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Foreign Policy Analysis (2006) 2, 2136

An Empirical Examination of Religion and Conict in the Middle East, 19501992


BRIAN LAI University of Iowa
This article examines the inuence of religion on conict in the Middle East. It develops a more rened approach to studying the effects of religion by examining intra-Islamic differences as well as the effects of domestic politics and religion on conict. It tests these hypotheses on all Middle Eastern dyads from 1950 to 1992, including appropriate control variables. This article nds that religious identity does matter but only when its relationship with conict is more clearly specied. Religious differences between the leaders of states inuence the likelihood of militarized disputes, but not religious differences between the populations of two states. Ethnic differences and power politics also inuence the likelihood of an militarized interstate dispute.

How does religion inuence international conict within the Middle East? This is an important question to analyze for several reasons. Instability in Iraq is often attributed to religious differences between the Sunnis and Shiites, an argument that, while popular among the press, has produced no empirical evidence that this division leads to international conict generally. Although the situation in Iraq is an internal conict, the logic that predicts hostility between these two groups should predict broader patterns of international conict based on religious differences. Examining this connection would provide empirical evidence about the relationship between religious differences among groups and the likelihood of conict. Further, explanations for conicts based on identity have advanced beyond simple primordialist arguments, focusing more recently on the role that leaders play in manipulating symbols of identity for their own political purposes. Examining how religion inuences conict in the Middle East contributes to this important literature by providing a rigorous empirical test of primordialist and constructivist explanations of religious conict. Finally, this region has been a significant area of international conict for the last few years. Since the end of World War II, about 35% of all wars have been fought in the Middle East, resulting in over a million fatalities.1 Given such high levels of conict, it is critical to investigate the role of religious differences in initiating violent interstate clashes. Despite the importance of this question, there have been few systematic studies of the relationship between religion and conict in the Middle East. This article improves upon past work by rening the proposed relationship between religion and conict. First, this article analyzes intra-Islamic differences and the effect that these differences have on interstate conict. Second, this article tests whether conict is
Authors note: Thanks are due to Emily Lai, Megan Shannon, and Fred Boehmke for their assistance with this article. 1 These gures are from the Correlates of War Interstate War Data v.3.0.
r 2006 International Studies Association. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.

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Religion and Conict in the Middle East

more likely when either the populations of two states (primordialist arguments) or the leaders of two states (constructivist arguments) subscribe to different sects of Islam. Finally, this article examines the effect of religion while controlling for other important variables that should significantly affect the likelihood of conict. We gain leverage on this question by examining all dyads in the Middle East, along with factors affecting the likelihood of militarized disputes. Briefly, we nd evidence favoring constructivist explanations of religious conict. Specifically, only intra-Islamic differences at the elite level affect the likelihood of conict; differences in the religious leaderships of a dyad increase the likelihood of conict, while differences between the populations of a dyad have no effect. Further, we nd empirical support for power and ethnicity variables. These results provide a more sophisticated nding over past work in this literature by better specifying the relationship between religion and conict in the Middle East. The rest of this article proceeds in ve parts. The rst section discusses the theoretical and substantive importance of analyzing conict in the Middle East, especially the role that religion plays. The second section discusses religious explanations for conict and presents some novel explanations for the effect of religion on conict, deriving testable hypotheses. The third section discusses the research design used to examine these hypotheses empirically. The next section presents the empirical results. The nal section discusses the implications of our research.

Conict in the Middle East


After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, conicts in the Middle East have garnered increased attention (Fuller 2002). Several books and articles have since been published addressing the foreign policies of Middle Eastern states, the need to resolve the IsraeliPalestinian conict, Political Islam, and a whole host of other issues related to the Middle East.2 Terrorism has sparked a renewed interest in understanding the politics of the area. While there have been several published articles focusing on how to resolve conicts in the Middle East, thus preventing future terrorist threats, there have been fewer scholarly articles written about the origins of Middle Eastern conicts. Most scholarly work has focused on understanding the ArabIsraeli peace process (Kydd and Walter 2002; Sprecher and Derouen 2002) or has examined public opinion in the Middle East (Tessler and Nachtwey 1998; Tessler, Nachtwey, and Grant 1999). A few studies broadly consider theories of conict and cooperation in the Middle East. Goldstein et al. (2001) look at cooperation in regional conicts, nding that both bilateral cooperation and strong triangularity can promote cooperation among conictual dyads. Kinsella and Tillema (1995) explore military interventions and arms transfers in the Middle East, nding that while American arms transfers to Israel limited Israeli military interventions, Soviet arms transfers failed to have a similar restraining effect. Although both these articles extend our knowledge about Middle Eastern politics, neither directly tests factors that contribute to disputes between states in the Middle East. Also, neither of these studies investigates cultural theories of conict in the Middle East, which have become increasingly prominent after September 11 (Fuller 2002). Thus, given the increased focus on understanding and resolving conict in the Middle East, this article examines the role of religion in international conict. Beyond the recent policy implications of studying conict in the Middle East, the Middle East is an important area to test theories of conict because of a legacy of militarized disputes in the region. Compared with all the other regions in the world, the Middle East has experienced the second highest number of wars and
The citations of recent books on these topics are too numerous to list. Recent issues of Foreign Affairs and other journals are dominated by articles on the Middle East and book reviews of recent books on the Middle East.
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war-related fatalities since World War II. Only Asia has experienced more wars and fatalities, with most coming from two multilateral wars: Korea and Vietnam.1 Also, while the total number of pairs of Middle Eastern states (dyads) between 1950 and 1992 comprises about 1.5% of all pairs of states (dyads), militarized disputes between pairs of Middle Eastern states account for about 16% of disputes between all dyads.3 Given the disproportionately high number of disputes and wars, the Middle East is an especially fruitful region in which to test theories of conict.

Religion and Conict in the Middle East


Conict in the Middle East has been studied using traditional international relations theories like neo-realism (Brown 2001; Hinnebusch 2002), as well as theories based on identity and culture. While there is no single unitary theory of identity and culture, theories based on identity and culture differ from a neo-realist perspective by focusing on substate and nonpower factors to explain the foreign policies of Middle Eastern states. These factors may be based on religion, ethnicity, shared identity, Pan-Arabism, and so forth. (Huntington 1996; Henderson 1998; Telhami and Barnett 2002). Although studies of identity (Wendt 1999), culture (Henderson 1998), and civilization (Huntington 1996) have been developed to explain interstate relations on a global scale, this approach has been especially prevalent in studying the politics of Middle Eastern states (Barnett 1998; Binder 1999; Lynch 1999; Kaye 2001; Telhami and Barnett 2002). A few scholars have integrated a cultural and power-based approach (Posen 1993; Kauffman 1996), arguing that ethnic conicts, whether they are driven by primordial or purposive reasons, are likely to create security dilemmas between competing ethnic groups or states because neither side believes it can trust the intentions of its opponent. Preventive wars may occur, depending on the degree of ethnic hatred or the relative balance of power between the two sides (Posen 1993). Despite the development of these theories relating identity and culture to conict, there have been few quantitative studies examining these approaches. A few studies have empirically tested Huntingtons civilizational argument (Russett, Oneal, and Cox 2000; Henderson and Tucker 2001; Chiozza 2002). All these studies failed to nd evidence supporting Huntingtons argument. Rather, they found that intracivilizational conict was just as likely as intercivilizational conict (Russett, Oneal, and Cox 2000; Henderson and Tucker 2001). Beyond testing Huntingtons clash of civilizations, only a few works have quantitatively tested the effects of culture on international politics (Henderson 1997, 1998; Lai and Reiter 2000). Henderson (1998) nds mixed results for the effects of culture on conict. He claims that while religious similarity dampens conict between states, ethnic and linguistic similarity actually increases conicts between states. Lai and Reiter (2000) nd that states with common cultural characteristics like religion and language are more likely to enter into alliances than states with different cultural characteristics. Finally, Srli, Gleditsch, and Strand (2005) argue that Islamic states are not more likely to experience a civil war than other states. These studies have provided interesting insights into the effects of culture on world politics, but they have left interesting empirical puzzles that this article seeks to address. First, research on Huntingtons clash of civilizations has focused only on conicts between civilizations as dened by Huntington. These civilizational classications are broad and do not help us disentangle distinctions between and among civilizations. For example, Russett, Oneal, and Cox (2000) and Henderson and Tucker (2001) nd that intracivilizational conict is just as likely as inter3 Data for the percentage of disputes come from EUGENE. Data were generated for all dyads from 1950 to 1992, and whether a dyad had a militarized interstate dispute (MID) in a given year as dened by the Correlates of War Project.

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civilizational conict. Also, Gurr (1994, 2000) nds that conict is greater within civilizations than between, especially in the Middle East. Thus, it is important to understand the specific cultural mechanisms that drive conict beyond a very broad civilizational definition, especially as most Middle Eastern states fall under one civilization according to Huntington. Finally, the relationship between culture and conict needs to be more clearly identied. Henderson and Tucker (2001)conclude their article by calling for a greater integration of culture into models of international politics. This article seeks to build culture into a model of international conict and address these important theoretical puzzles. Specifically, I focus on the effect of religion on conict. Religion is likely to inuence conict by inuencing the interests of state leaders (Telhami and Barnett 2002). While theories like realism (Waltz 1979) focus on power as the primary source of state interests, religion may also play a role in framing a states relations with other states. For example, realists like Waltz (1979) argue that the power of a state is what leads other states to perceive it as potentially hostile. Religion may play a similar role based on the relationship between the religious identities of two states. If two religions have a conictual past, this identity of conict is likely to make a state with one religion to be perceived as hostile by a state with the opposing religious identity. More generally, religious differences between states provide a basis for conict through the generation of historical animosity and subsequent perceptions of threat. The rest of this article is devoted to developing empirically testable hypotheses about the effects of religious differences in the Middle East on interstate conict. Specifically, drawing on primordialist and constructivist approaches, religious differences between the populations of states and religious differences between state leaders are hypothesized to increase the likelihood of militarized disputes between states. While religious differences have been used to explain conict in the Middle East (Binder 1999; Telhami and Barnett 2002) as well as globally (Henderson 1997, 1998), this article improves upon these studies by quantitatively examining alternative theoretical mechanisms by which religion inuences conict in the Middle East. All of the states in the Middle East, with the exception of Israel and Lebanon (for certain time periods), are majority Muslim states.4 In most quantitative studies of religion and conict, the religious similarity between Middle Eastern dyads is primarily whether they are jointly Islamic or not (Russett, Oneal, and Cox 2000; Chiozza 2002; Henderson and Tucker 2001). While looking broadly at religious differences is useful, one advantage of studying the Middle East is that it allows for an examination of intrareligious differences that might affect the propensity for conict between states from the same civilization and religious tradition. Even Huntington argues that within the Islamic civilization, there is likely to be a great deal of intracivilizational conict (Huntington 1996). In the Middle East, intrareligious differences are primarily intra-Islamic differences. One central intra-Islamic difference in the Middle East is the split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Sunnis and Shiites differ primarily on the basis of whom each group believes are the rightful successors to Muhammed: Sunnis believe the four caliphs, or religious leaders, are to be the successors, while Shiites believe that the successors are descendents of Ali, Muhammeds son-in-law (Esposito 1992). Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Lebanon are the only predominantly Shiite countries in the Muslim world, although significant Shiite minorities are dispersed through other countries such as Afghanistan. Shiism has generally been a minority sect of Islam compared with Sunnism. As a result, Shiites have been persecuted throughout Islamic history (Dawisha 1999). Iraq provides an interesting case of the relationship between Shia and Sunni
4

This article denes states in the Middle East as those identied by the Correlates of War State Data.

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Muslims. While Shias represent a majority of the population, this has never translated into the same level of political power relative to the Sunnis. In the mid1930s, a Shia uprising in Iraq to protest the unequal distribution of resources led to a military suppression of Shia groups. After that period, the Shia population began to be integrated into Iraqs political system. This was the case until 1980, when the revolution in Iran brought in a Shia government whose proximity and potential inuence worried the Iraqi government, leading to suppression of Shia in Iraq and a war with Iran (Esposito 1992; Dawisha 1999). This repression of Shiites by Sunni majorities might lead to conict between states through a few mechanisms. First, Shiites may have retained bitter feelings toward the predominantly Sunni Ottoman Empire. These frustrations among Shiites might preempt the ruling government to conict with Sunni nations. They may view this battle as a continuation of the historical battle between Hussein and Yazid in which Hussein, to whom Shiites trace their allegiance, was massacred (Payne 1989; Maloney 2002). Second, Shiite minorities in Sunni countries may be politically mobilized by neighboring majority Shiite nations. This mobilization may threaten Sunni governments, who might risk a conict to prevent a possible internal uprising, resulting in an interstate conict. Thus, the rst explanation of the effect of religious identities on the propensity for conict is based on whether the populations of a dyad are both majority Sunni, both majority Shiite, or mixed, with the latter being more likely to experience conict than the rst two groups. This leads to Hypothesis 1. Hypothesis 1: Dyads whose majority populations differ along sectarian lines will be more likely to have militarized disputes. An alternative explanation views the religious identity of a states population as constitutive and not causal. Identities based on religious afliation do not translate into a type of behavior: instead, they allow for causal arguments by describing how a particular identity makes certain kinds of state behavior possible, or probably, and why (Telhami and Barnett 2002). Categorizing the religious identity of the population of Middle Eastern states does not automatically lead to causal relationships. Instead, understanding this identity allows researchers to better model the factors inuencing decisions made in the Middle East, resulting in more rigorously developed causal arguments. Thus, a simple hypothesis based on the religious afliation of a society may not adequately capture the relationship between religious identity and conict, as additional factors are needed to specify how identity affects the propensity for conict between two states. This argument has been particularly developed in the literature on ethnic conict with the distinction between primordialist and constructivist approaches (Isaacs 1975; Vail 1989; Connor 1993; Young 1993), as well as attempts to synthesize them (Kaufman 1996). While the rst hypothesis is similar to the primordialist argument and predicts conict based on differences between the populations of two states, recent research in international relations has focused on state leaders as the originators of conict. One key assumption of many of these domestic political theories is that leaders want to remain in power (Smith 1996, 1998; Schultz 1998) and they will use foreign policy as a means to that end. Some theorists argue that foreign policy is used to divert the publics attention (Morgan and Bickers 1992; Miller 1995; Gelpi 1997),5 while others argue that foreign policy is used to demonstrate the competence of a leader (Smith 1996, 1998). Based on these approaches, there are two reasons why differences in the religious identities of state leaders may be a better predictor of conict than differences at the population level.
5

Levy (1989) provides a good review of this literature.

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Religion and Conict in the Middle East

First, state leaders may appeal to religious ideology to mobilize domestic support for their regime. In the process, they may also foment conict with states whose leadership has a religion different from their own. Starting with the assumption that a states leader wants to remain in power, religious identity may serve as a useful mobilization tool to generate support for the current leadership. Research in international relations has shown that leaders will use ideologically driven mobilization tools such as nationalism in order to consolidate their control over the state (Snyder 2000; Manseld and Snyder 2002). Given the fractious history between the Sunnis and Shiites, state leaders may draw on these identities and their symbols of conict in order to rally support for their regime. One way in which state leaders may draw on these identities to boost their legitimacy is to start disputes with states whose leadership is of a different religious type. In addition to garnering support based on the rally round the ag effect, casting the conict in terms of religion allows a state leader to tap into a shared sense of history and identity with the population. This is likely to boost support by framing the role of a states leader as ghting a religious evil threatening the security of the state. Similar arguments have been made about the role of ethnicity in sparking conicts (Brass 1985, 1997). Thus, conict between states may be based more on the religious identity of state leaders and less on the religious identity of the majority of the population. Second, a leader may feel threatened when the religious identity of an opposing states leader mirrors that of some segment of his own population. This claim of a shared religious identity threatens the legitimacy of the leader by making it appear that an opposing state and its leadership are a more suitable source of legitimacy. Even if this segment of the population is in the minority, there is still the possibility that cross-border ties may encourage the minority group to mobilize and either seek independence, autonomy, or union with the foreign state (Davis and Moore 1997). For example, one problem previously faced by Sunni Iraqi leaders was how to integrate a majority Shiite population into the Iraqi society and government to forestall any calls for a Shiite government in Iraq. This problem was exacerbated with a Shiite government in neighboring Iran, who, based on the intra-Islamic differences, was perhaps more representative of the Shiites in Iraq than the Sunnis. Despite the numerous identity differences between the populations of two different states, a shared common religious identity can create a threat to a states leadership. State leaders may address this problem and generate regime support by taking foreign policy actions against a state whose leader has a different religious identity. A state leader may do this in expectations of achieving two goals. First, a state leader may be able to use conict to create a rally round the ag effect. While the empirical work on rally round the ag effects has found only marginal support for the proposition that conict boosts the popularity of a leader (James and Rioux 1998; Baker and Oneal 2001; Lai and Reiter 2005), conict may still serve as a means to alienate an opposing state and its leadership. Also, conict allows a state leader to rally a population based on other characteristics that are unique to the leader and his populace. For example, during the Iran/Iraq war, 80% of Saddam Husseins military were Shiites. Saddam focused on the ethnic differences between the people of Iran (Persians) and Iraq (Arabs) in order to divert attention from the intraIslamic differences (Dawisha 2002). Dawisha summarizes this point when describing one of the causes of the IranIraq war: a primary cause was the mounting exasperation that Hussein felt in the face of persistent Iranian incitement of the Iraqi Shiites and his growing fear of a heightened Shiite identity at odds with a Sunni government pursuing secularist policies (Dawisha 2002). In terms of the Middle East, one central division discussed previously is the split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. While the previous hypothesis focuses on the differences between the populations of two states, the application of domestic politics focuses on the intra-Islamic differences between the leaders of two states. A

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state whose leader is Sunni is likely to have conict with states whose leader is a Shiite and vice versa. This logic leads to the second hypothesis. Hypothesis 2: Dyads whose governments differ along intra-Islamic lines will be more likely to have militarized disputes. Another way in which identity might promote conict between two states is through efforts by a state leader to protect a majority population of another state with a similar identity that is being ruled by a minority government with a different identity. For example, a Sunni state leader might have a dispute with a Shiite government whose population is majority Sunni in order to uphold the rights of the Sunni population. Conict might emerge for a few reasons. First, a state leader might be trying to expand a particular view of Islam beyond his or her own borders, which could potentially lead to conict with similarly populated states, whose governments feel threatened because their view of Islam is represented by a minority of the population. Also, a government might be trying to protect followers of its type of Islam in another state from persecution by a minority government. This second pattern has been observed along ethnic lines in subSaharan African conicts, particularly the interventions by foreign states into the Rwanda and Burundi conicts. This leads to the nal hypothesis. Hypothesis 3: Conict is likely between dyads where two governments differ along sectarian lines and the majority sectarian population of one state is more similar to the sectarian afliation of the government of an opposing state.

Research Design
Cases and the Dependent Variable

As this article is interested in explaining conict in the Middle East, we only look at Middle Eastern dyads from 1950 to 1992.6 The set of states analyzed are those dened as being in the Middle East by the Correlates of War State System Project, and they include Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, and Oman.7 The unit of analysis is the nondirected dyad year. The dependent variable is whether the two states in a dyad had a militarized interstate dispute (MID) in a given year. An MID is identied as occurring when at least one of the two states in a dyad threatens to use force, makes a demonstration of force, or actually uses military force against the other (Jones, Bremer, and Singer 1996).8 This variable is coded dichotomously: 1 if the dyad experienced an MID in a given year and 0 otherwise.

6 Data on some of the independent variables limit the temporal domain of the study to 1992. First, data on the religious and ethnic compositions of states are only available through 1990. Also, data collected by the author on the religious background of state leaders are collected only through 1992. Finally, replication data on dyadic trade dependence are only available through 1992. Data for dyadic trade dependence are from Russett, Oneal, and Cox (2000). Their measure is the lower of the two states dyadic trade dependence, which is (exports from state A(B) to B(A) imports from state A(B) to B(A))/(GDP of state A(B)). While Gleditsch (2002) has dyadic trade, population, and GDP/capita data that extend to 2000 (and thus it is possible to calculate dyadic trade dependence as you have the dyadic trade measure and can obtain the GDP data by multiplying GDP/capita population), I was unable to use these data to replicate the dyadic trade dependence measure used by Russett, Oneal, and Cox (2000). Thus, I only use the replication dyadic trade dependence data available through 1992 in order to use a variable that has been used in numerous other quantitative studies on the determinants of MIDs. 7 These data are available at http://pss.la.psu.edu 8 Based on the MID Hostility Level, the dependent variable is 1 if an MID recorded at 25 on the MID hostility scale. There are 329 militarized dispute dyad years. Data for the MID variable are available at http:// cow2.la.psu.edu/

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Independent Variables

The rst independent variable tests Hypothesis 1 about intra-Islamic differences. First, a variable was created for each state with four values that correspond to the religion of the majority of the population: Sunni, Shiite, unspecied Islam, or Jewish. Next, a variable was created that indicates whether two states in a dyad have the same value for the religion practiced by the majority of the population. This variable is 1 if the two states are both Sunni, both Shiite, both unspecied, or both Jewish and 0 otherwise.9 This variable is used to test Hypothesis 1. Data are from the Cultural Composition of Interstate System Members from the Correlates of War Project (Henderson 1997), which have been used in other articles (Henderson 1997, 1998; Lai and Reiter 2000). Hypothesis 2 is tested by rst collecting data on the religious afliation of each states leader: Sunni, Shiite, Jewish, or Christian. Next, a dichotomous variable is created that indicates whether dyad leaders share a similar religious afliation. This variable takes a value of 1 if the leaders are both Sunni, both Shiite, both Jewish, or both Christian and 0 otherwise.10 This variable is used to test Hypothesis 2. Data for this variable come from a variety of sources on the leaders of different states.11 To test Hypothesis 3, the data from the previous two variables are used to create a new variable, coded as 1 if the leader from state A has the same religion (Sunni, Shiite, Jew, unspecied Islam) as the population of state B, and the leader of state B holds a religion different from the population of state B and the leader of state A. Similarly, this variable is 1 if the leader from state B has the same religion as the population of state A, and the leader of state A holds a religion different from the population of state A and the leader of state B. It is 0 otherwise. The IranIraq dyad from 1980 to 1992 is an example of a dyad that is coded 1 for this variable. The leaders of Iran (Shiite) and Iraq (Sunni) have different Islamic afliations, and the majority population in Iraq is Shiite. In addition to these four variables, we also include some additional control variables. The rst independent variable is used to control for interreligious conict. It measures whether two states are jointly Islamic. This variable is dichotomous and is coded 1 if the majority populations in both states are Islamic and 0 otherwise.12 Also, while this article is theoretically concerned with the role of religion, ethnicity may also inuence the likelihood of conict between two states. States with similar ethnicities may be less likely to have disputes (Davis and Moore 1997; Henderson 1997). Data for this variable are from the Cultural Composition of Interstate System Members from the Correlates of War Project (Henderson 1997). These data record the size of ethnic subgroups within states on a decennial basis. Using these data, we create a dichotomous variable, which is 1 if the largest ethnic subgroup is the same for both states in the dyad and 0 otherwise.13 Realist variables are also included to control for the effects of power. First, a measure of the relative balance of power is included. Controlling for a variety of factors, scholars have consistently found that the observable balance of power between two states affects the likelihood of conict between them (Kugler and Lemke
9 Israel is the only Jewish state in the Middle East, so there are no dyads coded 1 because both states are Jewish. We only present this option as a hypothetical to demonstrate the coding scheme. 10 Similar to the previous note, only Israel has a Jewish leader. This scenario is a hypothetical provided to demonstrate the coding scheme. 11 A list of the leaders and their religious afliation is provided on the following website http://myweb.uiowa.edu/ bhlai 12 The dichotomous measure comes from Ellingsen (2000). Dyads whose majority populations were both Islam were coded as 1; all other dyads were coded as 0. 13 While some type of continuous variable may be preferrable, a dichotomous variable still picks up ethnic differences between states. Also, a continuous variable may be less useful for interstate conict given that the degree of ethnic fractionalization may be less useful for sparking interstate conicts if an opposing state has a similar dominant ethnic group. Finally, other research has used a similar design (Lai and Reiter 2000).

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1996; Bennett and Stam 2000; Reed 2000; Kinsella and Russett 2002). This variable is based on the Correlates of War CINC measure, which is a composite measure of a states power. Using these data, we create a variable, which is the ratio of the score for the stronger state divided by the combined score for both states. This variable ranges from 0.5 (parity) to 1 (no parity). Second, a variable is included that indicates whether the two states in a dyad are in an alliance together. Allies should be less likely to experience disputes with each other because of their shared security interests. Data for this variable are from the Correlates of War project.14 We also include a measure of Cold War alliances, given the time frame of our data; 1950 1992. During the Cold War, the Middle East was an extremely important strategic area for American foreign policy. This is epitomized by the Eisenhower Doctrine, which emphasized the importance of the Middle East to Americas foreign policy and called for the use of American force to protect Middle Eastern states threatened by communism (Quandt 2001). The effect of U.S. intervention into the Middle East was to impose constraints and costs (Roberson 2002) on Middle Eastern states and to draw them into competing alliances. To control for the inuence of U.S. interests in the Middle East on the likelihood of conict, a dichotomous variable is created that is 1 if (A) one state is in an alliance with the U.S. as dened by the Correlates of War Alliance data and the other state is not in an alliance, or (B) one state is Israel and the other state is not in an alliance with the U.S.15 In addition to these realist variables, this article also includes the natural log of the distance between two states. States closer in proximity should be more likely to experience conict as they have a greater opportunity to have disputes. An abundance of research has demonstrated that jointly democratic dyads are less likely to experience disputes (Ray 1995; Oneal and Russett 1997). Thus, we include a measure of joint democracy, which is 1 if both states in the dyad are democratic (6 or higher on the combined Polity measure) and 0 otherwise. A measure of joint trade dependence is also included, as some research has found that trade dependence reduces conict (Oneal and Russett 1997). This variable is the lower of the two states dyadic trade. Finally, we consider the S score of the two states, which measures the preference similarity of two states. States with similar preferences should be less likely to experience disputes with each other. The S score is measured by looking at commonalties between two states alliance portfolio (Signorino and Ritter 1999). To deal with problems of autocorrelation and heteroskedasticity inherent in binary cross-sectional time-series research designs, this article uses a variable that measures the number of years since the occurrence of the dependent variable (in this case, number of years of peace). It also includes three natural cubic splines (Beck, Katz, and Tucker 1998).16 Finally, we use robust standard errors clustered by dyad.

Empirical Results
Table 1 displays the results for the empirical tests. Model 1 in Table 1 displays the results for the full model, which includes all of the variables used to test the three hypotheses. The only religious explanation (Hypotheses 13) for intra-Islamic
http://cow2.la.psu.edu/ While the U.S. and Israel have always had a special relationship, this relationship has never been cemented in an international alliance. Despite this lack of a formal alliance, it is clear that the U.S. and Israel are staunch allies, especially given the extensive amount of military and economic assistance provided to Israel by the U.S. (Quandt 2001). 16 Beck, Katz, and Tucker (1998) discuss how these variables allow for a standard probit to model duration dependence, making the analysis similar to a Cox semiparametric duration model. The number of years since the dyad experienced a dispute acts as a counter to model the effect of time, while the natural cubic splines essentially control for year-level variance.
15 14

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TABLE 1. Probit Results on Factors that Affect the Likelihood of an MID Model 1

Allies Trade dependence LNDistance Joint democracy S score Balance of capabilities U.S. ally Joint Islam Joint ethnicity Leader similarity Population similarity Minority protection Peace years Spline 1 Spline 2 Spline 3 Constant
n

0.048 (0.184) 4.31 (6.84) 0.632nnn (0.067) 0.239 (0.310) 0.582n (0.304) 1.35nnn (0.424) 0.113 (0.174) 0.526nn (0.216) 0.458nnn (0.142) 0.525nn (0.201) 0.006 (0.142) 0.130 (0.237) 0.347nnn (0.053) 0.006nnn (0.001) 0.004nnn (0.001) 0.0009nn (0.0003) 3.97nnn (0.586) N 4507, LL 596.39, w2 271.6nnn

po.05. po.01. nnn po.001. All significance tests are one-tailed. Robust standard errors are reported in parentheses. MID, militarized interstate dispute.
nn

conict that is statistically significant is the sectarian afliation of a states leader. Hypothesis 1 is not supported, as the sectarian differences of the population variable are not statistically significant. Hypothesis 3 is also not supported by the empirical results, as the protection against a minority government variable is not statistically significant. While Hypotheses 1 and 3 are not supported, Hypothesis 2 is supported. The similarity of the religion of the leader of the state is negative and statistically significant. Dyads whose leaders share the same religion (Sunni, Shiite, Jew, unspecied Islam) are less likely to experience a militarized dispute than other pairs of states. This result indicates that sectarian differences alone do not drive conict in the Middle East. Rather, religious differences between the leadership of two states are the source of religious conict between them. Thus, religious differences at the elite level, rather than those within the population, motivate militarized disputes between states. Leaders facing opponents bearing a different religious afliation are likely to engage in disputes to mobilize domestic support for their regime and to forestall the rise of any domestic opposition that might be inuenced by the opposing state leaders religious identity. Conict can create a rally round the ag effect or allow the leadership to focus on a cleavage that divides its population from an opposing state in order to strengthen its domestic political security. This nding provides evidence that the effect of religious identity is inuenced by elite incentives. Religious identity can create opportunities for state leaders to generate support for their regime by fomenting conict with an opposing state whose leadership is of a different religion. It can also pose a domestic threat to a leaders tenure when some segment of the population shares a common religious identity with the leader of an opposing state. In this scenario, state leaders may initiate conict in order to unify the state along alternative identity lines. Looking at model 1 in Table 1, several of the control variables receive empirical support. First, dyads where the majority population of both states is Islamic are more likely to experience a militarized dispute. This nding ts with others who

BRIAN LAI

31

have argued that Islam is likely to have bloody borders and intra-Islamic conict (Huntington 1996; Gurr 2000). Also, the joint ethnicity variable is negative and statistically significant. States whose populations share a similar majority ethnicity are less likely to experience a militarized dispute than other states. Shared ethnicity is able to transmit norms, establish a set of behaviors between states, and lower the costs of a dispute between two states (Henderson 1997). This result is different from Hendersons (1997), who nds that shared ethnicity actually increases the likelihood of conict. One difference between these two studies is that Henderson examines a global sample instead of focusing on the Middle East. The military capabilities variable is also significant and negative, indicating that dyads characterized by power parity are more likely to experience an MID than other dyads. This nding provides empirical evidence for those who argue that power politics is important to understanding conict in the Middle East (Brown 2001; Kaplan 2002). It also demonstrates that within the Middle East, traditional power explanations still operate. The log of the distance between two states variable is significant and negative, providing additional support for the opportunity argument (Kinsella and Russett 2002). States that are closer are more likely to have disputes. The S score variable is statistically significant but is in the opposite of the expected direction. Dyads whose states have similar foreign policy preferences are more likely to experience a militarized dispute than other states. This counterintuitive nding can probably best be explained by the S score measure, which is based on the alliance portfolio of the two states. Most of the states in the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) entered into alliances with each other, whether it was brokered by an outside power like the U.S. (i.e., CENTO) or was based on regional concerns like the Gulf Cooperation Council. Thus, for the Middle East, the S score is perhaps more a measure of opportunity than actual foreign policy preferences. States with higher alliance portfolio similarities have more contact and thus more opportunity to engage in disputes with each other than those with low similarity scores. The ally and U.S. ally variables in model 2 are not statistically significant.17 Finally, neither of the liberal variables (joint democracy or trade dependence) are significant in model 2. Table 2 displays the change and percent change in the predicted probabilities of the statistically significant variables in model 1 of Table 1. In terms of actual changes in the predicted probabilities, the distance variable has the largest actual change with a 44% change from its minimum to maximum value. The leaders religious similarity has the next largest change, with a 5% decrease in the predicted probability of an MID. While 5% appears small, the effect of this variable is larger than traditional international relations variables including the effect of power parity. The joint Islam variable yields about a 2% change in the actual predicted probability. The power parity variable yields a similar change. Going from conditions of parity (0.5) to conditions of absolute disparity (0.99) changes the actual predicted probability by about 3%. Dyads that share an ethnicity are about 2% less likely to have an MID than mixed ethnicity dyads. Finally, going from almost no preference similarity (0.05) to maximum similarity (1) increases the likelihood of an MID by about 2%. While the distance variable has the largest substantive change in predicted probabilities, the religious identity of a states leader variable still resulted in a modest change in the actual predicted probability and a much larger percent change. One possible explanation for the nding that states whose leaders share different religious afliations are more likely to enter into disputes is that we have not accounted for the hostile relations between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Since the
The S score and allies variables are correlated at the 0.44 level. However, excluding one variable from the model does not change the results for the other variable.
17

32

Religion and Conict in the Middle East

TABLE 2. Changes in Level and Percentages for Predicted Probabilities for Statistically Significant Variables in Model 2 Table 1 Minimum Distance Balance of capabilities Joint ethnicity Leader similarity Joint Islam S score 3.77 0.5 0 0 0.047 0.05 Maximum 8.28 0.995 1 1 0.995 1 Change in Predicted Probabilities (%) 44 2.90 1.60 4.80 1.90 1.50 % Change in Predicted Probabilities 99.70 81 69 68 493 375

Changes in predicted probabilities are calculated by holding all the variables at their mean (continuous) or median (dichotomous) values and varying one variable from its minimum to maximum value. The difference in the predicted probabilities is the change in predicted probabilities. The % change is calculated as (the predicted probability for the maximum-predicted probability for the minimum)/predicted probability for the minimum.

founding of Israel, its neighbors have denied its very existence. It was not until 1979 that an Arab state entered into diplomatic negotiations with Israel and even to this day, several Arab states have still not recognized Israels right to exist. What makes the ArabIsraeli conict so unique is that Israel unies the Arab world despite conicts between Arab states. Israels Jewish identity and the displacement of the Palestinian people created a situation where conict was highly likely between Israel and its Arab neighbors. As such, one critique of the ndings for the leaders religion variable is that this is capturing the hostile relationship between Israels Jewish leaders and the Arab states Islamic (either Sunni or Shiite) leaders. We examine this empirically by including a dichotomous variable, which is 1 if a dyad includes Israel and 0 otherwise. Model 2 in Table 3 displays these results. The Israel variable is positive and significant, indicating that dyads with Israel are more likely to experience an MID. The religious identity of a states leader variable is still statistically significant and the only variable to lose its significance is the S score.18 Another possible criticism of these ndings is that they are driven by the contentious Iran/Iraq relationship. Iran and Iraq have vied for power in the Middle East and have had disputes over shared borders leading to the brutal 19801988 Iran/Iraq war. Beyond their conictual relationship, Iran and Iraq share many of the features of the hypotheses, especially those relating to identity, making it possible that the relationship between identity and conict is mostly driven by the Iran/ Iraq dyad. To test this, we reran our results excluding the Iran/Iraq dyad (39 total cases). Model 3 in Table 3 displays these results. The results are the same, except that the alliance variable is significant and positive, indicating that allies are more likely to have disputes than other states. Similar to the S score nding, the alliance variable is more likely to be measuring the opportunity of interaction between two states rather than any sort of restraint against conict. Based on these results, it appears that religious identities do play a role in explaining the likelihood of conict in the Middle East, although in an unexpected way. First, contrary to a civilizational approach, this article nds that conict is likely to occur between jointly Islamic dyads. Second, the religion of a states leader, rather than the religion of the states population, inuences the likelihood of conict between two states. Finally, and not surprisingly, we nd that conict is more likely to occur when Israel is a member of a dyad in the Middle East. While we do nd strong support that Israel and its Arab (and predominantly Islamic) neighbors are more likely to engage in militarized disputes, jointly Islamic states are also
18

This model was also run excluding Israel, and the results are similar to model 1.

BRIAN LAI
TABLE 3. Probit Results for Sensitivity Tests on Model 1 Table 1 Model 2: Israel Variable Allies Trade dependence Distance Joint democracy S score Balance of capabilities U.S. ally Joint Islam Joint ethnicity Leader similarity Population similarity Minority protection Israel Peace years Spline 1 Spline 2 Spline 3 Constant 0.107 (0.203) 3.75 (6.94) 0.623nnn (0.074) 0.128 (0.311) 0.403 (0.344) 1.31nnn (0.424) 0.099 (0.175) 1.43nnn (0.259) 0.392nn (0.148) 0.458n (0.236) 0.003 (0.145) 0.215 (0.260) 1.10nnn (0.336) 0.349nnn (0.052) 0.006nnn (0.001) 0.004nnn (0.001) 0.0009nn (0.0003) 3.02nnn (0.616) N 4507, LL 592.21, w2 274.76nnn

33

Model 3: No IranIraq Dyads 0.337n (0.186) 2.85 (6.87) 0.580nnn (0.069) 0.042 (0.296) 0.270 (0.331) 1.07nn (0.442) 0.068 (0.162) 1.47nnn (0.263) 0.313n (0.146) 0.684nnn (0.212) 0.125 (0.145) 0.052 (0.299) 1.21nnn (0.321) 0.347nnn (0.055) 0.007nnn (0.001) 0.004nnn (0.001) 0.0009nn (0.0003) 2.64nn (0.599) N 4468, LL 558.23, w2 290.49nnn

po.05. po.01. nnn po.001. All significance tests are one-tailed. Robust standard errors are reported in parentheses.
n nn

highly likely to experience conict. This effect is not driven by simple primordial religious differences between the populations of Islamic states in the Middle East. Rather, its effect is because of the actions of states leaders and their use of sectarian differences. Leaders view religious identity as a tool to mobilize their domestic populace, especially against opposing leaders representing a different sectarian ideology.

Conclusion
This article investigated the role that religious identity plays in explaining interstate conict in the Middle East. Using data on the religious identity of Middle Eastern populations and leaders, we nd that religious identity plays a role in explaining conict. However, the effect of identity is found to operate differently than what has been argued in previous studies. First, While Islamic states in the Middle East are more likely to have conicts with Israel, they are also likely to have conicts among themselves. Unlike a simple primordial explanation of religious conict, we nd that sectarian differences were important through their inuence on a states leaders. Dyads whose state leaders exhibit religious differences are more likely to experience conict than dyads whose leaders have similar religions. State leaders may use religious differences to mobilize the public against an opposing religion, solidifying support for their own regime. Also, a state leader (A) facing an opposing leader (B) with a different religious background is likely to view this as potentially threatening, because of the ability of the opposing leader (B) to mobilize segments of state As population sharing the same religious background. Conict is one way to deal with this potential threat by creating a rally round the ag effect, in which a leader can highlight a different identity cleavage that favors her retention of power. Thus, religious identity alone does not explain intra-Islamic conict in the Middle East as much as the specific ways in which leaders perceive and manipulate identity.

34

Religion and Conict in the Middle East

This article provides the rst empirical examination of conict in the Middle East that examines multiple explanations for the effect of religious identity while also controlling for other conict-related explanations, such as the distance and power between two states. It also goes beyond the standard approach to examining religion as a source of conict in two ways. It examines intra-Islamic differences as well as the effects of domestic politics and identity on conict. This article provides a more rened approach to the study of identity and conict in international relations by considering differences within large religious groupings, as well as the effect that domestic politics has on identity and its role in provoking conict. Religion inuences the likelihood of militarized disputes in the Middle East, although its effect occurs more through the perceptions and actions of state leaders as opposed to primordial religious differences between groups. This nding also helps to bridge the gap between cultural and rational models of conict by specifying how they might relate to each other. Specifically, the religious identity of a states leader and population provide opportunities and constraints for that leader, while rational models determine how a leader will react to these opportunities and constraints. Thus, the combination of cultural and rational models can help us to better understand conict processes. Finally, these results demonstrate that religious differences like those found in Iraq do not necessarily lead to conict. Rather, they serve as a mobilization tool for elites who either feel threatened or simply seek to bolster their regimes legitimacy. Averting conict based on religious identity will require policymakers to address these elite incentives.

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