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The international arena has been plagued with violence committed by a variety of Nonstate Armed Groups (NAGs), including ethnic and religious insurgents, terrorists, and revolutionaries, which threaten not only the states they target but also the entire world’s stability and security. An intriguing observation related to armed groups is their ability to attract outside state supporters. Indeed, almost half of all groups that emerged in the post-World War II period received some form of backing from states including but not limited to funds, arms, and safe havens. In this respect, it is possible to draw parallels between interstate alliances and state–group alliances. The major International Relations theories—realism, liberalism, and constructivism—have significant insights to offer in explaining the origin and evolution of state–rebel group alliances. These insights are empirically tested using new data on outside state support of rebel groups that emerged in the post–1945 period. Two forms of alliances exist between states and groups: strategic or instrumental and principled or ideational. A strategic alliance occurs if a state supports a group fighting against its enemy or rival, so security-related concerns and common threat motivate a given alliance. An ideational or principled alliance occurs if a state supports an ideationally contiguous armed group with which it has ethnic, religious, and/or ideological ties. Whether there is a strategic or principled alliance between armed groups and their state supporters has implications for the onset, course and termination of non-state violence in world politics.
The empirical findings using large-N statistical analysis show that (1) states form alliances with rebel groups in both the absence and presence of interstate hostilities; (2) states form alliances with ideationally contiguous rebel groups, that is, groups that have common ethnic, religious, and ideological ties to states’ population and/or a group of people in its society; (3) democratic states do not ally with rebels, which fight against other democratic states; and (4) states, in general, are less likely to support rebels, which fight against ideationally contiguous states. Socialism emerges as a unifying ideology contributing to a high degree of solidarity both among states and between states and armed groups. The empirical findings imply that the perceived motivation of state supporters by armed groups; whether states support rebels due to strategic or ideational concerns, should have some influence on armed groups’ level of lethality, duration, and attitude toward civilians and governments they fight against. Only a fully developed research agenda offering empirically informed theoretical insights can address these questions by facilitating future venues of research on the origin and evolution of state–NAG alliances.
Andrew P. Owsiak
The steps-to-war theory maintains that war results from the issues under dispute and how states handle these issues. Its foundation rests on the territorial explanation of war, which argues that territorial issues are more conflict-prone than non-territorial ones because these issues constitute a salient security threat that realism recommends be addressed via power politics (i.e., the use of force, including alliance- and armament-building). When states employ power politics, however, the dispute festers, thereby causing recurring militarized conflict; creating feelings of threat, enmity, and competition (i.e., rivalry); producing counter-alliances and arms races; and generally building the more hostile, war-prone world that states originally sought to avoid. Each step taken—from a territorial dispute to rivalry (i.e., recurring militarized disputes) to alliance-building to armament building—therefore increases the probability that war will occur.
Existing empirical evidence supports the steps-to-war theory’s predictions in numerous ways. Tests of the entire theory, for example, demonstrate the dangerousness of territorial disputes, the tendency to manage territorial disputes via power politics, and that individual steps reinforce one another. Other bodies of research connect the individual steps directly to the likelihood that war will occur or highlight the connections between these individual steps—much as the theory predicts. Despite strong empirical support, however, much work remains to be done. Future research should consider the sequencing of the steps to war, investigate why the effects of certain steps vary across different epochs (e.g., alliances differ in their effects on war during the 18th and 19th centuries), identify the alternative paths to war, and study the paths to peace more explicitly—as obtaining peace may not be as simple as removing the known causes of war.
Angela L. Bos, Heather Madonia, and Monica C. Schneider
Stereotypes are a set of beliefs a person holds about the personal attributes of a group of people. The beliefs are commonly held and understood, which allows people to use them as automatic shortcuts when making evaluations and decisions. Because the beliefs are so broadly understood and easily accessible, they can subconsciously influence opinion formation. In the realm of politics, citizens may use stereotypes to guide evaluations of candidates from stereotyped groups (such as African Americans or women) or as they formulate opinions about a policy that may have a particular group as its perceived beneficiary.
Because many commonly held stereotypes—such as that African Americans are lazy or violent—are not socially desirable, they pose a challenge to researchers attempting to measure them effectively. Thus, as social scientists examine the effects of stereotypes on citizen decision-making, it is important that they carefully consider how to best measure stereotypes. The goal should be to create reliable (consistent) and valid (accurate) measures that minimize social desirability in responses. Measures should reflect clear understanding of the content of the stereotype under examination and incorporate a full range of content to reflect it. One part of understanding the content of a stereotype is considering whether the group under examination is a subtype or subgroup of a larger stereotype category. For example, female politicians as a group constitute a subtype of the larger stereotyped group, women, where female politicians share little overlap in terms of stereotype content with women. Similarly, Black politicians are a subtype of Blacks, sharing little stereotype content. Male politicians, in contrast, form a subgroup of men, where they share many characteristics with the larger group, men. Stereotype content has implications for the link between stereotypes and evaluations of political actors or public policies. The ability to accurately measure stereotypes is a necessary step in understanding when and how people use stereotypes to navigate the political arena.
The intersection of two stereotypes is another important consideration, particularly since the combination of two stereotypes may be more than the sum of its parts. When researchers consider the content of stereotypes, the relationship between one stereotype to others (e.g., subtypes or subgroups), and the intersection of stereotypes, they can create improved measures of stereotypes that optimize reliability and validity.
A variety of explicit and implicit measures exist for researchers to consider, including explicit measures, such as semantic differential scales and open- and closed-ended identification of stereotype content, and implicit measures, such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and affective attitude measures. Two-step measures can be used to examine stereotype activation and application. While each of these measures has strengths and weaknesses, all are designed to help researchers better measure stereotypes en route to understanding how stereotypes influence peoples’ attitudes and behaviors. Reliable and valid measures of stereotypes—both implicit and explicit—can help us create more accurate understandings of the political world.
Stereotypes are overgeneralized, often inaccurate, characterizations of a group and its members. Because stereotypes rely on heuristics, they can occur unconsciously and shape behavior in multiple ways. People may stereotype in order to quickly characterize a person or a group of people, or they may be motivated to deliberately stereotype in order to maintain their own self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Stereotypes can undermine many facets of our behavior and beliefs, including how we make political decisions. For example, people who stereotype women as being nurturing and in need of protection may be less inclined to vote for a women running for a leadership position. Because stereotypes are so pervasive and learned early, they can be particularly difficult to reduce or eliminate, and people will often look for evidence to support their attitudes rather than actively challenging the stereotype. However, stereotype reduction is possible and can be done both consciously and unconsciously.
The concept of strategic culture has become widely used in the field of international relations, primarily in the context of efforts to explain the distinctive strategic behaviors of states through reference to their unique strategic properties. Despite this, a great deal of confusion remains regarding what strategic culture is, and how it may be used in the context of academic research. Two problems produce this confusion: much strategic culture literature continues to conflate culture-as-ideas with the behavior and artifacts through which those ideas become manifest, and strategic culture scholars have incorporated within their definitions of this concept overly narrow assumptions about where strategic culture may be said to exist.
To address these weaknesses in the literature, strategic culture is redefined as consisting of common ideas regarding strategy that exist across populations. This definition is narrower than many because it defines culture as common ideas rather than as ideas plus behavior (or as ideas plus artifacts). This matters not because it solves the methodological challenges faced by those who seek to study ideas, but because it forces us to confront these challenges directly in the context of efforts to understand the different ways that patterns of ideas may produce patterned behavior. This definition is also broader than many because it refuses to dismiss the possibility that common ideas related to strategic matters may exist across populations that are not bounded by the borders of existing countries. The rationale for such an approach is simply that one ought to look and see how common ideas are in fact distributed across populations, rather than assume that patterns will conform to taken-for-granted political units.
Jacqueline H. R. deMeritt
Repression is the act of subduing someone by institutional or physical force. Political violence is a particular form of repression involving the use of physical force to achieve political goals. Acts of repression and/or political violence often violate fundamental human rights, and are sometimes referred to as human rights abuse. Most systematic research into these forms of human rights abuse, particularly as perpetrated by governments, is built on assumptions of rationality: repression and political violence are strategic policies that governments employ in pursuit important political and/or military objectives. Since the defining concept of the state is its monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion, those objectives are generally related to quiescence and the quelling of popular dissent.
Empirical research has investigated the causes of repression and political violence, focusing generally on the conditions and incentives that make these strategies most likely. To a lesser extent, scholars have also investigated the consequences of human rights abuse. This work is intimately tied to extant work on causes, and highlights an important feedback loop between repressive governments and those who oppose them. Finally, researchers have investigated methods of limiting and/or preventing state repression and political violence. Some of these methods are primarily domestic in nature (e.g., regime type and institutional design) while others have a decidedly international bent (e.g., advocacy campaigns).
Islamist parties in Pakistan are theologically diverse but grouped as such because of their belief in the state enforcement of religious law (shariah). While they have only achieved modest levels of electoral success, the country’s Islamist parties are considered important due to their ability to mobilize street power, lobby the state and judiciary from outside of parliament, and serve as key electoral allies of mainstream parties. In addition, these Islamist electoral groups employ a range of violence strategies. Many of these parties maintain militant wings, possess linkages with extremist Islamist outfits, and/or engage in violent politics on university campuses through their affiliated student groups.
Existing literature suggests that violence by political parties has certain electoral benefits. First, it serves a coercive function, by intimidating voters to stay home on election day or compelling them to vote a certain way. Second, it can serve to polarize the populace along identity-based lines. However, given the limited success of Islamist parties in elections, it seems unlikely that their involvement in violence serves only an electoral purpose. In particular, much of the parties’ violent activity seems, at least at first glance, unrelated to electoral activity.
Why, then, do Islamist parties utilize violence? Violence wielded by Islamist parties in Pakistan serves three functions. First, Islamist electoral groups are able to leverage their unique position as a part of the system with close linkages to militant actors outside of it to effectively pressure the state on a range of policy matters. That is, violence works to advance the party’s strategic goal of lobbying the government from outside of the legislative system. Second, the use of violence serves an ideological function by, for example, targeting specific sects and minority groups, fighting Western influence, and supporting the liberation struggle in Kashmir. The use of violence also helps prove to ideologically aligned militant actors that the parties are on “their side.” Finally, the use of violence can also serve purely electoral purposes. Like other identity-based parties, making salient a particular schism at opportune times can work to increase one’s own vote bank at the expense of other secular parties.
Electoral commissions are organizations responsible for the conduct of elections and referendums. Their performance level is of paramount importance for the development of electoral integrity and democracy on the continent. In Africa, electoral commissions largely belong to what is usually termed the independent model of electoral management, i.e., the electoral commissions are formally independent from the executive and other government structures. However, there are also examples of the so-called governmental model, where the election-conducting agencies are embedded in the executive, as well as the mixed model, where one finds a country-specific mixture of the two other elements. It has become commonplace to use the generic term election management bodies (EMBs) to cover all three models, as they to a very considerable degree have the same functions and responsibilities in relation to election management.
African electoral commissions belonging to the independent model are a clear majority of electoral commissions on the continent and share important organizational features, i.e., a small policy-deciding commission, often filled with non-election experts, and a policy-implementing secretariat structured according to the tasks to be performed by the organization. However, the formal and structural similarities cover different realities on the ground, as African electoral commissions differ enormously in actual autonomy and performance. The usefulness of the traditional categorization of EMBs according to their formal independence and present data is unclear in light of the performance level of at least some African electoral commissions. African electoral commissions are assessed very differently by politicians, voters, and election observers.
Wouter van Atteveldt, Kasper Welbers, and Mariken van der Velden
Analyzing political text can answer many pressing questions in political science, from understanding political ideology to mapping the effects of censorship in authoritarian states. This makes the study of political text and speech an important part of the political science methodological toolbox. The confluence of increasing availability of large digital text collections, plentiful computational power, and methodological innovations has led to many researchers adopting techniques of automatic text analysis for coding and analyzing textual data. In what is sometimes termed the “text as data” approach, texts are converted to a numerical representation, and various techniques such as dictionary analysis, automatic scaling, topic modeling, and machine learning are used to find patterns in and test hypotheses on these data.
These methods all make certain assumptions and need to be validated to assess their fitness for any particular task and domain.
The historical evolution of the right to vote offers three observations. First, almost all groups have seen their voting rights challenged at some point in time, and almost all political movements have sought to exclude some other group from voting. Second, reforms towards suffrage extension are varied—from the direct introduction of universal (male) suffrage to a trickle down process of enfranchising a small group at a time. Third, the history of franchise extension is a history of expansions and contractions.
Much of the literature on the evolution of the right to vote builds on the following question: Why would a ruling elite decide to extend the suffrage to excluded groups who have different interests in the level of redistribution and the provision of public goods? Two competing theories dominate the debate: Bottom-up or demand theories emphasizing the role of revolutionary threats, and top-down or supply theories, explaining franchise extensions as the outcome of the strategic interactions of those in power and elites in the democratic opposition.
A second question addresses the choice of a particular path of franchise extension, asking what explains different strategies and, in particular, the role of their accompanying institutional reforms.
In contrast to the literature on the inclusion of the lower classes, women’s suffrage has been traditionally presented as the conquest of the suffragette movement. Current research, however, departs from this exceptionalism of female suffrage and shows certain consensus in explaining women’s suffrage as a political calculus, in which men willingly extend the franchise when they expect to benefit from it. Arguments differ though in the specific mechanisms that explain the political calculus.
Finally, the literature on compulsory voting addresses the estimations of its impact on turnout; whether it translates into more efficient campaigning, improved legitimacy, and better representativity; and ultimately its effects on policies.
Susanne Martin and Ami Pedahzur
Suicide terrorism has captured considerable attention since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Governments offered unprecedented support for scholars who were willing to research the phenomenon. One result has been a tremendous growth in the volume of research on terrorism. The research has also become more diverse. Until 2001, 84% of the articles appeared within the disciplines of political science and international relations. Since 2002, though, only 53% of articles belonged to these disciplines. Meanwhile, other areas (most notably economics) increased in prominence. Despite the growth in the volume and diversity of the research, important aspects of the phenomenon remain largely unexplored. This is particularly evident when it comes to studies of suicide terrorism. Two areas requiring further attention include the “theater of terrorism” and the role of culture. The case of ISIS demonstrates the significant roles of the mass media and culture in explaining contemporary suicide terrorism.
Charles A. Miller
The “sunk costs fallacy” is a popular import into political science from organizational psychology and behavioral economics. The fallacy is classically defined as a situation in which decision-makers escalate commitment to an apparently failing project in order to “recoup” the costs they have already sunk into it. The phenomenon is often framed as a good example of how real decision-making departs from the assumption of forward-looking rationality which underpins traditional approaches to understanding politics. Researchers have proposed a number of different psychological drivers for the fallacy, such as cognitive dissonance reduction, and there is experimental and observational evidence that it accurately characterizes decision-making in certain contexts. However, there is significant skepticism about the fallacy in many social sciences, with critics arguing that there are better forward-looking rational explanations for decisions apparently driven by a desire to recoup sunk costs – among them reputational concerns, option values and agency problems. Critics have also noted that in practical situations sunk costs are informative both about decision makers’ intrinsic valuation for the issue and the prospects for success, making it hard to discern a separate role for sunk costs empirically. To address these concerns, empirical researchers have employed a number of strategies, especially leveraging natural experiments in certain non-political decision making contexts such as sports or business, in order to isolate the effects of sunk costs per se from other considerations. In doing so, they have found mixed support for the fallacy. Research has also shown that the prevalence of the sunk costs fallacy may be moderated by a number of factors, including the locus of decision-making, framing, and national context. These provide the basis for suggestions for future research.
With the worldwide wave of democratization, scholars interested in the preservation of the new democracies dusted off old theories of regime maintenance. While commonly sharing the assumption that democracy requires democrats, researchers proceeded in different directions, depending on their image of the ideal democrat. Today, we know a great deal about who supports democracy, and why. However, the state of our knowledge is incomplete at the point where it matters the most. As might be expected in any emerging area of research, different sets of scholars based their research instruments on contrasting understandings of what it means to be a democrat, and how democrats are best identified and measured. More importantly, they proceeded from differing understandings and underspecified theories as to why democrats are important, how many are needed, and how they actually affect the level and stability of democracy. Thus, while the intuition that democracy requires democrats is strong, the actual state of the evidence is still mixed, at best.
Timothy R. Johnson
The U.S. Supreme Court is but one of three political institutions within the structure of the U.S. federal government. Within this system of separated powers it rules on the constitutionality of some of the nation’s most important legal and political issues. In making such decisions, the nation’s highest court may be considered the most powerful of the three branches of the U.S. federal government. Understanding this process will allow scholars, students of the Court, and Court watchers alike to gain a better understanding of the way in which the justices conduct their business and to come to terms with some of the most important legal and political decisions in our nation’s history. Combining a theoretical account of Supreme Court decision-making with an examination of its internal decision-making process illuminates this opaque institution.
In the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of public opinion surveys in Africa. While experts on economic development and health had long been collecting individual-, household-, and community-level data on the continent, efforts to gather information on what Africans thought about their governments, societies, and political and economic situations, more broadly, were limited before the late 1990s. Certainly, this expansion was enabled by the wave of political liberalizations that hit most African countries at the end of the Cold War, thus creating conditions under which citizens could be more open in discussing attitudes and behaviors, particularly with regard to politics. However, it also coincided with a growth in the popularity of public opinion surveys globally. The distribution of data-collection efforts has not been uniform across countries: more surveys have been conducted in countries with higher levels of economic development, political openness, and security, such as Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, than in more challenging settings, such as Eritrea, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thus, our knowledge of what Africans think about politics and economics varies significantly from country to country.
Myriad organizations have been involved in these efforts. Academic organizations, both on the African continent and overseas, have been at the forefront of such work in Africa. The most prominent among these has been the Afrobarometer, which has conducted dozens of surveys, in about two thirds of the continent’s countries, since 1999. The majority of studies, however, are made up of contributions by other entities, including for-profit companies, media houses, and even political campaigns. In total, these surveys vary in their methodologies, focuses, quality, and the accessibility of their data for researchers, policymakers, and the general public.
These developments have had significant impacts on academic studies, policymaking, and even countries’ domestic politics. Surveys have improved understandings of Africans’ attitudes, assessments of the status quos in their respective countries, decision-making processes, and hopes and priorities for the future. For academics, these data have provided new opportunities for testing theories—oftentimes upending or at least complicating extant conventional wisdom—and catalyzing the development of new research programs. Candidates and parties use enhanced understandings of the electorate to develop different persuasive strategies. Governments frequently attempt to control, limit, or strategically use survey enterprises. Media in some countries regularly report on popular attitudes and campaign-time “horse races.” In some instances, the release and interpretation of public opinion data have become quite politicized. And election observers frequently propose collection of public opinion data before elections as a guard against flagrant rigging. In sum, these developments have, in myriad ways, fundamentally changed how African countries are studied and governed.
T. David Mason
Once a civil war ends, there is high probability that the nation will relapse into renewed war within a few years. For a nation where a civil war has recently ended to relapse into renewed conflict, some dynamic process of contention must emerge that makes a resumption of armed conflict one—but not the only—possible outcome of that contentious episode. We can conceive of the dynamics by which contentious politics can lead to civil war recurrence as a function of three conditions. First, one or more dissident groups must emerge with the organizational and military capacity to mount and sustain an armed challenge to the postwar state. Second, one or more of those groups must have the incentive to resort to armed conflict rather than abide by the post–civil war order. Third, conditions and events in the postwar environment must evolve in a manner such that one or more of these groups must determine that they have an opportunity to revolt. This framework can be used to analyze how, in existing research, the outcome and key attributes of the now-ended civil war and conditions in the postwar environment affect whether dissident groups will resume armed conflict or sustain the peace.
Karl Magnus Johansson
Membership in the European Union (EU) entails adjustments or changes in national democracies. Sweden joined the EU in 1995, and EU membership has given rise to controversies in the public debate as well as in the academic community. Four main scholarly and related themes are addressed here.
First is the discursive construction of the question of democracy in relation to European integration. In an effort to legitimize membership in the public debate, the consequences in terms of sovereignty were summarized in the official Swedish discourse on EU membership as a loss in formal sovereignty but an increase in real sovereignty. The conclusions became known as the calculus of sovereignty. This conceptual innovation entailed a reinterpretation of popular sovereignty, as stipulated by the Swedish constitution, as well as of democracy, implying that efficiency or problem-solving capacity was emphasized more than procedural democracy. Increased economic and political interdependence had created a situation where independent political decisions were seen as ineffective.
Second is the controversy surrounding the question of influence and the extent to which Sweden is exerting influence in the EU. This issue came to the fore in connection with the euro referendum in 2003. While some argued that remaining outside the euro would come with a political price—marginalization—others emphasized the lack of evidence for such effects. To some extent, this remains a moot point, not least as a result of the expansion and importance of the euro zone.
Third is the question of whether or not there is political opposition, that is, conflict rather than consensus in EU affairs. Recent research claims that (allegedly almost nonexistent) previous research had underestimated the degree of political opposition or conflict, notably in parliament. Moreover, results suggest that there is variation in EU opposition across time and policy areas. However, the key question here should be whether or not there is effective opposition, making a difference to policy outcomes. Several reforms have been initiated to strengthen the involvement of the parliament in EU policymaking, but none has really sought to challenge the balance between parliamentary scrutiny and executive discretion.
Fourth is the state and different interpretations of either decentering or centering effects. Whereas some claim that fragmentation or decentralization is the central feature of the Europeanization of the Swedish state, other researchers submit that the predominant tendency is rather centralization, as the demands of EU decision making—not least EU summitry—on national policy coordination have been a principal driving factor in this process.
These are the main themes in the debate over the EU and EU membership in Sweden. Included here are a series of analytical narratives and counternarratives, as well as a discussion of important implications for the national democracy and for the distribution or redistribution of power among domestic political actors therein. In sum, any interpretation of modern-day politics must now take into account the significance of the EU, operating through Europeanizing impacts.
Clive H. Church
Despite its economic importance, Switzerland is surprisingly little studied. Hence it can be misunderstood. For many, it seems to have a successful relationship with the European Union (EU). In reality, Europe has become a problematic issue for the Swiss. Swiss policy has been reactive and largely driven by a conflict between pragmatic Swiss, inspired by traditional views of the needs of a neutral and federal country, and a growing body of populist Europhobes. The former are, doubtful about the “European idea” but know that a price has to be paid for vital economic advantages. The latter detest the EU and want little involvement with it, regarding political independence as more important than economic gains. The conflict between the two views can be bitter, and destabilizing.
Because of this, the key aim of Swiss policy has been to achieve some kind of third way, combining nonmembership with deep economic integration. Achieving this has become increasingly difficult despite the country’s central geographical and cultural position. This means transport links and population movements are important elements in Swiss relationships with the EU, alongside its economic and legislative involvement. Yet, at the same time, Switzerland has preserved a notable detachment from Europe’s political institutions.
Swiss relations with the EU have been evolving since 1945. The present difficulties are merely the latest, as well as perhaps the most challenging, phase of a long-standing encounter with Europe. There have been four phases in Swiss postwar relations with European integration. Initially, there was considerable reluctance to get involved, but, after some hesitation, the country entered the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and secured a free trade deal with the European Community (EC). This worked well, bringing Switzerland into what the Swiss liked to see as quasi-membership.
This began to change in the mid-1980s, when Swiss needs and EC change led to a second phase, of seeking a deeper relationship. This led to the European Economic Area (EEA) negotiations and, when this was judged to be insufficient by the government, to a membership application. The defeat of the EEA proposal on December 6, 1992, by an emerging populist force unleashed increasing contestation over Europe. It also forced the country into a third phase of seeking bilateral makeweights for exclusion from the EEA. By the early years of the new century, this led to the present situation, which is more complicated than is often realized and is driven by indirect Europeanization. At the same time, the bilateral approach became both popular with a majority and increasingly contested on the right.
Moreover, a fourth phase has seen bilateralism increasingly contested by the EU as well, causing a long-drawn-out impasse. This was partly because the “Stop Mass Migration” initiative of February 9, 2014, threatened to undermine the existing bilaterals. A solution to this problem was found by the parliament in late 2017, but further problems appeared as, in December 2018, the country found itself apparently being asked to decide about accepting a framework agreement to regularize its sprawling range of EU deals. Given its internal divisions, this may not be possible, so the fourth phase could well persist. In any case, Europe is likely to remain a major source of profit and pain for Switzerland.
Stuart J. Kaufman
The symbolic politics theory of ethnic war starts from the insight that most political behavior is not rational but intuitive, driven by “symbolic predispositions” such as ideological beliefs, normative values, and prejudice. The way leaders lead is by using rhetoric not to appeal rationally to followers’ interests but to appeal emotionally to their symbolic predispositions.
According to symbolic politics theory, the path to ethnic conflict begins with group narratives that are hostile to another group. These narratives help to generate hostile and prejudiced symbolic predispositions. If group members perceive a social threat, such as to their group identity or status, they become more likely to join mass movements agitating for a politics of redistribution—discriminating in favor of their own group at the expense of rival groups. If people feel physically threatened, they become more likely to support a politics of protection leading to violent ethnic conflict. These popular attitudes and moods are turned into social movements or military mobilization if aggressive leaders emerge, framing political issues in terms of these threats, and if those leaders are both credible and supported by effective organizations. A series of case studies has demonstrated that this process—from narratives to prejudice and threat perceptions, harnessed by leadership and organization—is what occurred in ten ethnic civil wars, including the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Israel-Palestine, and the Philippines. The theory also explains less violent cases such as Gandhi’s nationalist movement in India.
This theory is hypothesized to apply to international war, as the politics of national identity is similar to the politics of ethnic identity. The theory also suggests a way of reconciling realist, liberal, and constructivist accounts of international relations through political psychology and a scientific realist ontology.
Civil wars in the contemporary world are deeply interpenetrated by international influences. There are six different conceptions of the international system and their effects on civil conflicts: (1) the realist conception and the superpower interventions of the Cold War period, (2) the liberal institutional conception and the diplomatic mediation of the United Nations, (3) global cultural influences such as world religions, democratization and education, (4) the global economy and structural poverty, (5) transnational bilateral relations with neighboring states, and (6) the planetary ecosystem and the effects of climate change. Taken together, these international influences have a weighty effect on the conduct and duration of contemporary civil wars.