The outbreak of civil war in Greece: Strategic leadership, brinkmanship, and deterrence failure

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Series Details No.2, 2012
Publication Date 2012
ISSN 1725-6755
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This article argues against two firmly-established ideas about the 1944 communist insurgency that led to the outbreak of civil war in postliberation Greece: (a) blame attribution to predominantly one actor, who, depending on each author’s ideological perspective, is either the Greek Communists or the British, and (b) outcome inevitability. Instead, the present analysis brings to the fore a set of no less than five distinct actors including, besides the original two, Prime Minister George Papandreou; Greece’s traditional political class; and the Greek monarch. Based primarily on the close reading of original documents, such as the personal accounts left behind by the protagonists of the civil war drama, and using causal inferences derived from counterfactual logic, this analysis shows that the Greek civil war would have been an inevitable outcome only if there were on the scene just two actors, the British and the Communists, directly confronting each other. Since however that was not the case, it is shown that Papandreou could have prevented civil war had he succeeded in both forging strategic alliances with the traditional political elites and embracing republicanism. His failure to implement either goal offers a novel interpretation of the Greek civil war, which also emphasizes the need for bringing leadership back into the study of civil war and other contentious politics phenomena. This is expected to foster our thinking about the dynamics leading to civil war outbreaks at the crucial meso-level, while also alerting us to the fact that civil wars are rarely inevitable and that they can be prevented by strategic leadership action.

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