Foreign Support, Miscalculation, and Conflict Escalation: Iraqi Kurdish Self-Determination in Perspective

Morgan L. Kaplan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


How does foreign support for separatists influence conflict escalation with the central government? What types of miscalculations over foreign support encourage separatists to take risky gambles and lead to surprising losses? Existing research indicates that armed non-state actors may initiate or escalate conflict with the central government when existing or anticipated gains in foreign support favorably alters their likelihood for success. This article sheds light on an additional but equally important catalyst for conflict escalation: rebel, or separatist, beliefs about net losses of foreign support in their gamble for more autonomy. Even if groups have perfect information on potential gains in foreign support, miscalculations over potential losses can also lead to risky gambles. To illustrate the distinction between separatist miscalculations over gains and losses in foreign support, this paper compares two episodes of Iraqi Kurdish escalation: the 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the Gulf War, and the 2017 independence referendum after three years of war against the Islamic State. While the former case is a classic example of escalation based on miscalculating gains in foreign support, the latter case represents a miscalculation over potential losses of foreign support in response to the vote.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-45
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


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