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How Authoritarian Survival Strategies Affect Civil War Onset


This dissertation studies causes of civil war from a game theoretic perspective. It aims to understand not only how authoritarian leaders can strategically mitigate prospects for civil war, but also why authoritarian rulers may pursue activities that increase conflict propensity—despite the large adverse welfare consequences of civil wars. Each essay focuses primarily on one particular authoritarian survival strategy: building military capacity, extracting resources from society, and excluding threatening ethnic groups from power at the center. The dissertation applies these strategic considerations to engage two major debates in comparative politics: how each of oil wealth and inter-ethnic relationships affect prospects for fighting. The first essay argues that although oil wealth exerts certain effects that increase incentives for rebel groups to fight to control the capital, oil wealth also increases government revenues and exerts an overall effect of decreasing center-seeking civil war propensity. The second essay focuses on a different aspect of oil production, showing how local oil wealth facilitates government territorial encroachment and increases incentives to fight a separatist civil war for oil-rich ethnic minority groups. The third essay extends the focus on inter-ethnic bargaining by showing ethnic groups organized as pre-colonial kingdoms in Sub-Saharan Africa undermined inter-ethnic institution building and increased incentives for ethnopolitical exclusion, civil wars, and military coups after independence.

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