Author Biography

Kilic Bugra Kanat, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Penn State, Erie and Research Fellow at SETA Foundation, Washington, D.C.



Subject Area Keywords

Diplomacy, Foreign policy, Iraq, Middle East, War studies


The diversionary theory of war has been considered one of the most contested theories that link domestic and external conflicts. Thus far scholarship in this field has focused on one-time single diversionary attacks, which led to the temporary deflection of attention from domestic problems to external ones. This study intends to bring revisions to the assumptions in the center of diversionary theory and demonstrate these through a well-known but underutilized case. This article intends to show that leaders have not one single option but rather a repertoire of different foreign policy actions in their possession to divert the attention of domestic public. In addition to the use of force, leaders can also use the threat to use force and other less violent means to create a rally round the flag effect. Secondly, this study will show that, unlike the presumptions of the previous studies, leaders can use multiple different diversionary strategies within a short period of time if the initial diversionary action does not create intended outcomes and if they are still willing to use externalization to boost his approval rating and divert public attention from present problems. These two contributions to the theory will be demonstrated in the case of Saddam Hussein’s attacks to Kuwait and Israel during the first Gulf War.