Territorial Diversion: Diversionary Theory of War and Territorial Conflict
University of Georgia - Department of International Affairs
August 16, 2010
Journal of Politics, Vol. 72, No. 2, pp. 413-425, 2010
According to the diversionary theory of war, unpopular leaders generate foreign policy crises to both divert the public’s attention away from the discontent with their rule and bolster their political fortunes through a rally around the flag effect. I argue that the puzzling lack of clear empirical support for the theory may be due to the underspecification of the theoretical mechanism through which the public reacts to the particular issue at the center of the diversionary “crisis.” Because people tend to react to territorial issues intensely, the embattled leader could attempt to manipulate and exploit this proclivity by launching specifically a territorial conflict. By linking government unpopularity with the initiation of militarized territorial conflicts and crises in a global sample of countries, this territorial diversion argument receives strong empirical support. The initiation of fatal militarized disputes over territory is, in addition, linked to economic underperformance.
Keywords: Diversionary Theory, Diversionary Theory of War, Territorial ConflictAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: August 17, 2010
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