Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Political Science


College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Harvey Starr


The primary objective of this research is to explore the dynamics in the development of civil conflict. Specifically, I attempt to explain the reasons for the occurrence of full-scale internal armed conflicts and the variation in intensity of those conflicts. Given that a substantial portion of previous studies in the field have taken rebel-centric and aggregate cross-country approaches, this research focuses on the state side and how the internal-external environments within which the ruling regime is situated affect its security decisions on rebellion.

The main argument is that internal armed conflict is a serious security problem of incumbent governments in the new states established in the twentieth century, and the occurrence and intensification of conflict depends on how ruling governments respond to rebellion. In the face of rebellion, a ruling regime has to decide whether to repress the rebels or compromise with them, based on consideration of internal and external dimensions of state security. That is, three dimensions of state security – domestic, regional, and international – influence the ruling regime’s choice between repression and compromise. This theoretical framework is called “the Three Dimensionality Model of state security and armed conflict.” When the ruling regime enjoys consolidated power status in domestic politics, is involved in intense rivalry relationship with a neighboring state, and is highly dependent on a superpower country that supports military options, the regime is more likely to repress a rebel group and thus the conflict is intensified.

Using the method of controlled comparison, this research conducts a set of comparative case studies to examine the theory. First, I compare the three different phases of the Iraqi-Kurdish conflict: the 1961-1970 conflicts, the 1974-1975 conflict, and the 1985-1988 conflicts. The three cases differ in terms of outcomes and severity of conflicts. I analyze the domestic, regional, and international dimensions of the ruling regime’s security considerations. The results show that when the power status of the ruling regime is consolidated, the relationship with Iran was more hostile, and the ruling regime relied less on superpowers, the regime did not accommodate the Kurdish rebels and repressed them more severely, resulting in intense conflicts. Second, applying the key findings from the Iraqi-Kurdish cases, I compare the 2011 Egyptian uprising and the 2011 Libyan civil conflict and analyze reasons for the divergent outcomes in the two countries in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring. The results also confirm the theory. The different internal-external circumstances in which the Mubarak and the Gaddafi regimes were situated led them to make different decisions in the face of uprisings, which resulted in a peaceful transfer of power in one country and a full-scale armed conflict in the other.


© 2016, Juri Kim