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First published online April 1, 2009

Ethnic Politics and Armed Conflict: A Configurational Analysis of a New Global Data Set

Abstract

Quantitative scholarship on civil wars has long debated whether ethnic diversity breeds armed conflict. We go beyond this debate and show that highly diverse societies are not more conflict prone. Rather, states characterized by certain ethnopolitical configurations of power are more likely to experience violent conflict. First, armed rebellions are more likely to challenge states that exclude large portions of the population on the basis of ethnic background. Second, when a large number of competing elites share power in a segmented state, the risk of violent infighting increases. Third, incohesive states with a short history of direct rule are more likely to experience secessionist conflicts. We test these hypotheses for all independent states since 1945 using the new Ethnic Power Relations (EPR) data set. Cross-national analysis demonstrates that ethnic politics is as powerful and robust in predicting civil wars as is a country's level of economic development. Using multinomial logit regression, we show that rebellion, infighting, and secession result from high degrees of exclusion, segmentation, and incohesion, respectively. More diverse states, on the other hand, are not more likely to suffer from violent conflict.

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Article first published online: April 1, 2009
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Published online: April 1, 2009
Issue published: April 2009

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Lars-Erik Cederman

Notes

Direct correspondence to Andreas Wimmer ([email protected]).
The authors wish to thank the many individuals who helped assemble the data set on which this article relies. While we cannot list the dozens of country and regional experts who generously shared their knowledge, we should like to at least mention Dennis Avilés, Yuval Feinstein, Dmitry Gorenburg, Wesley Hiers, Lutz Krebs, Patrick Kuhn, Anoop Sarbahi, James Scarritt, Manuel Vogt, Judith Vorrath, Jürg Weder, and Christoph Zürcher. Luc Girardin implemented the software for the online expert survey. The data project relied on financial support from UCLA's International Institute and the Swiss National Science Foundation through the project “Democratizing Divided Societies in Bad Neighborhoods.” For encouraging comments and criticisms, we are grateful to Michael Ross as well as audiences at the department of sociology of the University of Arizona, the Conference on Disaggregating the Study of Civil War and Transnational Violence held at the University of Essex, the Program of Order, Conflict, and Violence at Yale, and the Mannheim Center for European Social Research.

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