The Intra-National Struggle to Define “Us”: External Intervention As a two-Way Street

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The Intra-National Struggle to Define “Us”:

External Intervention As A Two-Way Street

Andrea Grove

Visiting Assistant Professor

Department of Political Science

The University of Vermont

532 Old Mill

94 University Place

PO Box 54110

Burlington, VT 05405-4110

phone: 802-656-8384


Three perspectives on the causes of communal conflict are visible in extant work: a focus on ancient hatreds, on leaders, or on the context that leaders “find” themselves in. Leaders therefore have all the power to mobilize people to fight (or not to) or leaders are driven by circumstantial opportunities or the primordial desires of the masses to resist peace or coexistence with historical enemies. Analysts who focus on leaders or context recognize that external actors affect internal conflicts, but little systematic research has explored the processes relating the domestic politics of nationalist mobilization to factors in the international arena. How does the international arena affect the competition among leaders? How do skillful leaders draw in external actors to lend credibility to their own views? This paper asserts that leaders compete to frame identity and mission, and explores the degree to which international factors affect whose “definitions of the situation” are successful in precipitating mobilization shifts among potential followers. A unique finding of this longitudinal study of Northern Ireland is that the role played by international institutions and actors is affected by how domestic actors perceive, cultivate, and bring attention to the linkages between the two spheres.


Despite the burgeoning literature on nationalism within both the comparative and international relations fields, there has been little systematic research into the processes relating the domestic politics of nationalist mobilization to factors in the international arena. To date, most work only offers broad, general hypotheses about the effects of international relations on “debates” among leaders within communities to define group identity. How does the international arena affect the competition among leaders? How malleable are national identities in light of different international political opportunities and resources provided to competing leaders? How do skillful leaders draw in external actors to lend credibility to their own views?

The answers to these questions are clearly crucial, and are explored here in a longitudinal study of Northern Ireland. In “hotbeds” of conflict around the world today—from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan to Nigeria—international actors involved in efforts at conflict-reduction, conflict-resolution, or democratization reject the arguments of those political leaders who are “exclusive” with regard to other groups in the given state’s society. Instead, in most cases those leaders who receive the approving imprimatur of the US or the UN tend to be more “inclusive”: those who are trying to persuade their kinsmen that the path to peace lies in accepting the common bonds and future paths shared by, for example, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, or whites and blacks, Zulu and Xhosa in South Africa. Some actors in the international community have begun to take an interest in the way leaders of newly “reconstituting” states wish to define their states’ identities because of an unspoken assumption that the international community can help build loyalties to multinational or multiethnic states; the Dayton Agreement’s provisions for rebuilding Bosnia constitute one of the most involved examples of this international effort. Foreign policy makers should become more conscious of the importance of the relationship between leaders’ different constructions of a given situation and identity mobilization, because as a result of their policies the visions of these leaders are often legitimized or delegitimized.

The lack of comparative empirical research on these issues is surprising given that much of current U.S. foreign policy does operate on the assumption that the international dimension can alter peoples’ conceptions of identity. This paper asserts that leaders compete to frame group identity and mission, and it explores the degree to which international factors affect whose frames or “definitions of the situation” are successful in precipitating mobilization shifts among potential followers. One of the most important findings of this study of Northern Ireland1 is that the role played by international actors is affected by the degree to which domestic actors perceive, cultivate, and bring attention to the linkages between the two spheres. This paper begins with a description of the need for this kind of work given extant literature and is followed by an explanation of the framework assembled to fill this gap. In the interests of space, the framework is followed by an illustration of the findings with examples from several Northern Ireland cases. Finally, I discuss the implications of this study for both extant literature and policy formulation.


Since the end of the Cold War, the media, scholars, the United Nations, and foreign policy makers in many states have paid increasing attention to the phenomena of ethnic nationalism and internal conflict, though quantitative analyses indicate that the occurrence of these conflicts has not increased in this period (Gurr, 1994). One of the most common beliefs about these conflicts is that they are rooted in ancient hatreds between peoples who have been killing each other (even if intermittently) for hundreds of years (for example, Kaplan, 1993). In the coverage of these conflicts which adopts this perspective, three assumptions are apparent: ethnic identities are ancient and unchanging; these identities motivate people to persecute and kill in the name of the group; and ethnic diversity itself inevitably leads to violence (Bowen, 1996). Statements of the Bush administration about the Bosnian conflict exemplify this view, especially the rich metaphors depicting all of Central and Eastern Europe as a boiling cauldron of primordial animosities.

On the other hand—and especially as external actors see it to be in their interest to get involved—we often hear a great deal about leaders. To read the statements of Clinton and his foreign policy team, the paramount cause of the unrest in Yugoslavia since the early 1990s has been Slobodan Milosevic. Michael E. Brown’s (1996) recent edited book assesses the many causes of internal conflict and offers a conclusion that he argues is “contrary to what one would gather from reviewing the scholarly literature on the subject.”2 Instead of the most proximate causes being contextual, “bad leaders” manipulate the context (that is, structural, economic/social, and cultural/perceptual conditions) to mobilize followers around more or less violent missions (Brown, 1996: 23).

A third perspective, and the focus of a book edited by Barbara Walter and Jack Snyder (1999), argues that this newer emphasis on elites’ aggressive aims should be balanced with “an emphasis on how different environments may shape these aims.” They do not argue that the setting makes puppets out of elites, but they do see the need “…to examine more closely how different settings on the ground might affect groups’ decisions to fight, to negotiate, or to remain at peace” (Walter, 1999: 2). For these authors, the conditions of fear and uncertainty produce a security dilemma that informs the choice sets of leaders.

Taking these three perspectives—the focus on ancient hatreds, on leaders, and on the context that leaders “find” themselves in—leaders either have all the power to mobilize people to fight (or not to fight) or leaders are driven by circumstantial opportunities or the primordial desires of the masses to resist peace or even mere coexistence with historical enemies. Only leaders who take advantage of the situation or who follow the masses by appealing to these sentiments will gain or stay in power.

I argue that this recent work on nationalism, internal conflict, and international security is laudable for moving beyond the “ancient hatreds” approach. Still, it is missing half of the equation even as it has recognized the need to focus on elites and on the role of environmental conditions. The Brown and the Walter and Snyder projects have helped us get this far, but the next step is systematic study of the relationships between leaders and context—and what has been missed is that the arrows point in both directions. Here leadership scholars, using “new” empirical tools, can offer insight. An additional problem is that many of these publications, especially those appearing in International Security, have focused on cases in which more exclusive nationalist leaders have come to power and the “unfortunate” aspects of the domestic (and sometimes international) setting that allow this to happen. Case selection bias is therefore an issue, as many articles have been about Yugoslavia (such as Gagnon, 1994/95), Rwanda, and explosive areas of the former Soviet Union (Kaufman, 1996), for example—where extremely exclusive ideas (exclusive about “other” groups in society, that is) have taken hold. Again, these analyses give great emphasis to the contextual factors that permitted even encouraged the dominance of the more exclusive leaders. Scholars of ethnic conflict recognize this essential relationship as a situation of “ethnic outbidding” discussed by Horowitz (1985), among others (Mitchell, 1995). Exemplary of this dynamic combined with the limited way of viewing external involvement is Kaufman’s (1996: 110) assertion that foreign actors may play an important role in the inciting of ethnic wars with the main effect of “…providing the means for extremists to cause war.”

Admittedly, it is difficult to study the “dogs that do not bark,” but there are ways to increase the variation in cases. I begin by recognizing that in most cases of nationalist mobilization there is in fact competition to define group identity and mission (an assertion with which few analysts would disagree), and look at cases where more exclusive leaders have both succeeded and failed in the competition with more inclusive leaders. I demonstrate how external powers play a role in shaping (1) the types of messages those leaders used and (2) which leaders’ messages appear to “win” or resonate most with potential followers. In essence, I draw attention to how the dynamic of “ethnic outbidding” can be altered by third parties. Even more importantly, the research findings presented here are unique in exploring the reverse relationship that highlights a different kind of agency so often missed by analysts. Indeed, an important role of leadership is revealed: these individuals and their parties also manipulate the external world to channel the role the international and domestic contexts play in the process of domestic mobilization. Examples from the case studies show how leaders framed the behavior of external actors to fit with their more inclusive or more exclusive views of the situation. Further, how inclusive or exclusive the leader is tells us a great deal about how—and even if—the leader pulls in the international community. Thus, it is not just context that governs whether extreme or more moderate nationalists come to power; it is the fit between behavior of international actors and the ways in which competing leaders “frame” the domestic and international contexts in a more exclusive or more inclusive manner.


This model of leadership mobilization draws together the factors discussed above. In order to understand the kinds of strategies that are most successful in mobilizing potential followers, it is necessary to consider the role of four contextual variables, two of which are domestic (repression and alignment of elites who maintain the status quo) and two international (involvement/mediation by external actors and regional integration). Finally, key parts of the equation are the comparative ways that the competing leaders respond to this contextual environment and the ways that their strategies relate to those more “objective” environmental conditions. Figure 1 summarizes this model, and the remainder of this section describes its derivation and operationalization in more detail. The diagram shows that the international political opportunities, created (or not) by actors and norms may affect the domestic political opportunities. Also, it shows that the political opportunities affect leaders and their strategies at two different stages. It will be shown that it is key to consider how leaders frame the context because it will help demonstrate their role as agents (they are not just pushed by these contextual factors). The diagonal, two-way arrow depicts this; the discussion of the cases will elaborate the point. The relationships are explored with a structured, focused comparison (George, 1979) of four cases of nationalist (the largely Catholic community) leadership in Northern Ireland, where popularity of more and less exclusive leaders has shifted over time.

Figure 1

International involvement/mediation

Regional integration

Change in stability of elite alignment


Leaders Strategies “Winning” Strategies

As argued above, there is a gap in empirical work concerning the relationship between leaders and their environment and what leaders do to get people to follow. One way to approach this is to consider how leaders filter the environment in a way to convince their followers that the leader’s “definition of the situation” is the “only” one that makes sense. These definitions of the situation, which include the challenges to the “group,” who falls inside and outside of the group’s boundaries, and the way to address the challenges, are called framing strategies here. The idea that strategies affect how people judge and evaluate their choices draws on work in political psychology, especially public opinion research (for example, Iyengar & Kinder, 1987; Iyengar & Kinder, 1991; Nelson, Clawson, & Oxley, 1997).

Indeed, we cannot fully understand the roles of elites unless we focus on the match between the objective and perceived environments (Brecher,(1972). As for the objective environment (what is being interpreted by these leaders), a survey3 revealed four specific variables that are most commonly observed in literature about mobilization and nationalist conflicts. In fact, these variables correspond well with Brown’s (1996) discussion of the distal causes of internal conflicts—structural, economic, cultural, political, and regional/international. These are repression, change in the stability of elite alignment,4 international involvement5, and regional integration.

By analyzing, in a structured, focused comparison6 (George, 1979), how these factors correlate with leaders’ strategies and how the leaders themselves talk about these particular factors we can gain initial insight into the “two-way” relationship discussed above. The dependent variable is the kind of strategies used by the more successful leader, while the independent variables are those environmental conditions listed above. For each case, predictions were made about the kind of strategies the four variables are expected to promote. The analysis then shows what these strategies were and the hypotheses are evaluated accordingly. Both the strategies and these contextual variables are discussed below after a few words about case selection.

As with any study, it is important to say a word about case selection, because scope conditions for any conclusions depend on this. Cases were chosen in which there was an ongoing debate over identity in states holding contested elections. In such periods of debate, it is argued that individual leaders are likely to have an impact on the political process. When there is a lack of consensus about the future, some types of mobilization strategies have a high degree of resonance and bring about shifts in the orientation of the group. Indeed, leadership scholars note that individual leaders are more likely to have an effect on the course of events when the political environment “admits of restructuring” (Greenstein, 1987: 41; also Hermann, 1976). Therefore, the central scope condition for this project is a legitimation crisis brought about by external influences and the social mobilization of a part of the domestic society (for example, Deutsch, 1953) that had the status of political minority.

Northern Ireland is a case that fits these criteria nicely.7 Findings here are generalizable to an important set of cases. First, they are relevant to countries democratized to the extent that there are contested elections with genuine competition for power—that is, where there are observable electoral shifts. Second, they are applicable when a crisis of legitimation has led to a period of uncertainty and there is competition for the votes of the political minority. The number of cases meeting these two criteria is increasing as the holding of democratic elections is viewed as a prerequisite for entry into the club of aid-deserving states (Sisk, 1998). Further, the Carter Center and other election watch groups around the world have been documenting recent elections in states where political minorities have an increasing role in politics; this makes it relatively straightforward to judge whether the elections are viewed by area specialists to be fairly contested.

In order to study the variation in success of more and less exclusive leaders, secondary sources were consulted to define crucial periods of competition over time in which two leaders of the political minority competed and one was widely accepted to be more successful than the other. For Northern Ireland, four cases emerge: 1982-1983, 1986-1987, 1996, and 1997.

Leader Strategies

Competing leaders often define “similar” situations in different ways. In fact, extant theories about nationalism, identity, and international relations are actually different ways of interpreting behavior and often inform the practices of politicians (see Vasquez, 1993). I argue that several major bodies of literature give us a “bottom line” about different constructions of a situation often used by leaders seeking to mobilize nationalist groups; usually only implicitly, these theories inform the way leaders view political relationships. A “mobilizing strategy” is derived and operationalized from each approach.

Some leaders approach communal conflicts with a “relative deprivation” mindset, emphasizing the injustice facing the ingroup. This idea gives us the Justice strategy (see, for example Davies, 1963; Gurr, 1970; Gurr, 1993; Gurr, 1994; Lederer, 1986; Walker & Pettigrew, 1984). Other leaders seem to argue that the most important characteristic is the role taken by another group, such as the threat from that group or that an “other” is to blame. From the range of literature emphasizing this aspect, the Enemy/Ally Image strategy is derived (Coser, 1956; Cottam, 1986; Cottam, 1977; Finlay, Holsti, & Fagan, 1967; Herrmann, 1985; Herrmann, 1988; Mercer, 1995; Tajfel & Turner, 1986).

A third view that may structure a leader’s perceptions and interpretations dwells on institutional structures and/or political laws that exacerbate or alleviate communal tensions. Here this kind of emphasis is called the Governance strategy (for example, Gunther & Mughan, 1993; Horowitz, 1985; Lijphart, 1977; Lijphart, 1996; Lijphart, Rogowski, & Weaver, 1993; Nordlinger, 1972). The fourth strategy is called the Storytelling strategy; the focus is on how the group defines its identity as connected to the past. Often emphasis is on how the current group suffers as earlier generations of an “imagined community” did and therefore must fulfill the quest for self-determination (Anderson, 1991; Connor, 1994; Smith, 1995). The final strategy is the Identity strategy. Indeed, all leaders have “theories in their heads” (to adapt a Lippmann image) about what kinds of groups make up a society, the important bases of identification, and how certain peoples are similar and/or different (Brewer, 1991; Brewer, 1996 are social psychology approaches to identity which emphasize that individuals may have many self-identities which vary in their salience; Tajfel & Turner, 1986).

Most scholars acknowledge that these general theoretical categories are not mutually exclusive and that they even address different aspects of ethnopolitical life. For example, social identity theory (from which the Identity strategy is derived) has been applied to the ways in which people balance different identities according to the size and other characteristics of group membership while relative deprivation theory (which provides the Justice strategy) is focused on the factors that push people to political action (primarily violence/rebellion). Together, the derived strategies cover the aspects of any given situation which may be the focus: Who are we? How are we different from “them”? How are we similar (Identity delineation)? What is our situation? Is it getting worse or better (Justice)? Who are our friends/enemies? How do others affect us or relate to us (Outgroup Image, which may be Enemy or Ally)? How should we govern our relationships with others? What kinds of institutions are good or bad for us (Governance)? What binds us together as a nation? What is our shared past and future (Storytelling)? The following table summarizes the literature sources, the name of the strategy model, and the major theme of each strategy.

Table 1

Summary of Strategy Types

Literature Source

Strategy Model

Basic Themes

Social Identity Theory; Optimal distinctiveness

Identity strategy

Who are we? Who are we similar to and different from?

Relative Deprivation


Justice strategy (Injustice or Justice Positive)

Our situation is unjust, unfair OR

We are doing better; we are starting to make gains

Theory of Images;

Minimal Group Paradigm

Enemy Image strategy/Ally Image strategy

They threaten us; they are to blame; they betray us OR

They share our goals; they share our situation; or they share our culture

Consociational theory;

Elite consolidation theory

Governance strategy (negative or positive)

These laws, institutions, structures do/will discriminate against us; negotiating with them is bad for us OR

These laws, institutions, structures are/will be good for us; negotiating with them will help us

Imagined communities literature;

Social construction approaches to identity

Storytelling strategy

We are connected to our countrymen who have gone before us and those who come after us; we must realize our self-determination of the nation; we have been persecuted for centuries

A content analysis method was developed and used to detect the use of these strategies in the public speeches of the leaders that were collected in field research; intercoder tests have established the reliability of the method.8 The coding is evaluated in several ways. First, the percentage frequencies a leader used each strategy are compared. For example, in a given period, one leader may employ the Justice strategy 80% of the total number of strategies detected (which means his main emphasis was the terrible plight of the ingroup) while the other leader used the Governance Positive strategy 60% of the total (which means his main emphasis was the need for new laws and/or institutions to make life better). From this profile, two very different “definitions of the situation” are apparent. Second, an exclusivity index is calculated to compare leaders and assess which leader was more or less inclusive.9 Continuing with the same example, the first leader (80% Justice) is much more exclusive than the second (60% Governance Positive). An important aspect of the exclusivity index takes into account not just the strategies the leaders use but the targets of those strategies. This helps give a view of whom the leaders were arguing were the subjects of injustice, who was included as enemies and allies, who should be negotiated with to build new institutions, et cetera. For example, a leader emphasizing that all subgroups in society are victims of injustice is more inclusive than a leader who focuses only on the minority as victims. This is very important information because monitoring changes in these targets over time will allow a way to see when subtle changes may precede big shifts in leaders’ definitions of the situation. Most work now only offers a way to see these dramatic shifts once they happen. Building a longitudinal dataset like the one created in this project provides an important basis for future monitoring. Finally, and less formally, another dimension of a leader’s speeches was evaluated: if and how he talked about the four contextual factors. Next I elaborate on these factors and how they were expected to correlate with strategy type.

Environmental Conditions

How do environmental conditions relate to the strategies leaders use and to which are more successful? The four contextual variables (international involvement/mediation, regional integration, repression, and changes in stability of elite alignment) were treated as independent variables in order to see how they correlate with the strategy profiles of the leaders. The involvement and non-involvement of international actors in internal conflict and especially in nationalist leadership competition are expected to influence the ways in which people see their options. More specifically, as people listen to competing leaders describe their plight in various ways, the behavior of external players and the presence/absence of international institutions affect how valid a leader’s definition of the situation is. The following is an exaggerated example: If one leader (here, imagine Ian Paisley, a very exclusive Protestant leader in Northern Ireland, in 1999) is saying, “They are all against us; everyone wants us dead so we must fight to save our nation,” yet there is widely publicized aid for Protestants from the United Nations, the United States, Britain, and the European Union, and maybe even cooperation from the historical enemy (here, Catholics), his message makes no sense to most potential followers in the Protestant audience.

The phrase “international institutions” has two interconnected meanings. First, in the more traditional sense they are organizations in which member states come together to debate and make decisions about issues deemed to be within their purview (such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of African Unity, and the Front Line States). Second, institutions are those norms that evolve over time from interactions in the international arena, that not only facilitate cooperation among (self-interested) states and constrain their behavior but also have “social content” which “diffuses” in a way that can shape the identities and interests of states (Checkel, 1999; Finnemore, 1996a; Finnemore, 1996c; see also, Klotz, 1995). For this study, norms of conflict resolution and democratic procedure are important in this sense. The two uses of the concept are interconnected because it is often practices growing out of organizations that create and sustain particular norms. For example, the establishment of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has bolstered the norm that only “rogue states” refuse to submit to the nuclear site inspections regime. As pointed out in a recent article by Jeffrey Checkel (1999), the constructivist approach to the question of how international institutions (especially norms) affect identities and interests of states is appealing, but significant links in the process are left under-theorized. “At issue, then, is how norms ‘out there’ in the international system get ‘down here’ to the national arena and have constitutive effects” (Checkel, 1999: 85). In trying to address this question, Finnemore (1996b) has discussed the idea of “moral entrepreneurs”—individuals who help create norms, perhaps taking the international practices and incorporating them into states’ ideas about normative behavior. This too is a useful approach, but not unique in that leadership scholars study exactly this, with perhaps some of the tools for which Finnemore is searching. The framework here allows a consideration of both aspects because the structured, focused comparison is a way to explore the validity of hypotheses about how the behavior of international actors affects strategies, and the content analysis allows us to see if/how the “entrepreneurs” brought these international factors into the conflict as they see it.

The following questions and related hypotheses were asked about this variable (see Table 2). Do influential external actors (most often the United Nations, and/or the United States, and/or a regional state or organization) consider the issue an internal issue to be dealt with by a sovereign state, or is the issue defined as an international problem/threat to international security? Relatedly, is there mediation or intervention by the UN, IMF, EU, OAU, United States, or other global or regional actors? If so, is the involvement neutral10 or is it on the side of one competing leader? Three hypotheses stem from these questions. If the international community regards the situation as an internal conflict (visible in United Nations statements and resolutions, for example), and there is no action by international actors to address perceived problems, people in the target community (political minority) are likely to be more open to exclusive appeals. If the relevant actors in the international community call for international attention to help resolve the problem but are otherwise “neutral,” more inclusive strategies are expected to be more appealing. If the intervention or mediation by actors in the international community favors one leader over another, then that leader is expected to win whether his strategies are inclusive or exclusive.11

There is now much attention being paid to regional integration in Europe, and there seems to be optimism that deepening economic and political bonds at this level will provide people with an overarching sense of European identity (for example, Risse, 1998). This is directly related to leaders’ efforts to mobilize people around more or less exclusive notions of their ethnonational identity “at home” because—if the optimism is not wrong-headed—then this “new” identity provides a commonality with their historical enemies. One of the fathers of functionalist theories of European integration, Ernst Haas, described integration as the process of shifting loyalties toward a new center (Haas, 1958); in the terms of this project, this means people are likely to have more inclusive views of their identities as integration proceeds because they perceive higher-level common bonds with all people in a region. Therefore, a second international process variable examined here is regional integration. For this variable, questions asked about each case are: Are there regional initiatives promoting an overarching system and identity, economic and/or political? Do these regional organizations have any authority to affect political and/or economic aspects of the country? If the answer to either or both questions is yes, an additional question is asked: Have relationships with others in the region expanded since the last period? Again, the same kind of dynamic is suggested: people’s judgements of leaders’ appeals are affected by how well this environmental condition matches with what the leader is saying. The “presence” is expected to affect the “credibility” of leaders who appeal to commonalities (or are more inclusive). In a nutshell, the greater the regional integration, the more likely a more inclusive leader is to be successful. If there is no regional integration, this variable is not expected to be significant.12

Two aspects of the domestic setting are expected to be important factors affecting peoples’ lives in a way that impinges on their judgements of competing leader’s “definition of the situation.” These factors are also expected to be discussed by elites. These are a change in stability of elite alignment and the degree of repression. To put the former in more common terms, it simply means a change in the relationship between the powers that maintain the discriminatory status quo. Until there is a shift in this relationship (which exists as part of the case selection criteria), there is no “opening” or opportunity for the political minority to make gains. A leader espousing more inclusive approaches (for example, one using mostly Governance strategies) will make little sense in this environment. The elites important here are the colonial power;13 the dominant power in the disputed country, here called the controlling power; and the primary regional actor that has helped maintain a balance. In Northern Ireland the relevant alignment concerns Britain, the unionists, and the Republic of Ireland. To go beyond the general suggestions in the literature that changes in elite alignment provide opportunities for mobilization efforts, this study examines how the alignment of these three types of actors14 has “tightened” or “loosened,” and hypothesizes which combinations favor exclusive or inclusive views.15 Table 2 summarizes the propositions.

The repression variable is expected to affect the strategies and which strategies win in a similar way. Hypotheses are as follows. If the community is victim, more exclusive strategies used by a leader (in that case, mostly Justice Negative and Enemy strategies would be likely) are expected to be more appealing, therefore that leader will be the beneficiary of the mobilization shift. The logic is that appeals to protest resonate more than calls to negotiate under repressive conditions.16 The state may crush this opposition as in Tiananmen’s Square, but it is expected to gain followers prior to a response from the state. If a single party is subject to repression, but things are promised to get better for most of the community, then the leader with more inclusive strategies is expected to be the beneficiary of the mobilization shift. Repression is measured here by the system the state uses to control dissent. Common elements are emergency powers acts and the stringency with which they are employed by policing forces, censorship, harassment, curfews, et cetera (see Weitzer, 1990).

Table 2:

Summary of Environmental Conditions

and Expectations

Item Coding Categories Indicators/Questions

Source of Data

International Define as internal Do the influential actors to which the

intervention/mediation issue and neutral/ political minority appeals (most often the

by states, international Define as international United Nations and/or United States)

organizations, or non- issue and neutral/ consider the issue an internal issue to be

governmental actors Define as international dealt with by a sovereign state, or is the

issue and sympathetic issue defined as an international problem or

to one leader threat to international security? If

internal/neutral, this variable promotes

the winning of more exclusive strategies; if international and neutral, this variable

promotes the winning of more inclusive strategies; if sympathetic to one leader, this variable promotes the winning of that leader, though international community is likely to support only inclusive leaders in most cases.

United Nations statements,

resolutions, and/or reports; U.S.

State Department statements and reports; secondary sources; news

reports from New York Times

and the London Times

Regional Integration No change or Are there regional initiatives that promote

Increase an overarching system and identity (political or economic)? Do these regional

organizations have (potential) authority to

affect political and/or economic aspects of

the country? If no to either or both, then No change. If yes to either or both, have relationships with others in the region expanded since the last period? If yes, then Increasing. If no, then Unchanged.

Secondary source studies of the region, including both quantitative and qualitative descriptions of the progress of integration

Changes in stability Tightening/Loosening Do the relationships among the colonial of elite alignments A, B, and C power, controlling power, and regional

actor grow stronger and more cooperative in maintaining the status quo or in undermining it, or do they grow weaker and less cooperative in maintaining or undermining the status quo? If stronger, then tightening. If weaker, then loosening

Secondary source descriptions of

country histories and current situation
State Repression Combinations of high Compared to the previous time period, did

and low on the community the state pass more legislation, and/or

and the individual parties exert more time and resources to arrest and

control either the community of the political

minority or any of the leaders’ parties?

Were there repressive events of state

violence? If yes to one or both, then Higher

Secondary source descriptions of

policing, justice procedures

The role of the international dimension is expected to be doubly important because the behavior of external actors can affect these two domestic variables. Indeed, there are cases in which condemnation of repression by international organizations, the US State Department, and/or non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch has pushed governments to ease up on political minorities (and perhaps in some cases to become more repressive). Likewise, when external actors have leverage in foreign policy relationships with the colonial, controlling, or regional power, the external power may push for a change in the stability of elite alignment. The depiction of the model in Figure 1 (see above) allows for these relationships and, more broadly, shows the expectation that the environmental conditions will affect which strategies leaders will choose as well as which strategies are favored to win. The next section of the paper will discuss the research to illustrate what is depicted in the rest of that figure: that the more successful leaders are those who do choose the strategies the more “objective” environment “pushes” them to choose.


Gerry Adams and his Sinn Fein party first entered politics in Northern Ireland in 1982. They worked to draw international attention to Britain’s colonial domination of the area, linking the plight of nationalists to that of the blacks persecuted by South Africa’s apartheid regime. Their campaigns played up the abuses by the British army and their Protestant “puppets”; Adams condemned the evils of the sell-outs in Dublin who gave up the ideal of independence for the whole island when they accepted the 1922 compromise to leave the North a part of Britain.17 He cursed the economic crisis facing West Belfast residents and proclaimed that negotiation or constitutional solutions to the conflict were dead-ends. The only answers were “Brits Out!” and the overthrow of capitalist Dublin in favor of a new socialist Irish republic.

This campaign swept Adams and SF onto the scene with a victory that surprised everyone: in 1982 Assembly elections, they captured 34.9% of the Catholic vote and in 1983 Westminster elections, this number grew to 42.8%. Compared to 65.1% and 57.2% (respectively) for the more established John Hume and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), observers considered this a landslide (O'Leary & McGarry, 1993). Adams’s success reinvigorated the republican ideals that started the Irish war of independence in 1916. But it was horrifying to many others because Adams, Sinn Fein, and the Irish Republican Army advocated political violence to achieve their goals.

Between 1986 and 1987, Adams’s tirade against imperial tyranny continued, but success this latter period went to John Hume. This leader of the SDLP defined the situation in Northern Ireland in a dramatically different way from Adams, as had also been the case in the earlier period: the crisis in Northern Ireland was a problem of representation, not of colonialism. If the nationalists/Catholics could only have a voice in the political system and be allowed equal access to jobs and housing, tensions would defuse. Better governance and a focus on common goals—only possible with the involvement of the British and Irish governments—would alleviate the country’s problems.

These two leaders were consistent in their appeals in both 1982-1983 and 1986-1987. Flashing forward to 1996 and 1997, there was a surge in the popularity of Gerry Adams even as he had changed his slogans, calling for peaceful negotiations with the British, the Protestants, and the Irish Republic. Why did the mobilization strategies of Adams have such success in the early 1980s and not the late 1980s? On the other hand, why did John Hume’s appeals draw so many people his way in 1986-1987 but not in the early 1980s? And how, in 1996, was Gerry Adams able to change his tune about the conflict and still maintain—even increase—his popularity?

To give the reader a sense of the findings in the study, this section will compare the leaders’ strategies in the first and second cases with those in 1996, when the dramatic change in Adams is correlated with greater international involvement. The comparison will be discussed in terms of the way in which the leaders employed the individual strategy types, with a few representative quotes, then the totals of the exclusivity indices are compared.

In the two early periods, the main themes of Adams and Sinn Fein were as follows. Justice Negative: the working class Irish of Northern Ireland, as well as all peoples of the world struggling against capitalist domination, were victims of imperial injustice (see quote below). Enemy Image: the British colonial government and army, the middle class sell-outs in Dublin and Northern Ireland, and the Protestant operatives of the British pose threats to the lives of the Irish republicans. For example, in the following statement, while not as focused on immediate threat of death, Adams makes clear who the enemies are:

[The British and Irish establishment] made the mistake of believing their own propaganda. The believe that Sinn Fein flourishes in conditions of deprivation, unemployment…Indeed, whilst recognizing that Britain may make some concessions to Dublin and the SDLP, and that the EEC and US financial aid may be made available as part of a mistaken analysis that we will be undermined, any such concessions are not attributable to the efforts of those politicians but can be claimed by the struggling nationalist people…18

Governance Negative: the only discussions of institutions and laws emphasized that the unjust rulers and their institutions had to be “smashed.” Storytelling: the central focus with regard to history was that all the martyrs of the past had to be redeemed; the hunger strikers, the heroes of 1916 and the mythical figures of ancient Irish history could not have died only for the present republicans to give up the fight. Identity strategy: the ingroup for Adams excluded middle-class Catholics in Northern Ireland and in the Republic, as well as Protestants who were merely tools of Britain. Along with working class republicans, for Adams all freedom fighters and victims of capitalism the world over were often part of the ingroup. The following statement is exemplary:

In expressing solidarity to those suffering in prisons we recall in the 15th year of this last phase of our historic struggle for independence those throughout the world who are engaged in similar struggles. To our black brothers and sisters in Africa, and especially those who struggle under apartheid in South Africa we express solidarity. To those in Central America, oppressed by totalitarian regimes, to the Palestinians, deprived of a homeland, to the Basques and to all men and women denied freedom and to people committed to gaining freedom, we pledge our solidarity, mindful that the successful conclusion of our struggle is a victory for you, just as a victory for you is a victory for us.19

For Hume, in terms of the framing strategies, his rhetoric was as follows (it was similar in both early periods). Justice Negative: as noted above, economic deprivation of everyone in the province of Northern Ireland created a system of injustice. Both parts of the community were victims. Beyond economic deprivation, Hume was insistent that the community of Northern Ireland was unjustly exposed to violence by a few bad men. Enemy Image: Hume’s use of this strategy provided the rest of his thoughts about the injustice. The enemies were the “men of violence,” especially the IRA and the rest of the republican movement. They kept out economic investment and made people live in fear:

The continuing campaign of violence of the Provisional IRA is legitimately a matter of overwhelming concern to both sections of the community…We see in those parts of the community where the Provisional IRA are more active the spread of a foul social cancer…What has followed is the…pornography of death and nihilism on our gable walls, and the deep corruption of the young…We say to the Provisionals: “You are not Irish republicans; you are extremists who have dishonoured and are dishonouring the deepest ideals of the Irish people.”20

Governance Positive: For Hume, the only solutions had to come from the negotiated establishment of new institutions, which would bring about peace and growth. In his use of this strategy, Hume spent a great deal of time talking about the environmental conditions of the elite alignment, regional integration, and international examples and help. The following excerpts make this point.

We all need a new and generous vision. We need both to abandon the sterile exclusivity of “ourselves alone” and we need the positive encouragement of the third party—the British Government—not by creating structures which underline and advertise our abnormality, but by patient public policy which commits them and us to a New Ireland forged by mutual respect and agreement. (1982)

We have to live together…We are not wedded to any one form of Ireland or any rigid set of institutions. We are concerned to see that all traditions are respected and have a role to play. (1982)
…We ought to be encouraged by the example of the European Community…In this century alone, the peoples of Europe have been locked in the savagery of two world wars with the bitterness and slaughter that goes far beyond anything we have experienced on this island. Yet 34 years after the second World War, as a result of an agreed process, they have been able to create one parliament to represent them, one community—and the Germans are still Germans, the French are still French. They have a unity in diversity. Is it too much to ask that we on this small island do precisely the same thing? (1985)
As with the Governance and Enemy Image strategies, Hume’s use of the Storytelling frame was different from Adams. For Hume, history should be used not to call for redemption of the martyrs but to learn the lesson that people will continue to die senselessly if they cannot resolve to live peacefully together. He does not try to deny that there were those who died for the cause, but he draws a very different meaning from the fact.

Northern Ireland today represents unfinished business in the ancient conflict between our two islands…We are all of us at fault. We can indulge in an endless exchange of “What aboutery?”…What about Bloody Sunday? What about 1916? What about 1689? And so on, each whatabout being used to justify another tragedy….Let us instead, all of us, ask ourselves just one question. What about the future? (1982)

Also, he draws the Protestant community into that history in a more positive way and “reminds” his audience that Protestants are Irish too and they share similar, “enlightened” values:

[The Irish Protestant tradition] is an old and honourable tradition in this island. It has produced great and good people: Swift and Goldsmith will forever exemplify their talent, Gratton and Burke their altruism, and the American War of Independence, the American Constitution, and as many as eleven American Presidents their capacity and their love of liberty…

In terms of the Identity strategy, as the discussion above makes clear, Hume primarily depicted the ingroup in a few ways. First, in Northern Ireland it was the whole community—Catholics and Protestants (he did not deny that there were two religious traditions, but often emphasized their similar plight). Protestants who were unionists—seeing themselves as only British (which in reality was most all Protestants)—were a separate (out)group. A second common depiction of the ingroup was all the peaceful, normal people (as opposed to men of violence). Third, more “global” ingroups he also referred to were those of “democrats/social democrats” and “Europeans.”

In terms of the formal content analysis and of the exclusivity index, the following tables show the differences in the leaders. For the sake of simplicity, I show only the strategy profiles for the first period in Table 3; the 1986-1987 profiles look very similar.

Table 3:

Strategy Profiles for 1982-83








(N. Ireland)a



Enemy Image



Justice Negative






Governance Negative







Ally Image



Justice Positive



aThis means the percentage of all strategies that leader refers to the in-

group as all the people in Northern Ireland. So, for example, Adams

number here is so much lower than Hume’s because Adams’s ingroup

references tend to be more exclusive, referring to people of Ireland as a

whole, which as he uses it, excludes unionists.
As Table 4 shows, Adams is a great deal more exclusive than Hume in both periods.

Table 4: Totals of Exclusivity Indexa




total/% change




total/% change



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