When all else fails, aggrieved groups of society often resort to violence to redress their grievance – either by seeking to overthrow the ruling government or by attempting to secede. The strength of the rebel group relative to the state determines what direction the conflict will take. In institutionally and economically capable countries, any opposition group is likely to be inferior to the government. These groups will see secession as the most viable strategy to improve living conditions. Inconsistent, poor, and resource-dependent regimes are typically quite unstable and should therefore be more likely to attract coups and revolutions. In addition, large and ethnically diverse countries contain a higher number of peripheral and possibly marginalized groups, as well as remote and inaccessible terrain, both of which are expected to favor secessionist insurgency. Smaller countries, in contrast, offer few opportunities for separatist claims but in such countries, capturing the state might also be a more realistic objective. This article provides a first test of these presumptions by estimating the effect of several popular explanatory factors separately on the risk of territorial and governmental conflict, 1946–99. The analysis offers considerable support and demonstrates that territorial and governmental conflicts are shaped in large part by different causal mechanisms. The reputed parabolic relationship between democracy and risk of civil war only pertains to state-centered conflicts whereas democracy has a positive and near linear effect on the risk of territorial rebellion. Moreover, the analysis strongly suggests that the puzzling no-finding of ethnicity in several prominent studies is affected by their inability to account for rebel objective in civil war.
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