No Half Measures Power Vacuums and Military Occupations

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Virginia Tech


This project analyzes the relationship between military occupations and power vacuums. Specifically, it seeks to understand why some military occupations result in power vacuums while others do not. Pundits and policymakers have written extensively about the possibilities that the end of US occupations might yield dangerous power vacuums. These vacuums would create regional turmoil by inviting hostile actors and causing state failure. Based on these assumptions, many commentators caution against the withdrawal of forces.

But what exactly is fearful about a power vacuum remains unclear. The concept of a power vacuum lacks defined parameters and scope, and why military occupations might lead to power vacuums is unknown. Much of the current analysis derives from familiar and recent cases of occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. David Edelstein has the most comprehensive work on military occupations, but his work does not directly address the outcome of power vacuums. This project uses a mix multimethod research design to examine which factors cause power vacuums to emerge following occupations. It uses a comprehensive dataset of occupations since 1943. It will begin with a medium-n QCA and then proceed with case studies. The ultimate goal is to identify the conditions likely to lead to power vacuums and develop policy recommendations about how to avoid them.

This project theorizes that a high level of economic destruction inflicted by the occupying military is a necessary condition for the absence of a power vacuum in the occupied territory. Shortened, this project calls this theory total destruction equals total buy-in. High levels of economic destruction inflicted by the occupier pacify the occupied population, while simultaneously delegitimizing the occupied state's previous regime. High economic destruction, which is defined as the decline of a state's per-capita GDP and overall population, is not the sole factor in preventing a power vacuum. Combinations of other conditions help influence the advent or absence of a power vacuum, but economic destruction inflicted by the occupier is the only condition that must be present in order to prevent a power vacuum.



power vacuum, military occupation, total destruction, insurgency, counterinsurgency, war, peace, nation building, force ratio, international affairs, civilian deaths