Purdue University Graduate School
Elis Vllasi_Dissertation_2019.7.25.pdf (2.64 MB)

Sabotage: When Motherlands Ruin Foreign Democratization Efforts

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posted on 2019-10-16, 17:55 authored by Elis VllasiElis Vllasi
Why do some international efforts to promote democracy abroad fail? A few conventional answers: the target country lacks the necessary institutions; leadership is incapable of making the changes required; and third-parties have insufficient influence needed to motivate a new system. My research, however, suggests something else entirely: democratization efforts fail when nearby ethno-nationalist homelands, or motherlands, interfere in the democratization processes of their neighbors as they seek to contest the political borders of the states with whom they share transnational ethnic kin. Democratization is seen as a barrier to promoting the convergence between ethnic and political boundaries. Building on the theory of peace spoilers, I contend that a motherland can opt for a variety of strategies to challenge the democratization of a target state. Strategies can range from helpful to harmful to democratization of a target state. Their level of effectiveness at spoiling democratization efforts is a function of the intensity and frequency of events (conflict or cooperative) that a motherland initiates against a target state. Relying on new datasets from Varieties of Democracy, Ethnic Power Relations and Phoenix Events Data, and different statistical models, my research shows through a large-N study and a case study that the level of democracy of a target country is lower when a motherland displays high levels of intensity and frequency of conflictual. Also, democratization emerges as an ethno-national homeland exhibits low levels of motivation and opportunity to contest the borders. My findings show that motherlands can act as spoilers when they are a non-democratic regime that has recently lost territories populated by ethnic kin to a nearby state; and enablers of democratization when they are a democracy and were separated from kin long ago.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Political Science

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Aaron Hoffman

Additional Committee Member 2

Kyle E. Haynes

Additional Committee Member 3

James A. McCann

Additional Committee Member 4

Scott Gates

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