Essays on Personalism and Civil War Dynamics

Cao, Ruixing, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Potter, Philip, AS-Dept of Politics, University of Virginia

Civil wars are complicated processes involving multiple actors. Their outcomes and dynamics are not only determined by states and rebel groups directly engaged in fighting but also by external actors such as foreign governments and international organizations. In the meantime, states experiencing civil wars are not single actors, but rather entities composed of multiple agents such as leaders, military commanders, and rank-and-file soldiers. The relationship between these groups can directly influence states’ combat effectiveness and morale, which further influences the dynamics of civil wars. In this dissertation, I investigate three different aspects of civil wars: third-party mediation, state sponsorship for the rebels, and military mutinies/defections, through the lens of authoritarian power consolidation and personalism.

In the first essay, I explore the linkages between authoritarian personalism and the occurrence
of third-party mediation during civil wars. Facing minimal internal constraints, personalism leaders tend to face severe credibility issues during negotiations, thereby prompting involvement from external mediators. The second essay conducts an empirical investigation of state sponsorship for rebel groups and the type of support sponsors provide. I ask under what conditions do sponsors provide support to rebel groups and when do they send their troops to fight alongside the rebels. I found that rebel groups are more likely to receive sponsorship when operating in authoritarian states. In addition, those operating in personalist regimes are more likely to receive combat support from the sponsor. Due to a lack of internal constraints, personalist leaders are more likely to pursue aggressive foreign policies. The high degree of policy flexibility also makes personalist regimes unreliable partners for negotiation. Consequently, rival states are more likely to use civil conflicts as opportunities to weaken the regime to avoid future instability. Finally, in the third essay, I investigate the impact of power consolidation on an authoritarian regime’s agents: soldiers and low-ranking military officers. Specifically, I explore under what conditions mutinies and defections by soldiers and junior officers are more likely to occur. I argue that when the leader consolidates power through ethnic stacking, a sign of rising personalism, defections are more likely to occur. In contrast, when power is shared, an authoritarian regime is less likely to be coup-proofed. As a result, soldiers have more means at their disposal to force the state to fulfill their demands, sometimes in the form of violent mutinies.

While the essays intend to make contributions to different research topics, they all demonstrate the value of studying civil war dynamics through the lens of internal power dynamics of states fighting these conflicts since it not only shapes the state’s behavior, but also the broader strategic environment and behaviors of other actors involved in the process, as well as the behavior of states’ agents.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Civil War, Mediation, Foreign Intervention, Authoritarian Politics
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