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Divide and Conquer or Divide and Concede: How Do States Respond to Internally Divided Separatists?


Why do states make concessions to some self-determination movements but not others? This article explores the role of the internal characteristics of these movements, demonstrating that their internal structures play a major role in determining which groups get concessions. Using new data on the structure of self-determination movements and the concessions they receive, I evaluate whether states respond to internally divided movements by trying to “divide and conquer” or “divide and concede.” Consistent with the latter approach, I find that internally divided movements receive concessions at a much higher rate than unitary ones and that the more divided the movement is the more likely it is to receive concessions. Yet, concessions to unitary movements appear to work better to settle these disputes. This suggests that states use concessions not only as a tool to resolve disputes, but also as part of the bargaining process.

Corresponding author
Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Iowa State University, and Senior Researcher, Centre for the Study of Civil War, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), 503 Ross Hall, Ames, IA 50010 (
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