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Nationalist protests, government responses, and the risk of escalation in interstate disputes


journal collage 2015Journal abstract

While the existing literature emphasizes that elites often have incentives to pander to nationalist sentiment, much less attention has been paid to elite efforts to subdue popular nationalism, either to avoid domestic instability or international escalation. This article examines how different governments respond to nationalist protests and the resulting effects on the risk that interstate disputes will escalate to armed conflict. We argue that government responses to nationalist protests tend to vary in patterned ways across regime types. Nationalist protests present particular dangers in weakly institutionalized democracies, where demonstrations often pose serious threats of instability but are difficult or costly for the government to subdue, tempting or forcing leaders to escalate to appease domestic critics. We illustrate the theory with four cases representing a range of regime types: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

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