Doctoral Research

Summary of doctoral research (in progress)

What are the causes and consequences of political actors’ strategies for controlling populations and territory in the aftermath of separatist wars? Separatist wars are characterised by violently contested divisions of control between conflict actors claiming an exclusive right to govern the same territory. This ‘multiple sovereignty’ tears apart the existing political order as conflict actors seek to defend or extend their control and challenge the control of rivals. The termination of a war and the formation of a post-war environment is then a process of settling questions of de facto control: where do the territorial boundaries of control between the actors fall, and who will live within those boundaries? In other words, who rules where and over whom when the fighting stops?

My thesis addresses the causes and consequences of how these questions are settled. To meet the research objectives, I conducted theory-building case studies of the termination and aftermaths of the wars in Abkhazia and Kosovo (which ended in 1993 and 1999, respectively). Drawing on original archival and field research in Tbilisi, Zugdidi, Sukhum/i, Gal/i, Belgrade, Pristina, Mitrovica and New York between October 2016 and June 2018, I show how political actors – primarily base state and separatist authorities and their allies and proxies – form constrained objectives that reflect their relative positions at the end of the war and their preferences for revising or preserving de facto control. They then implement control strategies that are consistent with the pursuit of those objectives, operating within the limits and opportunities created in the post-war environment.

Constrained objectives – for separatists: to defend, preserve, or consolidate and extend control; for base states: to undermine separatist control, retain links to the separatist territory and population, or to reclaim lost ground – are derived from the maximalist aims of full reincorporation and full separation, entailing a focus on de facto territorial and demographic control. To translate constrained objectives into workable strategies for controlling populations and territory, actors must link their objectives to features of the post-war environment that are accessible and can be leveraged to affect de facto control. Links and levers are the areas where the base state and the separatists continue to overlap and interact and where their strategic, military, and political interests are most likely to clash, and their instrumental or intrinsic value means they can be used as influence and provide openings to pursue constrained objectives. In the aftermath of separatist wars, this means territorial enclaves, border regions, loyal or dependent populations left on the ‘wrong side’ of post-war divisions, and war-displaced populations. It is the interaction between the actors’ constrained objectives and these features of the post-war environment that causes variation in observed strategies and subsequently drives continuity and change in de facto control of populated territory.