Third Party Intervention in Ethnic Conflicts: A Force for Peace or Spiraling Violence

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Khosla, Deepa
Gurr, Ted R.
This dissertation examines how interventions by external states can influence the degree of violence of internal ethnic conflicts. We know that foreign state interventions can alter the trajectory of domestic disputes but scholars disagree about the potential effects. Outside support can increase the destructiveness and duration while potentially threatening to diffuse hostilities across states boundaries. Third parties can alternatively help promote a resolution through mediation or by ensuring the victory of one of the parties. This project tests several hypotheses about the effects of key variables including the goals and prior political activism of ethnic groups, the regime type of host states, the impact of the Cold War, the type of state intervenor, the form of assistance supplied, the recipients of the interventions, and ethnic linkages between the parties. The cases comprise twenty-nine ethnopolitical conflicts that emerged in the Third World in the 1980s and the 1990s. Major findings that refine our existing knowledge include how interventions during the Cold War were most likely to occur in conflicts that escalated and that major and regional powers were the main participants. In the 1990s, or the post-Cold War era, most foreign states intervened in ethnic disputes that were either stalemated or decreased in violence. Neighboring states are now the most frequent intervenors in escalating conflicts. Further, higher levels of assistance are unexpectedly associated with internal wars that stalemate or decrease in violence. Challenges to the conventional wisdom include the findings that groups seeking autonomy or secession are very likely to be involved in more intense disputes, neighboring state involvement does not usually exacerbate hostilities, and there is no relationship between competing interventions (support each side) and changes in domestic violence. Further, while military aid is most frequently furnished, it is economic, and secondly, mixed aid (usually economic and military) that is critical in escalating conflicts. Finally, foreign state involvement prior to the eruption of violent hostilities has been little studied. Yet, prior engagement is significantly associated with greater future violence.