Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science
Secessionist conflicts often begin in places abundant with resources and located far from the centers of state power. These factors make it easier for rebels to form a functional state within the borders of their territory following independence. Many regions that meet the necessary conditions for sovereign governance in the world, but there are few secessionist conflicts. This relative paucity of secessionist violence is the result of government preemption of potential separatist movements. The secessionist conflicts we do observe are the result of government failure to adapt to changes in outlying territories sufficiently quickly, allowing dissident groups to gain a foothold and initiate a secessionist campaign. In extreme cases, governments may relocate large populations of the dominant social group to minority territories to deter secession by diluting the minority's power locally. I test these arguments using cross-national geospatial data, and find that governments develop higher levels of state capacity in more governable, and thus more secession prone, regions. I derive empirical implications for government informational capability and conflict onset using an agent-based model. Qualitative case studies show that governments engage in demographic engineering when they fear secessionist ambitions, but highlight the risk of backlash sparking a low-level conflict. Taken together, these dynamics suggest a pattern where the rebel groups that do emerge are not the most capable of potential rebel groups as minorities that live in territories suited to secession are carefully surveilled and managed by governments. Information plays a central role in both explanations of how governments work to preempt conflict, and when these efforts fail. By focusing on the role of information, this dissertation deepens our understanding of conflict onset, while suggesting ways to improve our knowledge of conflict evolution and outcome. Improving information flows from minority group territories may reduce the risk of violent secessionist conflict.