Nationalism Contemporary Politics I Believe Term Paper

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Figueiredo posits that ambiguity regarding the leader's intentions is the key factor which determines whether a leaders is successful in inciting and ethnic group to violence.

Leaders who are "Gambling for Ressurrection" are unpopular leaders who have little to lose and much to gain by inciting conflict. However, Figueiredo astutely notes that unpopular leaders often hold little credibility among the citizenry, especially when the leaders are asking them to bear the costs of ethnic violence against their fellow citizens.

Figueiredo posits that unpopular leaders can be successful when there are aggravating factors which enhance the plausibility of the leader's threats to an uninformed citizenry.

These aggravating conditions are certain power and informational conditions that induce a rational person to rule out the possibility that the leader's threats are bogus.

Figueiredo observes that "Generating sufficient support for ethnic conflict requires a particular interaction with the opponents, which can lie beyond the leader's control."

Because the citizens will presume that an untrusted leader is lying, they have to be persuaded by information coming from outside of the leader. However, the leader can use "the structure of interaction and information" to advance his own objectives by playing on what the citizenry can and cannot know for sure.

Creation of Ambiguity

Figueiredo used the Serbian example to explain how the citizen's lack of knowledge of the opponent can be manipulated by an untrusted leader to create a favourable ambiguity for the leader. In this case, the Serbians clearly preferred a peace agreement between Serbia and Croatia and only knew that Milosevic was dishonest, but not whether the Croats were cooperative or not. The later failure of Milosevic and the Croats to ink a peace agreement "increases the Serbians' posterior subjective belief that Croats are aggressive because the Serbian can never really tell whether peace failed because of M's treachery or because C. is aggressive."

Through this process, Milosevic was able to rebut the initial presumption of culpability against him and revises the possibility of Croat aggression upwards, now believing that either Milosevic or the Croats could be responsible for aggression.

Disparity in Size of Stakes

The costs of a wrong decision to not attack is so costly in ethnic conflict that it can skew the citizens' determination of the leader's intentions. In the Serbian situation, a rational actor would decide to attack the opponent only if it can be proved that the opponent is more likely than not to be aggressive: a standard lawyers refer to as a "preponderance of the evidence." However, because the cost of being wrong was so high for the Serbians, a "preponderance of the evidence" was not required, only what Figueiredo calls a "critical probability" that the Croats could be aggressive.

Hostile Actions by Accused (Confirmation)

The citizenry's ambiguity regarding the true aggressor, combined with the lowered standard of certitude to believe the leader's claims, is still not enough to incite ethnic violence unless events occur that create a "critical probability" in the citizen's mind that the opponent is the aggressor. Here, the uncertainty was at an equilibrium following the failure of the peace agreement, as the Serbians did not know whether Milosevic or the Croats thwarted the peace agreement. It was only when the Croats adopted the ultranationalist Ustache symbol and mistreated Croatian Serbs, actions perceived as aggression, that Serbians started to believe that the Croats might be the true aggressors instead of Milosevic.


The most crucial element of Figueiredo's aggravating conditions is the creation of the "critical probability" that finally persuades the citizenry to believe the warmongering lies of an unpopular, untrusted leader. The concept of "critical probability" is even more useful when read in conjunction with Fearon's concept of an opponent's "intentional misrepresentation of power," where one sides misrepresent its power or willingness to fight in order to deter attack from the other side. In the Yugoslav example, it was Croatia's pre-emptive measures taken after the failure of the peace negotiations with Milosevic that confirmed persuaded Serbians of Milosevic's claims that Croatia did not want peace. Thus, the "critical probability" necessary for a citizenry to consent to ethnic conflict is often provided by the opponents' misrepresentation of power.


The Pax Americana has been largely successful in preventing the destructive total wars which marked the first half of the 20th Century. However, the Pax Americana is possible through the rational understanding of economics and power, that a state will hurt its economy if it goes to war with another and that there is a powerful hegemon in the U.S. policing the world which will promptly punish any power plays by an aggressive state. Scholars have showed that rationality plays a larger role in ethnic violence than previously believed. Perhaps ethnic violence is exempt from the Pax Americana right now because it has not yet been sanctioned and punished emphatically enough. Might ethnic violence be prevented if warmongering leaders seriously believed that aggression would invite certain punishment from the United States?


Keith Darden. Resisting Occupation: Mass Literacy & the Creation of Durable National Loyalties. New York: Cambridge University Press (2011)

Michael Hechter. Containing Nationalism. New York: Oxford University Press (2000).

James D. Fearon, "Rationalist Explanations for War." International Organization 43:3, p. 379-414 (1995).

Rui J.P. de Figueiredo and Barry R. Weingast. "The Rationality of Fear: Political Opportunism and Ethnic Conflict": Civil Wars, Security, and Intervention, ed. Barbara F. Walter and Jack Snyder. New York: Columbia University Press (1999)

Barry R. Posen, "The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict." Survival 35:1, p. 27-47 (1993).

V.P. Gagnon, Jr., "Ethnic Nationalism and International Conflict: The Case of Serbia." International Security 19:3, p. 130-166 (1995).

Keith Darden. Resisting Occupation: Mass Literacy & the Creation of Durable National Loyalties. New York: Cambridge University Press (2011). p.3

Darden 10

Darden 10

Michael Hechter. Containing Nationalism. New York: Oxford University Press (2000). p. 62

Barry R. Posen, "The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict." Survival 35:1, p. 27-47 (1993).p. 28

Posen 28

Posen 28

Posen 36-37

Posen 37

Posen 39

Posen 40

Posen 38

James D. Fearon, "Rationalist Explanations for War." International Organization 43:3, p. 379-414 (1995)., 391

Fearon 395

Rui J.P. de Figueiredo and Barry R. Weingast. "The Rationality of Fear: Political Opportunism and Ethnic Conflict":…[continue]

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