The sources of secessionist war: the interaction of local control and foreign forces in post-Soviet Georgia

In: Caucasus Survey
David Siroky School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

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Nationalism is one of the most powerful forces in the modern world – but why some ethno-national groups mobilize for conflict, while others remain quiescent, remains subject to significant disagreement. This paper argues that domestic politics create the incentives for secession, and international forces make conflict feasible against a sometimes stronger military adversary – the state. The proposed theory unpacks this interaction of domestic and international factors, and posits that when regional elites possess local control in an area that is contiguous with a potential sponsor, external support is more feasible and more apt to lead to mobilization and conflict. When regional elites lack local control, external sponsors will be wary of supporting a potentially lost cause and regional elites will exhibit more restraint, reducing the chances of conflict – external support therefore often flows from strong states to strong regions in weaker states. It is instrumental and variable, rather than affective and constant, and thus kin states will not always support their secessionist brethren in neighbouring states. Using a sub-national research design from post-Soviet Georgia, the results lend support to these conjectures.

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