervention in civil conflict is widely studied because it is such a common occurrence. According to Uppsala Conflict Data Program, at least one state intervener was involved in thirty-eight of the forty-four conflicts which ended between 1985 and 2004. However, the literature generally ignores how state interventions during conflict affect the durability of the peace agreements that follow. In this study, I argue that state interveners continue to influence their war-time allies even after peace agreements have been reached.

A peace agreement establishes a new status quo in the post-agreement state. State interveners can use their leverage to influence the fragile post-agreement order in one of two ways: to break it down or to build it up, depending on how satisfied they are with the new order. Therefore, the durability of a peace agreement depends on state interveners’ level of satisfaction with the post-agreement order. Information about interveners’ satisfaction or lack thereof can be garnered from the economic and political signals they send after the agreement is reached.

As sixty-seven percent of the post-agreement states analyzed experienced interventions from multiple states during conflict, I also explored how multiple interventions influence peace agreement durability. Complementing the previous argument, I find that whether intervener states converge or diverge in their levels of satisfaction with the new status quo is a crucial factor that influences peace agreement durability. An intervener state that is not satisfied with the new order can take actions to spoil other interveners’ implementation efforts.

To support these two arguments, I studied the durability of internal peace agreements signed between 1985 and 2004 and qualitatively examined Angola-UNITA negotiations and Mozambique-RENAMO negotiations. I find that improving economic and political interactions between state interveners and the post-agreement state improves agreement durability. I also find that, as the divergence between each state intervener’s economic and political interactions with the post-agreement state grows, the durability of the peace agreement decreases. Intervener states’ satisfaction with the post-agreement status quo is thus a primary determinant of durable peace. Full article >>

Looking for more? Explore previous International Interactions blog posts by topic:

Conflict   Human Rights   Leadership   Political Economy