Honors Thesis Spotlight: Civil Wars, Ethnicity, and Intervention: Under What Circumstances Does Ethnicity Affect Intervention in Civil Wars?

Post World War II, the global community is experiencing a decline in cross-national conflicts and a rise in civil conflicts—the latter becoming extremely brutal. In cases like the Rwandan Genocide, conflict led to egregious violations of human rights. Approximately 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered, most belonging to the ethnic minority in the country, the Tutsis. Due to these brutalities, third-party countries and international organizations are compelled to consider intervention. The international community has frequently failed to intervene in these conflicts, such as in Rwanda. This thesis explores why governments choose to intervene in some conflicts and not others, and what role ethnicity plays in this decision-making.

            There are a few reasons why a third-party government might intervene in the conflict of another country. These motivators include protecting economic and resource interests, enforcing or defending state power, avoiding spillover effects, and pursuing humanitarian reasons. Regardless of governmental motivation, the third-party country must have domestic support for the intervention. It is often difficult to rouse a population’s support for defending their country’s economic interest in a conflict state. Similarly, citizens are disinterested in defending the state’s security interests unless it is vital. In terms of gaining support for intervention via humanitarian reasons, the population of the potential intervener must care about the victims, which is where ethnicity factors in. Ethnicity can be a key factor in mobilizing support for conflict intervention.

            Based on a review of previous literature, the researcher posits two hypotheses. The first hypothesis is that countries with ethnic ties to people fighting in a civil war are more likely to intervene compared to countries without such ethnic ties. The second hypothesis is that democratic countries with ethnic ties to people fighting in a civil war are more likely to intervene compared to non-democratic countries with ethnic ties. The first hypothesis does not take regime type into account, while the second hypothesis does. The researcher predicts democracies with ethnic ties have more incentive to intervene because leaders need to appease their population to retain power. The researcher utilizes a linear regression model to measure the probability of ethnicity affecting a third-party’s decision for military intervention. The dataset used in the research is sourced from data collected in a previous research project on civil wars by Jun Koga.

            The findings suggest that ethnicity does affect military intervention, regardless of other variables. The data supported both hypotheses. Governments are more likely to intervene in civil conflict if they share the same ethnicity as the participants and third-party democracies are more likely to intervene than autocracies. However, it is important to note that shared ethnicity does not mean a country will intervene in a civil conflict. The models suggest that shared ethnicity affects countries with significant military capabilities but does not affect counties that lacked military capabilities. In countries that have the military resources to intervene in the conflict, shared ethnicity will likely affect the decision to involve themselves in a conflict. Countries that do not have that capability will not see ethnic ties affect their decision to intervene. Ethnicity may also be more of an excuse to use military intervention than a reason to. Governments can use ethnicity to rally support for foreign intervention but are more interested in intervening for other reasons, like economic or security.

            Understanding the correlation between ethnicity and the decision to intervene in civil conflicts can help the international community better respond to such interventions. As civil conflicts continue to occur globally, it is likely that countries will use shared ethnicity as an excuse to involve themselves in a civil conflict. In turn, they will be able to promote their interests, rather than intervene to promote the interests of the conflict-ridden state. Further, ethnicity can be used to manipulate populations into supporting conflict. This finding benefits the international community to better understand different country’s motives when third-party intervention occurs.

Dylan M. Levenson is a graduate from the Department of Political Science at Florida State University. This blog post is a summary of Dylan’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP blog intern, Dara Begley. To learn more about this project, click here. To learn more about Dylan, click here.

Source for featured image: https://fabrique21.fr/2021/03/09/5-gestes-pour-sauver-la-planete/

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