All’s Well That Ends Better: Third-Party Intervention as a Challenge to Sovereignty


A crucial foreign policy decision for many political administrations (including that of President Obama) has been whether or not to intervene in civil conflicts. Political science literature has been ambiguous at best regarding the criteria required for successful intervention. One consequence of a successful intervention is the promotion of political stability, particularly leadership stability. In this paper, I examine the role third party intervention has played in undermining or bolstering the stability of a state’s leadership in a post-conflict setting via capacity building and legitimacy. Examining the leadership turnover rates of all civil conflict states experiencing intervention between 1950 and 2004, I find that when multiple states that are loosely and informally allied intervene, this reduces the risk of leadership turnover, a very different outcome than when single states or intergovernmental organizations intervene. This has crucial policy implications, indicating that intergovernmental organizations detract from post-conflict stability by increasing the likelihood of leadership turnover and that single-state interveners do not have as large an impact as perhaps they have previously been credited.

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    “While the day of the revolution may be glorious and liberating, the same cannot often be said of the morning after.”           –Mark I. Lichbach, The Rebel’s Dilemma


    When the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003 respectively, the plan was to establish two mutually reinforcing democracies (Bush, 2003). The subsequent failure to establish democratic polities in these two states left a lot of unanswered questions as to the effectiveness of third-party intervention. The “peace duration” descriptor typically used to measure the effectiveness of interventionism could not answer all of the complications of achieving stability in a state where a third party had removed the leadership from power and instituted a weak, unsuccessful attempt at democracy (Enterline and Greig, 2008a). The United States, in an attempt to force stability on these two states, established a firm military presence, which if successful in establishing unity between the native populations, was only successful because of disdain for clearly failed American policy and continued presence. With the recent emphasis on Afghani elections (New York Times, 2014a) and the United States’ hesitation to withdraw troops from these vulnerable states (New York Times, 2014b), it becomes apparent that there is a need for revision in the literature. “Peace duration” serves as a short-changed measure of post-conflict stability, neglecting the actual regular and irregular transitions of leadership reflective of instability.

    While Iraq appears to be facing renewed conflict over leadership, Afghanistan slowly and steadily appears to be moving towards democratization. With recent elections, Afghanis rejected conflict in favor of a recount. That step indicates a willingness to resolve issues outside of conflict, a crucial part of any stable post-conflict arena. In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai has been in power for 13 years, since the end of Taliban rule in the area (NPR, 2014). Iraq, on the other hand, has gone through fifteen prime ministers since the U.S. invasion in 2003 (Al Jazeera, 2014). How leadership turnovers affect government stability has not been examined in the political science literature, particularly not in the international relations arena. The goal of this paper is to provide a better understanding of how third party interventions affect the risk of leadership turnover in a post-conflict state. While there is a considerable amount of literature on conflict recurrence and a great deal focusing on third-party interventions in civil conflict, there is little or no work on leadership turnover in post-conflict settings.

    Literature Review

    Conventional wisdom argues the importance of choosing leadership carefully after a civil conflict. Early research by Skocpol (1979) and Tilly (1993) revealed that wars often lead to revolution and other forms of leadership turnover. Fostering a sense of security between the formal combatants is crucial for new leadership; power sharing becomes a necessity for success (Licklider, 1995; Hartzell and Hoddie, 2003). Consistent leadership, even autocratic leadership, has also been shown to benefit economic growth, which is crucial for recovery post-civil conflict (Jones and Olken, 2005). Lichbach (1996) argues that dissidents, potential rebel groups, look to leadership regime duration as a measure of the strength or weakness of the government in power. This dissident analysis results in periods of interregnum and debated rule after major conflict. He argues this effect in a post-revolution environment, but the idea is applicable to all varieties of civil conflict (Lichbach, 1996). In addition, research has shown that the costs of leadership turnover are high and lead to new commitment problems (Wolford, 2007; Wolford, 2012). Needless to say, this literature, the conventional wisdom, and the extensive body of work examining the successfulness of polity score in securing peace post-conflict (Fearon, 1994; Bueno de Mesquita and Siverson, 1995; Goemans, 2000a, b; Chiozza and Goemans, 2003; Debs and Goemans, 2010; Croco and Weeks, working) show that leadership is a fundamental part of peace duration.

    The concept of “peace duration” is used to describe the period between conflicts, but the inconsistencies of the literature reveal that it is more than likely an over-simplification of the post-conflict environment. As a measure of the time between multiple conflicts within the same state, the term itself shows an innate tendency for conflict recurrence. Extensive work in the field of civil conflict has shown that conflict recurrence is incredibly common among post-civil conflict states (Licklider, 1995; Doyle and Sambanis, 2000; Hartzell et al., 2001; Collier & Sambanis, 2002; Collier et al., 2003; Walter, 2004; Collier et al., 2008; Elbadawi et al., 2008). In fact, according to Collier et al. in 2003, nearly half of all civil wars are caused by post-conflict relapses. In addition, in 2005 and 2006, no new conflicts at all were initiated, and all the conflicts that took place in those two years were relapses (Elbadawi et al., 2008).

    This trend is quite alarming. While Elbadawi et al. (2008) suggest that this was caused by accumulation (no new tensions can occur if every possible tension has led to conflict at some point) or an increased difficulty in resolving conflict, I argue that the increasing global involvement in civil conflicts plays a significant role in increased conflict recurrence. Scholarship argues that the ability of third parties to resolve some of the commitment problems present between factions post-conflict are likely to increase peace duration (Lo et al., 2008). Some literature even argues that third party involvement is a requirement for modern civil conflict resolution (de Silva and Samarasinghe, 1993; Walter, 2002). In this line of thought, third parties create credible commitments in conflict resolution that could be easily undermined otherwise by one of the negotiating factions. If this were truly the case, then we should see stability following conflicts in which third parties intervene. In terms of leadership duration, one should observe stable, regular transitions of leadership rather than short tenures. In the case of third party involvement, short tenures, which disallow the government to make the necessary reparations between the previously conflictual factions, suggest a need to rethink the current stance on the influence of intervention on leadership stability.

    The literature on third-party interventions in civil conflict is vast and filled with many debates about intention. Arguments have been made for everything from altruistic humanitarian crusades to looting as causes of intervention by third parties. Neither the argument that interveners are self-seeking (Regan 2000; Balch-Lindsay and Enterline, 2000; Edelstein, 2004; Bueno de Mesquita and Downs, 2006; Gent, 2008) nor the argument that they are altruistic in their motives (Zartman, 1989; Licklider, 1993; Walter, 1997; Carment and Rowlands, 1998; Carment and Rowlands, 2004) seems to have a significant explanation for the disputed effects that third-party interventions and foreign imposed regime changes (FIRCs) have on peace duration (Regan, 1996; Doyle and Sambanis, 2000; Carment and Rowlands, 2004; Bueno de Mesquita and Downs, 2006; Gent, 2008; Lo et al., 2008; Enterline and Greig, 2008b). These are odd incongruities, given the wealth of literature stating third-party interventions increase rather than decrease civil conflict duration (Regan, 1996; Balch-Lindsay and Enterline, 2000; Elbadawi and Sambanis, 2000; Regan, 2002; Collier et al., 2003). Rather, if third parties are that detrimental to conflict duration, the post-conflict environment should reflect the restrictions that third parties supposedly impose on conflict resolution. The goals of third party states would hinder the legitimacy and capacity of the post-conflict leadership, creating an environment more vulnerable to conflict recurrence and other forms of instability.


    I propose that any uncertainty regarding the conditions under which third parties shorten or lengthen peace duration is largely due to a lack of analysis of leadership turnover. Leadership duration and frequency of turnover have a crucial role in indications of stability (Wolford, 2007; Wolford, 2012), particularly operating under the assumption that leaders desire to remain in power. Under stable leadership, turnover-driven commitment problems are minimized—policies become more likely to be successful, and the government is legitimized by the certainty that it will follow through on its rhetoric. These commitment problems, if rapid leadership turnover is present, amplify the inability to trust the promises of the leadership to bring peace and ameliorate previously divergent factions. Different leaders will have different levels of resolve, and thus different policies (Colaresi, 2004; Wolford, 2007; Thyne, 2010; Croco and Weeks, working). Post-conflict states with the fewest turnovers would be considered the most stable in a post-conflict environment due to the minimization of costs (Huntington, 1993). Challenges will arise if leadership is deemed less than credible. As Lichbach (1996:72) points out, “…dissidents do not give up on victory. In a post-revolutionary regime, another group of rebels may still be victorious.” This is also the case in a post-conflict regime, as frequent leadership change is often the norm and unaffordable to a post-conflict state. Civil conflict is, after all, the most expensive sort of conflict a state can face—paying the costs of both sides within its borders, costs that include death, rape, disease, and economic decline (Thyne, 2009).

    Leadership longevity is a function of the legitimacy and capacity of the government, the conditions of which are often outside the leader’s direct control. In the case of third-party intervention, for example, I argue that leadership legitimacy and capacity are in the hands of the intervener. Single-party interventions are invested enough to pay the costs of entering a conflict, meaning that there is some level of investment and, presumably, some gain to be acquired from the intervention. Being genuinely invested in the wellbeing of the state provides the leadership with more capacity. Funds are coming in to ensure success that might otherwise not be available to ameliorate previously warring factions. These funds enhance capacity, although they also come at the cost of legitimacy. If the leadership is dependent on the foreign aid of a single state, the leader is seen as a puppet of this state. Aid will stop if the leader does not obey the wishes of the intervener. This sharp blow to leadership credibility delegitimizes the government that the intervening state was hoping to stabilize, which might lead to turnover. This is particularly true in the case of democratic interveners, which usually intervene hoping to impose democratization. Autocratic interventions, on the other hand, tend to prioritize looting (Koga, 2011). Democratization is not necessarily going to be the best option for a post-conflict state seeking legitimacy. Premature democratization at the hands of an outside intervener destabilizes the government with frequent turnover, and the lack of credibility present in this sort of foreign imposed democracy leads to delegitimization of the government at a time when it is most crucial for amelioration. This creates the backdrop for my first hypothesis:

    H1: Single-party interventions increase the risk of leadership turnover after civil conflict.

    Multiparty interventions have an advantage over single states in that they do not damage leadership legitimacy. No one state has direct control over the distribution of foreign aid. Because of this, intergovernmental organizations lack direct investment in the success of a state. Unlike single state interventions, intergovernmental organizations lessen the blow of the high costs of intervention. The sheer number of those contractually involved lessens the costs of entering the conflict. Due to the fact that state foreign policies vary considerably, a consensus between states in an intergovernmental organization is generally in favor of peacekeeping rather than more constructive growth of the post-conflict state. This lack of investment prevents intergovernmental organizations from aiding the capacity of post-conflict leadership. Intergovernmental organizations are often interveners in conflicts because they feel an obligation to act to end the atrocities of war, and most peacekeepers come from states that have little say in the organization. Thus:

    H2: Intergovernmental organizations increase the risk of leadership turnover after civil conflict.

    A different sort of multiparty intervention also exists. Sometimes, multiple states are interested in intervening in a single civil conflict without a formal organizational connection. These states are invested enough in the wellbeing of the state to provide additional capacity to the post-conflict leadership, and numerous enough to not delegitimize the government they aim to assist. This “sweet spot” of interventionism allows states to affect the outcome of conflict without the destabilizing impact of repeated turnover in a post-conflict environment. Therefore, my final hypothesis is as follows:

    H3: Coalitions of willing states decrease the risk of leadership turnover.  

    Research Design

    My theory predicts that leadership turnover following civil conflict will become more frequent if single states intervene (H1), or intergovernmental organizations intervene (H2), and less frequent in the case of interventions by coalitions of willing states (H3). To test these hypotheses, the unit of analysis is the post-conflict duration of leadership for all leaders who left office in the years from 1945 to 1999. The dependent variable, leadership turnover, is coded 1 for each country-year if leadership turnover occurred, and 0 if the incumbent remained in office. I utilize a Cox proportional hazard model to demonstrate the likelihood of an increase in turnover risk. Leaders with lower levels of risk will enjoy longer terms in office and, as discussed in the theory section of this paper, higher levels of legitimacy and capacity. The leadership data used for this project comes from Gleditsch, Goemans and Chiozza (2009), and their ARCHIGOS dataset. This dataset records 1,746 turnovers from 1946 to 2004, and of these, I examine only turnover occurring after a state has had civil conflict. This means that years are skipped in the data if they happen prior to civil conflict in the post-WWII period or during an ongoing civil conflict of any sort.

    Independent Variables

    For my first hypothesis, I use Mullenbach’s (2013) peacekeeping dataset to examine the role that single party interveners have in leadership turnover post conflict. For this, I converted Mullenbach’s dataset to binary coding, coding single state to be 1 if there was one state intervening during the previous civil conflict, and 0 if there were multiple interveners. In the absence of interveners, single was coded as missing. My second hypothesis is also operationalized with a binary variable, IGOs, using Mullenbach’s (2013) data to code each intervention 1 if there were regional and/or global organizations involved in the conflict, and 0 if otherwise. This originated from Mullenbach’s own coding on types of third party interveners.

    My third hypothesis is operationalized with adhoc, a binary variable that is coded as 1 if more than one state intervened in a conflict, but had no intergovernmental affiliation. All other interventions were coded as 0.

    Control Variables

    For this test I utilize ethnic fractionalization and ethnic polarization (Montalvo and Reynal-Querol 2005), which obtain information from the World Christian Encyclopedia to index the percentage of the degree of fractionalization and polarization present in each country respectively. Another control variable is electoral system (Golder, 2005). This variable identifies the type of democracy (presidential or parliamentary) and whether or not the elections occurred in a single member district. Autocracies are clearly coded as 0. Kaufman (2001) argues that ethnic politics are a significant factor in determining civil war onset. That being said, fractionalization and polarization indicate unrest within the country, which leads to leadership turnover. The electoral system measure is included beyond Polity IV so as to control for variation within different sorts of democracies of leadership duration. I also control for GDP per capita, which Gleditsch supplies in his work on economic influence. I coded military leadership involvement from their biographies. In the binary variable military, each leader was coded 1 if they had prior/ongoing military ties. This includes leadership positions as well as enlistment. Military service presumably has the same effect on leadership credibility regardless of rank. I also coded leadership faction affiliation during the civil conflict. Rebdum is a binary variable that is coded 1 if the leader was affiliated with the rebel faction during conflict and 0 if otherwise.


    The findings for the first hypothesis are presented in Table 1. While single state interventions do not have a significant impact on the risk of leadership turnover, the control variables for the first test show that rebel affiliation, previous times in office, and ethnic polarization all decrease the risk of leadership turnover, with GDP per capita decreasing risk almost negligibly. Polity increases the risk of leadership turnover, as is to be expected.

    In the second model presented in Table 2, the results show that intergovernmental organizations increase the risk of leadership turnover, whereas the control variables that were significant in the first model continue to deter leadership turnover in the second model except ethnic polarization, which is no longer significant. Polity continues to increase risk of turnover fractionally.

    In the third model presented in Table 3, the results show that ad-hoc coalitions of willing states decrease the risk of leadership turnover. The control variables continue to have the same effects on risk that they had in the second model.


    The non-significance of single party intervention is not theoretically unexplainable. Perhaps the capacity building measures of an invested single state intervening cancel out the delegitimizing effects of the leverage that the single state would then hold over the post-conflict government. Or, perhaps there is truly no effect between single state interventions and leadership turnover because of the vast array of leader tenures following conflict with a single intervener. Whatever the case, the leadership is unaffected by the presence or absence of a single third-party. Further research on the impact of single state intervention is necessary.

    A significant increase in the risk of leadership turnover with the addition of an intergovernmental organization reveals that these interventions are destabilizing to the post-conflict state. According to the hazard ratios, leadership turnover becomes twice as likely with the addition of an intergovernmental organization such as the African Union or the United Nations. This confirms my second hypothesis. Not all multiparty interventions are destabilizing to the state, however.

    Ad-hoc coalitions of willing states decrease the risk of turnover by about 65 percent, which is a substantial benefit to stability. These multiparty interventions are both committed and allow the government to maintain legitimacy. The additional capacity provisions, along with a large enough force to maintain the legitimacy of the government, provide a huge benefit to the leadership in a post-conflict environment. This sweet spot of intervention reveals that strategy and investment are very important considerations for external states wishing to intervene in a civil conflict state.

    Implications and Conclusion

    That is not the only implication provided by this project, however. Policymakers and researchers alike would do well to note that rebel affiliation also has a substantial impact with regard to reducing turnover risk. This is in line with the previous literature, and shows that if rebels can maintain victory, they will effectively stabilize the country in a post-conflict setting.

    This project shows the inefficiency of intergovernmental organizations as peacekeepers, and reveals that government dollars may be better spent elsewhere, and that states wishing to intervene in a conflict should instead approach other interested states that could potentially gain from the intervention.

    While this paper does not address formal regime change, it does show that the implications of stability transcend the risk of polity change, which has very little effect on turnover in each model tested. Future research could address polity and democratization, foreign imposed regime change, and the exact effect that leadership change has on conflict recurrence.

    We now see that Maliki’s Iraqi government has been delegitimized, seen as a puppet of the United States. His government has taken a lot of negative response from the international community while benefitting from the capacity provided by the United States. The effects of such frequent leadership change have created an environment that is overwhelmingly not in Maliki’s favor, in spite of the lack of relationship between single state intervention and leadership turnover. In situations such as Afghanistan, however, where multiple states were invested in intervening, there is less leadership turnover. Karzai has been in power since 2001, and was elected president in both 2004 and 2009.


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    Table 1:  Effect of Single State Intervention on Leadership Turnover following Civil Conflict

    Table 2: Effect of Intergovernmental Intervention on Leadership Turnover following Civil Conflict

    Table 3: Effect of Coalitions of Willing States Intervention on Leadership Turnover following Civil Conflict