Political Opportunity Structures

Topics: Civil war, War, Democracy Pages: 23 (7521 words) Published: January 21, 2013
Political opportunity structures, democracy, and civil war•

Kristian Skrede Gleditsch University of Essex & Centre for the Study of Civil War, PRIO

Andrea Ruggeri University of Essex

Paper prepared for presentation at the 6th SGIR Pan-European International Relations Conference, Turin 12-15

September 2007. A previous version was presented at the 48th annual meeting of International Studies Association, Chicago, IL, USA, 28 February to 3 March 2007. We thank Hein Goemans and Håvard Strand for helpful discussions and comments. This is a preliminary draft of work in progress; Please ensure that you have the current version before citing. Kristian Skrede Gleditsch (corresponding author) is Reader, Department of Government, University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK (email: ksg@essex.ac.uk). Andrea Ruggeri is a PhD Candidate, Department of Government, University of Essex (email: arugge@essex.ac.uk).

Abstract Theories of mobilization suggest that groups are more likely to resort to violence in the presence of political opportunity structures that afford greater prospects for government accommodation or opportunities to topple ruling governments. In empirical studies, however, efforts to test the possible influences of political opportunity structures on incentives for violence have almost invariably relied upon measures of democracy to proxy for the hypothesized mechanisms (e.g., the inverted u-curve hypothesis). We detail a number of problems with measures of democracy as proxies for opportunity structures. We suggest alternative measures based on the likely risks that leaders will lose power in irregular challenges, and evaluate empirically how the security with which leaders hold office influence their prospects for accommodating dissent and the decision to launch insurgencies. We find irregular leader entry and transitions increase the risk of conflict onset, and that democracy has a negative effect on the risk of civil war, once we control for our new measures of state weakness.



The salience of civil war in the contemporary world has generated a surge of interest in its causes. The theoretical literature on civil war has postulated a variety of possible explanations for why governments and insurgents may resort to violence against one another. Some researchers highlight the role of grievances as motives for protest, where the specific grievances can arise from issues such as deprived economic status, lack of political rights and civil liberties, or frustrated expectations (see, e.g., Davies 1962; Gurr 1970). Others emphasize conditions that can facilitate mobilization among potential insurgents, including the role of private benefits or incentives from conflict and the role of state strength in increasing the costs of protests and deterring potential insurgents from launching violent attacks (see, e.g., Collier and Hoeffler 2004; Fearon and Laitin 2003; Tilly 1978). In turn, the empirical literature on civil war has considered a large variety of country characteristics that may reflect either grievances that could give rise to motives for protest or opportunities for resort to violence (see, e.g., Sambanis 2002; 2004 for useful reviews of this literature). In this paper, we revisit arguments about democracy and state strength, and the idea that that political opportunity structure can encourage insurgent violence. We argue that many of the indicators used in empirical studies of civil war are relatively crude indicators of the underlying concepts, and only loosely related to the theoretical rationale. Moreover, since the same operational measure is often used as indicator for a large number of quite different concepts, it is often very difficult to discriminate between different interpretation and theories from the empirical results shown. In this paper, we focus on efforts to use democracy as a combined proxy for both grievances and state strength or repressive capacity. We...
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