Welcome Aboard!

The title is slightly inappropriate, as Italy had previously decided to send military advisors to Libya.  Maybe we should say welcome more aboad, or welcome aboard again.  Well…whatever.  The point is Britain and France had previously been pleading with their NATO allies for more support in the air campaign to remove Ghadaffi from power and replace his autocracy with a "democratic government" protect civilians.  But now the Italians have decided to contribute some planes to the campaign to help out their British and French pals.

I don't know what the recent media climate has been like in Italy, but with Berlusconi's troubles lately, I have to wonder if we're observing an example of that elusive animal—the diversionary use of force.  Or, maybe it's simply a desire to exert more control over a conflict that has been having some less than desirable spillover effects on states that are geographically proximate to the turmoil unfoling in North Africa.  I think events over the past couple of weeks have continued to add some support for what others have previously made note of regarding the effects of immigration on decisions to partake in the Libyan intervention (See these links for previous comments on this subject by Steve Saideman and Phil Arena).

About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

5 Replies to “Welcome Aboard!”

  1. Interesting. And thanks for the link, though I’m not sure I deserve any credit for that argument.
    I’m skeptical of the diversionary argument (as probably shows since most of my publications so far are criticisms of diversion). The evidence that politicians use force more often when times are bad is sort of there. Not overwhelming, but somewhat plausible. The evidence that they benefit from it is much weaker. Why would the public reward transparently politically motivated behavior? There’s pretty good evidence that they don’t (see Colaresi’s 2007 IO piece).
    I’m actually finishing up an R&R right now that I hope will be the last paper I ever write about diversion. Folks in that literature see what they want to see to the point that anything but a complete null finding will somehow convince them that there’s something to the diversion story, no matter how flimsy the logic is or how little evidence there is that it actually works. Maddening.

  2. I’m skeptical that any such use of force would result in any kind of net gain for someone that’s facing any severe domestic political trouble. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Berlusconi saw escalating Italy’s involvement as beneficial given 1) the aforementioned immigration problems, and 2) the notion that it couldn’t really hurt his domestic position at this point. I think talking about narratives is murky business, but at the very least he’s appearing proactive and getting some of the spotlight off of all of this corruption business. Ultimately, if there is any sort of effect, I think it simply serves to diminish negative attention he’s been getting. So I guess I would say it woud be motivated not so much by the expectation that the public will reward you, but the expectation that you can shift the public’s focus to something else.
    That said, there are obviously significant risks associated with using military force, and I can’t imagine many leaders are eager to risk their military ventures getting out of hand and thereby compounding their domestic political troubles. Any use of force that is going to seriously distract the public is going to have to be fairly significant in magnitude and duration—both of which are recipes for a fiasco. I think this is one of those things that seems intuitively appealing, but is probably much much rarer than we initially think–especially once we consider how many opportunities there are where force can realistically be employed in this way.

  3. I agree that Berlusconi might see involvement as beneficial because of 1) and 2). But that’s not a diversionary story.
    I see your point about shifting attention. But I’m not sure that works. Lots of leaders have found that using force amidst a scandal only leads to more negative coverage, coverage that…often accuses the leader of diversion. Think Clinton lobbing missiles at Iraq amidst the Lewinsky scandal. Plus how valuable is it do shift attention anyway? Valuable enough to justify the use of force when you otherwise would not have found the use of force to be worthwhile? As you say, there are obviously significant risks associated with using force.
    I agree it’s intuitively appealing, at least to a lot of people. And there have been a few studies that do seem to find pretty decent evidence consistent with some of the obvious implications. There are also some big problems that are mostly just ignored. But anyway, I’ve said enough. If you’re interested, I can send you some of the papers I’ve written on the topic.

  4. Yeah shoot some of that my way. It’s been a long while since I’ve seriously looked at any of this material, and I never really delved that deeply into it. As I said, I think it’s sort of a neat story, but I don’t believe the opportunities where diversionary force could feasibly be employed are ever that prevalent. Plus it’s always fun to read something that eviscerates a classic argument or commonly held assumption!

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