Summary of doctoral research (in progress)

Civil wars – especially territorial and separatist wars – are characterised by the violently contested division of control between conflict actors claiming an exclusive right to govern the same territory. This ‘multiple sovereignty’ tears apart the existing political order and generates competitive state-building projects as conflict actors seek to defend or extend the boundaries of their control. The aim of my research is to explain the trajectory of wartime multiple sovereignty, that is, how divisions in territorial control change once armed combat is over and a transition to a post-war environment begins. Just as a civil war is “a contest over the shaping of political order in a contested area, a means of determining who rules, how much, and in what ways”, a transition to peace is the continuation of this contest by other means.” In other words, who rules where and how much when the fighting stops?

My thesis develops a theoretical framework for explaining how effective territorial control is changed, preserved and contested in the aftermath of ‘state formation wars.’ I define effective territorial control in terms of exclusion of rivals and compliance of civilians and subordinates, and distinguish between different distributions of control depending on whether it is exclusive or divided. I identify four strategies conflict actors follow in relation to territorial control – expansion, preservation, disruption, and integration. These are the causal mechanisms that explain how the distribution of control changes, and I argue that the trajectory of change in territorial control is caused by a combination of two factors which make these strategies viable and determine the outcome of interactions between conflict actors: their relative capabilities and their objectives (that is, whether they have revisionist or status quo objectives towards areas of territory). Through case studies of the termination and aftermaths of the wars in Abkhazia and Kosovo, I show how boundary formation and the regulation and manipulation of the civilian population give empirical content to this theoretical framework, and I explore further dimensions of variation in post-war environments in terms of whether relations between local, national and external conflict actors are competitive, cooperative or hierarchical.

Methodologically, the thesis takes a case study approach, specifically process tracing, a method of within-case analysis. Process tracing uses historical narratives as a basis for causal explanations, combining a detailed reconstruction of events with a theoretical explanation of a causal process. This method entails high empirical evidentiary demands and data collection efforts. Empirical work that uses the theoretical framework described above needs to provide convincing evidence (a) that accurately identifies the distribution of effective territorial control at different times and locations; (b) of the strategies actors are using and of how they are implementing these strategies; and (c) of the actors’ relative capabilities and objectives. The evidence I present draws on and is informed by data collected from fieldwork interviews in Georgia and Abkhazia (October – December 2016, April – June 2017) and Serbia and Kosovo (October to December 2017), from the UN archives (documents from the UN Observer Mission In Georgia – UNOMIG – from 1992 to 1997), and from academic literature, media sources, and reports of international and non-governmental organisations.