Western Intervention and the Strategic Use of Emotion (Petersen)

Professor Roger Petersen is completing a major study entitled Understanding Western Intervention in the Twenty-First Century: Rationality, Fear, and Loathing in the Balkans. The goal of the study, conducted over eight years with multiple trips across the Balkans, is to understand how political entrepreneurs strategically use emotions within the contours and constraints of a specific setting:  Western intervention and opposition to it in the former Yugoslavia.  The success and failure of efforts to broker agreements between ethnic groups in conflict is the empirical focus of the book. 
The ambition of the project is to go beyond what happened in the Balkans and draw general insights that also apply to cases of intervention such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  Within the array of post-Cold War interventions in violent ethnic conflicts, interveners attempt to structure a cooperative “game” among warring groups.  At certain junctures, different actors use emotions to change the set of actors, reshape preferences, and alter the rules of this game.  Actors have a range of actions available to trigger emotions, including: violence against persons, desecration of religious sites, destruction of property, inflammatory propaganda, and public demonstrations.
This project treats emotion as a resource akin to guns and money.  In order to explain a pattern of provocations under intervention, social scientists need to develop hypotheses that consider both structural resources and constraints and the distribution of emotions on which political entrepreneurs might play.  If we can treat emotions as a resource, we may better understand the patterns, forms, and escalation of violence and thus why interventions often fail even despite a heavy foreign presence.

Related Publications:

Roger Petersen, Understanding Western Intervention in the Twenty-First Century: Rationality, Fear, and Loathing in the Balkans (currently under review)

Roger Petersen and Sarah Zukerman, “Revenge or Reconciliation: Theory and Method of Emotions in the Context of Colombia’s Peace Process,” International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), Forum for International Criminal and Humanitarian Law, 2009.

Roger Petersen and Evangelos Liaras, “Countering Fear in War: The Strategic Use of Emotion in Thucydides,” Journal of Military Ethics 5, no. 4 (2006): 317-333.


This project is managed by Dr. Roger Petersen, Associate Professor of Political Science