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How International Hegemony Popularizes Sub-State Factions

Many political-psychological theories address either international relations or intergroup relations within nations. However, we argue that there is a dynamic interlinkage between international and domestic political tensions. In particular, if national governments try to appease hegemonic nations like the U.S., or posture as the protector of their people against hegemonic nations, these governments may not serve their citizenry well, creating a niche that other factions can fill. In many circumstances, though, the tensions within regions are not stabilized, but rather are destabilized by hegemonic influence and reactions to it. These ideas are illustrated in a study of Syrian and Lebanese attitudes towards their own governments, the U.S., and Hezbollah in 2010; the paper also explains why politics in both nations are different but contentious and interlinked. Our theoretical analysis predicted why a civil war in Syria, as is unfortunately raging now, was likely. Citation is below; a pre-publication version is available here.

Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Bou Zeineddine, F., Kteily, N., & Levin, S. (2013, August 15). When domestic politics and international relations intermesh: Subordinated publics' factional support within layered power structures. Foreign Policy Analysis, 1-22, doi: 10.1111/fpa.12023

Considering Multi-Level Power Dynamics in this example

Our paper argues that one fairly simple way to understand the incessant tensions in regions like Israel’s neighborhood is to use balance theory (Heider, 1946). To simplify, suppose that the relation between any two entities (e.g., U.S. and Syria) can be characterized as good (positive) or bad (negative). Suppose we
add another entity? As stool-makers know, three legs should be stable. But balance theory says this is true only if the product of the positive or
negative relationships among three entities is positive (for example, all three are positive—the three musketeers, or one is positive and two are negative—the enemy of my enemy is my friend). This can be considered the relationship among the
U.S., Syria, and Israel (stable).

If the product of the three entities is negative, balance theory predicts that the relationships will be unstable – something is likely to change (e.g., if you are friends with them I can no longer be friends with you). Consider the situation for Lebanon. Lebanon’s two bordering neighbors, Syria and Israel, are enemies. According to balance theory, as long as this is the case, Lebanon cannot simultaneously be friends with both Israel and Syria, because that relationship is unbalanced. Indeed, both Israel and Syria have alternately occupied Lebanon recently, which is one kind of evidence of how Lebanon is caught in the middle of the Syrian-Israeli conflict.

To flesh out these international dynamics further, let’s consider the U.S.’s relation to Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. Israel receives significant financial and military support from the U.S. (+), and given Syria’s and Israel’s mutual enmity (-), this implies the U.S. and Syria will be on poor terms (-) in order for their relationship to be balanced and therefore stable. Now, in order for Lebanon’s relation to the U.S. and Israel to be balanced, it could have negative relationships with both (shown in red in the outside arrows to the right). This would also provide Lebanon with a stable positive relation to Syria. But, we argue that maintaining enmity with a global (U.S.) or regional (Israel) hegemonic power, especially absent any strong external allies, is an untenable situation for Lebanon. This inherent difficulty is why we think it is likely the Lebanese populace will be divided, as indeed it has been, both in its civil war and as shown in the recent relatively  pro-Western “March 8” coalition vs the relatively anti-Western “March 14” coalition.

A different solution for Lebanon is to befriend the U.S. (which we imagine would be difficult considering their violent attacks in the past several decades) and Israel (difficult for similar reasons). These relationships are shown in the green, inside arrows above. However, for Israel and Lebanon to have a positive relationship, given Syria and Israel’s mutual enmity, Lebanon and Syria could not be on good terms. This, however, would create an unstable relationship between Lebanon, Israel, and the U.S. Again, one could conjecture that this dynamic tension could produce divides among Lebanese people, with some Lebanese allying with Syria against the U.S., and others allying with the U.S. against Syria. It also explains the stand-off between the U.S. and Syria.

 In fact, the only three ways such a set of relationships can be balanced is if everyone else become the enemy of (any) one nation (left), or if all four were friends, or if, for example, the U.S. and Israel are friends and are mutual enemies of Lebanon and Syria, who are friends (right).  This, though, ignores other significant actors such as Russia and  Iraq, and the  likely schisms  among the  citizenry we  described earlier.

Both external support from Iraq and elsewhere, and the unfulfilled ambition to throw off U.S. and Israeli dominance in the region creates space for sub-state factions, such as (and not limited to) Hezbollah. More actors, especially more armed ones, seems likely to perpetuate unstable and violent conflicts.