Leader Tenure, Genocide, and Politicide During Civil War

AuthorGary Uzonyi
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2022, Vol. 75(4) 12161228
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211058484
Leader Tenure, Genocide, and Politicide
During Civil War
Gary Uzonyi
Why do some governments engage in genocide or politicide during civil war while others do not ? I argue that leader
tenure inf‌luences bargaining possibilities between the regime and rebels. Rebels face less uncertai nty about a longer-
tenured leaders willingness to commit to concessions to end the conf‌lict with terms that better the rebelsposition. This
narrows the longer-tenured leaders ability to credibly offer the rebels concessions. Faci ng a constrained bargaining
environment, longer-tenured leaders become more likely to turn to atrocity in an effort to fully defeat the opposition
group and its supporters. Statistical analysis of all genocide and politicide in civil war since 1946 supports this claim.
Evidence from Milosevics atrocities in Kosovo help illustrate the mechanisms.
genocide, civil war, leadership, uncertainty, bargaining, human rights
Why do some governments engage in genocide or po-
liticide during civil war? Consider the various Burmese-
Rohingya conf‌licts. Between the 1940s and 1960s, var-
ious Rohingya groups challenged the Burmese govern-
ment for independence of their Arakan state in the western
region of the country. By the mid-1960s, though, the
Rohingya mujahedeen were losing momentum and the
Burmese government realized a de facto victory in the
Arakan state. At this time, General Ne Win, who had led
Burma for nearly 60% of its post-colonial independence,
began establishing and promoting the idea of taingyintha
(or national races) unity. In developing this idea, Ne
Win implemented policies to clarify taingyintha and en-
force Burmese citizenship (Cheesman 2017). Against this
backdrop, Rohingya secessionist desires simmered. As
Rohingya groups came to understand Ne Wins vision of
taingyintha unity, and reject it, they once more pushed for
independence in 1978. Finding himself out of negotiating
room with the Rohingya regarding taingyintha unity, Ne
Win ordered the military to conduct Operation Dragon
King in which Burmese forces engaged in genocidal
violence, indiscriminately arresting, torturing, and killing
the Rohingya en masse as they sought to destroy the
Rohingya presence in Burma (Smith 1999).
Genocide is the attempted destruction of a communal
group; whereas politicide is the attempted destruction of a
political group (Harff and Gurr 1988).
Scholars tend to
see these atrocities as following a logic of opportunity (see
Colaresi and Carey 2008). When rebellion presents big
opportunities(see Krain 1997), or the regime turns
desperate(see Downes 2008), such that the expected
eff‌iciency of genocide or politicide comes to outweigh its
high costs (see Valentino2004), the regim e becomes more
likely to engage in such atrocities against civilian groups
related to the rebel movement. While the balance of power
between the regime and opposition may shift rapidly and
increase threat (see Powell 2012), most indicators of
opportunity used in this literaturewealth, rough terrain,
or democracyare slow moving or time-invariant during
a given conf‌lict. For example, during Ne Wins reign
through 1978, Burma was an autocracy, did not alter the
roughness of terrain in the Arakan state, and maintained a
real GDP per capita of roughly $670 with only a standard
deviation of $35 over the years. Furthermore, the severity
of the Rohingya threat was much less in 1978 than it had
been previously in the conf‌lict when the rebels were
Department of Political Science, University of Tennessee, Knoxville,
Corresponding Author:
Gary Uzonyi, Department of Political Science, University of Tennessee,
1001 McClung Tower, Knoxville, TN 37996-0410, USA.
Email: guzonyi@utk.edu

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