Political Exclusion, Lost Autonomy, and Non-Violent Separatism

Are existing models of civil war onset specific enough to explain why some conflicts turn into wars while others stay nonviolent? While it is often assumed that violent and nonviolent conflicts are qualitatively different and have different causes, that assumption is rarely tested empirically. We explore this question with reference to conflicts over self-determination. Using new data, we investigate the role of ethnic grievances in why nonviolent separatist conflicts emerge and why some of them subsequently escalate to violence. We find evidence that political exclusion and lost autonomy—two grievance factors commonly associated with ethnic war—are associated with the onset of nonviolent separatist claims, but that both factors also help to explain why nonviolent conflicts escalate to violence. Our results sup-port grievance-based explanations of ethnic war and highlight the need to focus on processes of conflict escalation to improve the specificity of models of civil war onset.

Authors: Micha Germann (University of Bath) and Nicholas Sambanis (Penn)

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