More Than Mixed Results: What We Have Learned From Quantitative Research on the Diversionary Hypothesis
Benjamin O. Fordham
In the three decades since Jack Levy published his seminal review essay on the topic, there has been a great deal of quantitative research on the proposition that state leaders can use international conflict to enhance their political prospects at home. The findings of this work are frequently described as “mixed” or “inconsistent.” This characterization is superficially correct, but it is also misleading in some important respects. Focusing on two of Levy’s most important concerns about previous research, there has been substantial progress in our understanding of this phenomenon.
First, as Levy suggests in his essay, researchers have elaborated a range of different mechanisms linking domestic political trouble with international conflict rather than a single diversionary argument. Processes creating diversionary incentives bear a family resemblance to one another but can have different behavioral implications. Four of them are (1) in-group/out-group dynamics, (2) agenda setting, (3) leader efforts to demonstrate competence in foreign policy, and (4) efforts to blame foreign leaders or perhaps domestic minorities for problems. In addition, researchers have identified some countervailing mechanisms that may inhibit state leaders’ ability to pursue diversionary strategies, the most important of which is the possibility that potential targets may strategically avoid conflict with leaders likely to behave aggressively.
Second, research has identified scope conditions that limit the applicability of diversionary arguments, another of Levy’s concerns about the research he reviewed. Above all, diversionary uses of military force (though not other diversionary strategies) may be possible for only a narrow range of states. Though very powerful states may pursue such a strategy against a wide range of targets, the leaders of less powerful states may have this option only during fairly serious episodes of interstate hostility, such as rivalries and territorial disputes. A substantial amount of research has focused exclusively on the United States, a country that clearly has the capacity to pursue this strategy. While the findings of this work cannot be generalized to many other states, they have revealed some important nuances in the processes that create diversionary incentives. The extent to which these incentives hinge on highly specific political and institutional characteristics point to the difficulty of applying realistic diversionary arguments to a large sample of states. Research on smaller, more homogenous samples or individual states is more promising, even though it will not produce an answer to the broad question of how prevalent diversionary behavior is. As with many broad questions about political phenomena, the only correct answer may be “it depends.” Diversionary foreign policy happens, but not in the same way in every instance and not in every state in the international system.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.
Micah Dillard and Jon C.W. Pevehouse
Scholarship in international relations has taken a more quantitative turn in the past four decades. The field of foreign policy analysis was arguably the forerunner in the development and application of quantitative methodologies in international relations. From public opinion surveys to events data to experimental methods, many of the earliest uses of quantitative methodologies can be found in foreign policy analysis. On substantive questions ranging from the causes of war to the dynamics of public opinion, the analysis of data quantitatively has informed numerous debates in foreign policy analysis and international relations. Emerging quantitative methods will be useful in future efforts to analyze foreign policy.
Nazli Choucri and Gaurav Agarwal
The term lateral pressure refers to any tendency (or propensity) of states, firms, and other entities to expand their activities and exert influence and control beyond their established boundaries, whether for economic, political, military, scientific, religious, or other purposes. Framed by Robert C. North and Nazli Choucri, the theory addresses the sources and consequences of such a tendency. This chapter presents the core features—assumptions, logic, core variables, and dynamics—and summarizes the quantitative work undertaken to date. Some aspects of the theory analysis are more readily quantifiable than others. Some are consistent with conventional theory in international relations. Others are based on insights and evidence from other areas of knowledge, thus departing from tradition in potentially significant ways.
Initially applied to the causes of war, the theory focuses on the question of: Who does what, when, how, and with what consequences? The causal logic in lateral pressure theory runs from the internal drivers (i.e., the master variables that shape the profiles of states) through the intervening variables (i.e., aggregated and articulated demands given prevailing capabilities), and the outcomes often generate added complexities. To the extent that states expand their activities outside territorial boundaries, driven by a wide range of capabilities and motivations, they are likely to encounter other states similarly engaged. The intersection among spheres of influence is the first step in complex dynamics that lead to hostilities, escalation, and eventually conflict and violence.
The quantitative analysis of lateral pressure theory consists of six distinct phases. The first phase began with a large-scale, cross-national, multiple equation econometric investigation of the 45 years leading to World War I, followed by a system of simultaneous equations representing conflict dynamics among competing powers in the post–World War II era. The second phase is a detailed econometric analysis of Japan over the span of more than a century and two World Wars. The third phase of lateral pressure involves system dynamics modeling of growth and expansion of states from 1970s to the end of the 20th century and explores the use of fuzzy logic in this process. The fourth phase focuses on the state-based sources of anthropogenic greenhouse gases to endogenize the natural environment in the study of international relations. The fifth phase presents a detailed ontology of the driving variables shaping lateral pressure and their critical constituents in order to (a) frame their interconnections, (b) capture knowledge on sustainable development, (c) create knowledge management methods for the search, retrieval, and use of knowledge on sustainable development and (d) examine the use of visualization techniques for knowledge display and analysis. The sixth, and most recent, phase of lateral pressure theory and empirical analysis examines the new realities created by the construction of cyberspace and interactions with the traditional international order.