The Second Chechen War and its Implications for Democratic Peace Theory

Reviewed by Kaatje Greenberg

Are weak democracies naturally driven to cause war for domestic political gains? In “The Second Chechen War and its Implications for Democratic Peace Theory,” Columbia student Jacques Courbe examines whether the Second Chechen War fits Snyder and Mansfield’s model of weakly institutionalized semi-democracies that are especially likely to initiate war. He assesses the domestic and geopolitical influences in the war to conclude that a domestic politics focus evades the importance of geopolitics, which led Russia to exaggerate and even manufacture domestic causes in order to fulfill its goals in Chechnya.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 required the newly but incompletely democratic Russian Federation to redefine its borders. By 1994, Chechnya was the only one of 88 constituent republics of the Russian Federation that had not signed an agreement with the central government. The uncertain Russian-Chechen relations at the end of the First Chechen War in 1997 compounded this political conflict; while Russia saw Chechnya as a part of the Russian Federation, Chechnya desired independence.

Chechnya’s desires for independence provided the basis for Russia’s geopolitical concerns. Courbe agrees with Bruce Robert Ware, an expert on the North Caucasus, that Russia saw Chechnya as a hotspot of separatism and Islamic fundamentalism; Russia felt its security was threatened by this region, and acted in its own interests in invading the region. The geopolitical motivations for invasion were further complicated by NATO involvement in Kosovo and Western interest in establishing stable governments in the Caucasus.

However, the conflict cannot be boiled down entirely to geopolitics. The neo-Eurasianism prevalent in Russia at the time supported Russian influence over the former Soviet states of the Caucasus. It is in this context of ideological influence that the domestic causes of the war are to be interpreted.

Indeed, Courbe links Putin’s rise to power within Yeltsin’s government to his embodiment of neo-Eurasianism, evidencing the continued relevance of this conflict and its multi-faceted causes. Yeltsin, Putin, and Yeltsin’s other supporters manufactured domestic political causes and launched media campaigns to gain public support and construct a domestic politics narrative for the geopolitical conflict. They manufactured FSB bombings to look like Chechen terrorists and collaborated with the Chechnyan Islamist warlord Shamil Basaev.

Thus, while the domestic causes that Mansfield and Snyder argue caused the conflict are important, Courbe emphasizes that the geopolitical causes of the Second Chechen War can also not be overlooked. This assessment of democratic peace theory is useful beyond this particular conflict, providing a framework to examine the motivations of any incompletely democratic state.

See the full paper here!

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