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Control and Uncertainty in the Delegation of War

A Principal-Agent Explanation of Interrebel Relations

Written by Shawn Davies

Paper category

Master Thesis


Political Studies




Master Thesis: Externally supported principal-agent theory This chapter first introduces the principal-agent theory and how it applies to the initiator-rebellion relationship. Second, this theory was developed through the introduction of leverage, and has since been demonstrated to determine whether external support has led to alliances or wars between insurgent groups and other groups. Finally, based on the previous discussion, empirically testable hypotheses are introduced. Many external support theorists view the initiator-rebel relationship from the perspective of a principal-agent framework, in which the principal (initiator) delegates to its agent (rebel). Group) acted on its behalf in conflicts (Byman & Kreps 2010; Karlén 2017a; Salehyan 2010; Salehyan, Gleditsch & Cunningham 2011; Baylouny & Mullins 2017). Consistent with previous studies on external support, this article uses a principal-agent framework to explain the influence of external support on rebellious behavior and applies it to rebellious relations. In principle, delegation means that the agent puts aside its own interests and acts like the principal under certain circumstances (Byman & Kreps 2010, 6). The benefit of sponsors of rebel groups is the resources it brings, but it also limits the autonomy of rebel groups (Salehyan 2010). Therefore, rebel groups are interested in obtaining resources from sponsorship while minimizing the cost of loss of autonomy. Therefore, the principal-agent relationship is full of tension. There is almost always some conflict between the principal (the principal) and the interests they entrust to the agent. The agent adopts opportunistic behavior and only pursues his own interests under the constraints imposed by the relationship with the principal. (Kiewiet & McCubbins 1991, 5). This kind of opportunistic behavior is called agency slack (also called agency loss, or moral hazard in some types). Agency slack refers to the agent pursuing his own interests in a way that is inconsistent with the client's preferences, and the client has entrusted the agent to act on their behalf in the conflict (Salehyan 2010). This agency relaxation can take many forms. For example, the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) claimed responsibility for the attack that embarrassed its sponsor Syria diplomatically. In another example, ANO evaded missions that Syria wanted, preferring to target civilians rather than Israeli soldiers, because it poses less risk (Byman & Kreps 2010, 7). This paper models the rebellion war as a form of institutional slack, and develops a theoretical model based on the following, which encourages the state sponsor to encourage rebel groups to cooperate against the target country. The next section introduces the new concept of leverage in the sponsor-rebel relationship and develops the setting of sponsor-rebel interaction. 2.1 Sponsor Leverage and Conflict Environment Leverage are defined as the ability of sponsors to control their agents by imposing fees on agents who do not comply with the sponsor’s interests. The rebel groups are expected to be opportunistic and act in their own interests, even if these contradict the sponsor’s views, when the sponsor does not have sufficient influence to restrain it. The principal must be able to credibly threaten sanctions against the agent to prevent agent losses (Salehyan 2010; Popovic 2015). The client’s ability to impose fees on the rebel agent is usually limited and costly, because it requires sacrificing some of the entrusted benefits; the initiator’s requirement to exist with the group will undermine reasonable denial and limit the autonomy of the rebel group , Which may undermine its efficiency (Byman & Kreps 2010). There are also several factors that make the agency problem serious, from the perspective of the subject, in the case of state sponsorship of insurgent groups. First, there is often considerable information asymmetry between insurgents and their sponsors, because conflict areas are not easy to monitor (Byman & Kreps 2010; Nygård & Weintraub 2014). This limits the influence of the sponsor because it cannot be sure whether the group it sponsors is loyal. Second, the options to punish insurgent groups may be restricted unless sponsors are willing to participate more themselves. This punishment is usually limited to withdrawing future benefits or, more effectively, transferring funds to rival organizations (Byman & Kreps 2010; Popovic 2017). Although costly, the future withdrawal of benefits may not be devastating for the rebel organization, especially if it has other sources of income, or the benefits of actions that violate the interests of the client are large. Third, in some cases, the cost of removing support may be higher than retaining support for rebel groups, even if it is acting independently. Although it is more intuitive to think that the rebels will depend on sponsors who provide them with important resources, sponsors also have considerable interest in agents. In general, promoters support rebel groups to increase their regional influence, harm the targeted government, spread a certain ideology, or because of a common ideological connection with the rebel group (Akcinaroglu & Radziszewski 2005; Salehyan, Gleditsch & Cunningham 2011; San-Akca 2016) ). Canceling the support of the group without any other group's assignment will cancel these benefits and waste the resources already spent. The principal in the initiator-rebellion relationship usually has very few alternative agents that can be delegated. When principal-agent theory is used in its classic economics field, if managers (agents) use shareholders (principals), they can invest elsewhere (Kiewiet & McCubbins 1991). Read Less