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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 post below. Previous posts are archived by topic: conflict, human rights, leadership, and political economy.


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Sympathy for Conflicts Abroad | September 2020

Efe Tokdemir, Seden Akcinaroglu, H. Ege Ozen & Ekrem Karakoc, ‘Wars of others’: national cleavages and attitudes toward external conflicts, International Interactions (2020). Free access September 15–December 31, 2020 >>

Sympathy for others’ wars forms an important antecedent to the decision to become a foreign fighter. But why do individuals sympathize with foreign conflicts? “We were extremely disturbed by the desire of Kurds for independence,” an ISIS fighter responds. “That’s why we helped ISIS (in Syria). I joined the organization… I’ll fight with all the force I can muster. I’ll not let even an inch of Arabic land to fall into Kurdish hands,” he concludes. This idea motivates the main research question of the manuscript: What drives individuals to support a conflict abroad and develop sympathy for foreign fighters?

Though we are aware of the relationship of third-party states to rebels and civil war outcomes, we know less about the presence and impact of support outside the state, namely of individuals. No doubt, foreign fighting has important consequences for war dynamics. But how is foreign fighting perceived by outsiders? Is it an act that elicits sympathy as a heroic deed or evokes reprimand as a brutal intervention? Indeed, individual support in third party conflicts does not necessarily come in the form of behavior, such as actual fighting, some individuals may contribute indirectly, by providing attitudinal support that nurtures the behavior of foreign fighting, for instance.

We use Social Identity Theory (SIT), which focuses on self-identification as a powerful tool in interpreting politics by converging member actions to further the interests of their group. Individuals may perceive a war abroad as endangering political and social balance of power at home—and hence their own survival. Therefore, when transnational identities map onto a national cleavage, they become more receptive to others’ wars. By collecting original public opinion data from Lebanon in 2015, and Turkey in 2017, about the actors of conflict in Syria, we test the argument that an ethno-religious cleavage at home shapes the proclivity of individuals to support others’ wars. In fact, we demonstrate that not only transnational identity ties, but also the domestic power balance shapes the attitudes of individuals in terms of sympathy and support for actors in conflicts abroad.

Our findings have important policy implications: first, countries that do not share social cleavages with other countries in civil conflicts have less cause for concern about their citizens’ sympathy for or involvement in civil wars across their borders. Second, efforts to end the trend toward foreign fighters must start at home by mending relations between groups in national contexts, specifically by employing strategies and policies that can create alliances between groups politically, socially, and economically. Cross-cutting cleavages should replace fixed and salient national cleavages, which render politics and daily interactions between groups a zero-sum game. Full article >>

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

Conflict   Human Rights   Leadership   Political Economy