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Protest, Deterrence, and Escalation: The Strategic Calculus of Government Repression


  • Jan Henryk Pierskalla

    (Duke University, Durham, NC,


The theoretical literature on government repression has mostly taken a choice theoretic perspective, wherein either the protest group optimally chooses a protest tactic in response to government behavior or the government optimally chooses a repression strategy. This approach is insufficient for capturing the strategic nature of protest and repression. The theoretical shortcomings of this approach are reflected in contradictory empirical findings on the effects of repression on dissent. The article develops an extensive strategic game between the government and an opposition group that allows one to identify the conditions for successful deterrence or protest. Introducing incomplete information and a third-party threat additionally produces equilibria with repression and escalating violence. The model produces novel testable hypotheses that shed new light on the effect of repression on dissent, the likelihood of violence, and the possibility of a coup. Implications for the domestic democratic peace and “murder in the middle†hypothesis are drawn.

Suggested Citation

  • Jan Henryk Pierskalla, 2010. "Protest, Deterrence, and Escalation: The Strategic Calculus of Government Repression," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 54(1), pages 117-145, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jocore:v:54:y:2010:i:1:p:117-145

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    Cited by:

    1. Emily Hencken Ritter & Courtenay R. Conrad, 2016. "Human rights treaties and mobilized dissent against the state," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 11(4), pages 449-475, December.
    2. repec:spr:sochwe:v:49:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s00355-017-1067-3 is not listed on IDEAS

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    Repression; protest; game theory; deterrence;


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