Going Abroad: Transnational Solicitation and Contention by Ethnopolitical Organizations1

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Foreign State Support

Domestic political organizations which receive support from foreign sources have long been thought to enjoy an advantage over other organizations, as such support leads to a “disparity in capabilities.”37 From a simple resource-based perspective, the costs of engaging in various foreign political activities should be reduced ceteris paribus when an organization receives external support. Foreign states also have powerful incentives to see the organizations they support engage in transnational political activities to further their own interests.

At a minimum, such activities should include, but should not be limited to, solicitation of support abroad. There is an important conceptual difference between the solicitation of external support and its actual receipt. An organization may ask for funds and technical support from a foreign sponsor, but the sponsor need not provide it. Inversely, a sponsor may seek out an organization to whom they wish to provide funds and technical support for their own ends without the organization having first asked. Thus, we do not believe that it is a tautology to say that we expect that organizations which receive foreign support are more likely to ask for foreign support.38

Further, while we expect that solicitation of external support is comparatively less resource-intensive than transnational contentious politics, it is not without costs. Projecting an organizational presence abroad implicitly requires a certain level of financial and logistical resources. Such activity should be a less costly endeavor if an organization already receives assistance from foreign sources. We also anticipate that the receipt of foreign support in one year will motivate the organization to maintain a foreign presence close to the source of that support in order to lobby for further support or, at a minimum, ensure the continued flow of support at extant levels in the next. Foreign support should be associated with continued external solicitation. Indeed, the complicated network of foreign state-support for political organizations and insurgencies during the Cold War made such solicitation almost inevitable.39

In terms of contentious politics, as the literature suggests,40 foreign sponsors may have an acute interest in generating instability in other states, which can be accomplished at a relatively low cost (to the sponsoring state) through non-violent or violent contention by sponsored organizations. Indeed, scholars have provided overwhelming evidence of an empirical link between foreign state support and the use of violence. Outside financing has been shown to increase the durability and impact of insurgencies,41 prolong civil wars,42 and increase the survivability of terrorist organizations.43 Elbadawi and Sambanis44 demonstrate that foreign intervention in ethnically-based conflicts, in particular, is likely to increase the duration of such conflicts. Although much of this research focuses on domestic forms of contention, they all assume that foreign state support reduces the costs of coordinating political and military activities by increasing organizational capabilities and resources.

But why might state support increase the probability of organizations engaging in these activities abroad? Assuming that foreign sponsors want the organization that they are supporting to succeed in their political goals, extraterritorial mobilization may bolster their chances.45 In particular, transnational advocacy and transnational militant activities offer the advantage of putting the organization beyond “any one state’s legal, political and coercive reach,”46 and allows the organization to draw on human and material resources that may not be available in their home state. Indeed, the Bahrain Freedom Movement was able to use Iranian backing to maintain a foreign presence from which they were able to publically critique Bahrain's Sunni-dominated government outside the reach of its security services.47 Furthermore, this foreign presence allowed the organization to more easily publicize acts of repression against Shi'ites in Bahrain through sympathetic NGOs,48 and to also meet with British government officials .49

Recent work has also focused on the link between foreign state support and transnational terrorism, as interstate disputes increase incentives for terrorist organizations and their state sponsors to launch attacks abroad.50 Iranian support of Lebanese Hezbollah allowed that group to pursue such violent foreign action as the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people, and the 1994 attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina in the same city, which killed 84. In both cases, it is probable that Iranian support was integral to Hezbollah’s ability to use violence abroad.51 Additionally, Hezbollah's capacity to fire missiles into Israel during the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel conflict was due primarily to Iranian technical support.52 Accordingly, we expect that foreign state support provides organizations with increased opportunity to engage in all political activity abroad, but that the effect will be greater for violent activity.

Hypothesis 1: Ethnic political organizations which receive support from a foreign state will be more likely to solicit external support and engage in contentious activities abroad. This effect will be greater for violent contentious politics than non-violent.

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