Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Brandon C. Prins

Committee Members

John M. Scheb II, Wonjae Hwang, Lois Presser


Domestic unrest is a constant feature in the international system. Aside from the impact unrest has on domestic populations, political turmoil also has consequences for other states in the international system. A long-held belief, backed by anecdotal evidence, is that leaders use aggressive foreign policy to divert public attention in periods of declining domestic political fortunes. However, consistent evidence for this pattern of behavior has not emerged across large-N analyses in the extant diversionary literature. This dissertation advances the search for evidence of diversion by assessing the likelihood leaders of various regime types will divert, comparing not only non-democracies with democracies, but also various non-democratic regime types to one another for the first time in recent diversionary literature.

Diversion is one of several responses to domestic unrest. Leaders may also choose repression, policy concessions, or resignation from office. Few arguments in the extant literature include more than one alternative, and even fewer, if any, consider resignation. The same institutions defining a regime’s type are sources for opportunities and constraints leaders face in pursuing these latter three options. Regime type, therefore, is a domestic factor influencing the likelihood these alternative options are selected as a response, and in turn, the likelihood diversion is selected. However, diversion is unique among the response options in that it requires an additional state. The opportunity for diversion must also be considered. Rival environments are identifiable as opportunity-rich contexts in which the effect of unrest on dispute initiation is expected to be observed.

The results of analyses somewhat support theoretical arguments asserting domestic political institutions influence diversionary behavior. The impact of domestic unrest on the likelihood of diversion does vary across regime types. Results from analyses including both domestic and international factors indicate rival context indicate the relationship between regime type, unrest, rivalry, and initiation is complex.

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