International Patron-Client Relations in Secessionist Conflicts: Empirical Insights and Conceptual Innovations
Secessionist conflicts possess, by definition, an international dimension. Usually, a plethora of states, intergovernmental organizations, and non-state actors considerably affect the outbreak, course, and outcome of a conflict. Some of those actors are called “patrons”.
The terms “patron” and “patronage” are frequently used in the literature. However, closer scrutiny reveals a lack of conceptual clarity and terminological vagueness. Terms and concepts are diffuse, overlapping, ill-defined, and poorly operationalised. Research on patronage is incoherent, fractioned, and it lacks a clear demarcation from other concepts. To begin with, we recommend using the term patron-client relations: two types of actors – patrons and clients – with distinct profiles interact in a dynamic, more or less reciprocal relationship of varying asymmetry. Often, such relations are enmeshed in complex networks of multiple patron-client relations.
Our primary goal is to conceptualize patron-client relations in secessionist conflicts by arriving at core definitions, exploring key properties, and assessing their impact on conflict. We see five crucial dimensions:
- Identification of patrons and clients in a conflict (agency): patrons are mostly assumed to be states supporting secessionists. However, similar roles might also be assumed by IGOs or NGOs, such as diasporas or human rights groups; and patrons might also support central governments. Conversely, clients are rarely just puppets, but agents with distinct preferences and varying degrees of autonomy. Identifying patrons and clients presupposes definitional clarity.
- The balance of dependence, autonomy, and control (or power) between patrons and clients: this varies among dyads and over time (symmetry).
- The motives why patrons support clients despite the drain of resources this implies and the motives why clients seek the support of patrons despite the autonomy loss this entails (motives).
- The types, degrees, and duration of tangible and intangible resources patrons and clients exchange: this varies strongly over time and across cases (resource exchange).
- The effect patron-client relations have on the course and the outcome of secessionist conflicts (impact): scholars widely assume that such support can tip the balance in favour of secessionists while a lack thereof dooms a secessionist bid to failure. They also assume that such relations influence the conflict calculus of the conflict parties. However, they hardly ever consider different degrees of support over time and across cases, support for central governments, and (methodological) challenges of measuring the effectiveness of support.
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