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King Makers and Peace Breakers: The Politics of Intervention Failure

Alexei Abrahams - The Citizen Lab, University of Toronto
Brandon Merrell - PhD candidate, U.C. San Diego
Abstract:

Foreign powers often intervene in civil conflicts to topple despotic rulers or quell violent insurgencies. Unfortunately, even initially successful interventions often give rise to post-war increases in despotism and violence. What explains this recidivism? We model the foreign power’s decision to intervene in civil war and identify two mechanisms that promote backsliding. First, the intervener may sympathize with either the government or rebels, wrongly assuming that the preferred party harbors peaceful rather than opportunistic intentions. By helping one side eliminate its opponent, the intervener leaves the victor unconstrained and enables it to prey upon civilians in the post-war environment. Second, an intervener may acknowledge the predatory nature of their preferred side, but may nevertheless offer support in hopes of creating a "proxy" who, once victorious, will assist with other regional or international objectives. In this case, the intervener deliberately insulates its proxy from threats and suppresses domestic opposition, even if doing so enables the proxy to engage in human rights abuse. Our results offer a parsimonious take on the relationship between conflict intervention, durable peace, and domestic accountability.