Belgin San-Akca, Ph.D.

Koc University

Phone: 2123381377

Address: Koc Universitesi Iktisadi ve Idari Bilimler Fakultesi Rumeli Feneri Yolu Garipce Sariyer

City: Istanbul - 34450

Country: Turkey

About Me:

Belgin San-Akca is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Department of International Relations in Koc University. She received her Ph.D. from University of California, Davis in 2009 and was a visiting scholar at the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard University in 2011. Her research focuses on international security, transnational dimensions of domestic conflict, terrorism and non-state armed groups, and the Middle East conflict. Before coming to Koç University, she worked as a research assistant and consultant for various projects and taught classes at University of California, Davis and Berkeley. She is the recipient of a Marie Curie Reintegration Grant (2011-2015), the Turkish Academy of Sciences Award for Outstanding Young Scientists (2016-2018), and Science Academy Outstanding Young Scientist Award (2017-2018). She served as an at-large representative at the International Studies Association’s Governing Council (2017-2018) and a member of the Correlates of War (COW) Project Advisory Board (2017-2019). Currently, she is an associate editor of Conflict Management and Peace Science, serves at the editorial board of International Interactions and the treasurer of the Scientific Study of International Processes Section (SSIP) of International Studies Association. Her publications appeared at International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Strategic Studies, Journal of Conflict Resolution, and Journal of Peace Research. Her book, States in Disguise: Causes of State Support for Rebel Groups, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

Research Interests

Conflict Processes & War


Military Intervention

Political Violence

Middle East & North African Politics

My Research:

Belgin San-Akca studies civil wars and the interactions between states and armed groups. She investigates the causes behind onset of conflict and third-party support of armed groups. She has a dataset on foreign state support of armed groups since 1946. Among her specific research interests, she works on Middle East Conflict, the governance structures armed groups develop and relations between civilians and armed rebel groups. Her research has implications for the causes, duration and outcome of ethnic conflict, civil war and terrorism.


Journal Articles:

(2014) Democracy and Vulnerability: An Exploitation Theory of Democracies by Terrorists, sage

Tags: Terrorism, Political Violence

The research on the influence of democracy on terrorism renders support for two causal mechanisms. One is that democracy reduces terrorism because it creates an environment in which dissenters can pursue their interests through peaceful means. The other argument states that democracy encourages terrorism due to the intrinsic liberties and freedoms that provide an opportunity for terrorists to easily organize, recruit, and mount operations. This article contributes to this second line of thought by framing support for rebel groups as one of the contexts in which democracy’s influence on terrorism is examined. I identify a theoretical mechanism about how democratic states unknowingly facilitate terrorism by letting terrorists freely stay within their borders, raise funds, smuggle arms, and operate offices. The empirical findings provide support for the hypothesis that democracies are vulnerable and can easily be exploited by terrorists since they have an environment conducive to terrorist activities.

(2012) Rivalry and State Support of Non-State Armed Groups (NAGs), 1946–2001, Oxford University Press

Tags: Conflict Processes & War, Military Intervention

This study examines the conditions under which states engaged in strategic rivalries choose to support Non-state Armed Groups (NAGs) that target their rivals. NAGs include ethnic or religious insurgents, guerilla organizations, and terrorists. We develop a rational choice model of state support for NAGs. We focus on state support of NAGs as cooperation between states and NAGs emerging out of a mutual and purposive decision-making process. The model suggests that decisions of states to support NAGs targeting a rival are affected by dissatisfaction with the status quo and the expected risk of retaliation. Rivalries create opportunities for NAGs that operate against one of the rivals, allowing them to acquire resources to sustain their operations. The presence of rivalry increases the likelihood of state-NAG cooperation. In turn, state-NAG cooperation increases the likelihood of rivalry escalation. We test the propositions of the model using an original data set that includes observations for 175 NAGs and 83 state supporters in the post-WWII period. We find consistent support for our propositions. We discuss the implications of these results for the theory and practice of international relations.

(2009) Supporting Non-State Armed Groups: A Resort to Illegality?, Taylor & Francis online

Tags: Terrorism, Military Intervention, Conflict Processes & War

States have suffered equally, if not more, from violence generated by Non-state Armed Groups (NAGs), such as ethnic and religious insurgencies and terrorists, than violence directly generated by their counterparts. This does not undermine the fact that states occasionally provide support to these groups in the form of safe havens, weapons, and funding. This paper argues that state support is a function of the states’ vulnerability in extracting and mobilizing resources to secure their borders. In contrast to the conception that weak or failed states provide the largest pool of resources to NAGs, the relatively strong states still prevail as their most fervent supporters. The preliminary evidence also suggests that NAGs serve as substitutes for allies.

Books Written:

(2016) States in disguise: causes of state support for rebel groups, Oxford University Press

Tags: Conflict Processes & War, Terrorism, Political Violence

There is a long history of state governments providing support to nonstate armed groups fighting battles in other countries. Examples include Syria's aid to Hamas, Ecuador's support for FARC, and Libya's donation of arms to the IRA. What motivates states to do this? And why would rebel groups align themselves with these states? In States in Disguise, Belgin San-Akca builds a rigorous theoretical framework within which to study the complex and fluid network of relationships between states and rebel groups, including ethnic and religious insurgents, revolutionary groups, and terrorists. She proves that patterns of alliances between armed rebels and modern states are hardly coincidental, but the result of systematic and strategic choices made by both states and rebel groups. San-Akca demonstrates that these alliances are the result of shared conflictual, material and ideational interests, and her theory shows how to understand these ties via the domestic and international environment. Drawing from an original data set of 455 groups, their target states, and supporters over a span of more than sixty years, she explains that states are most likely to support rebel groups when they are confronted with internal and external threats simultaneously, while rebels select strong states and democracies when seeking outside support. She also shows that states and rebels look to align with one another when they share ethnic, religious and ideological ties. Through its broad chronological sweep, States in Disguise reveals how and why the phenomenon of state and rebel group alliances has evolved over time.

Book Chapters:

(2017) States and Nonstate Armed Groups (NAGs) in International Relations Theory, Oxford Research Encyclopedia

Tags: Conflict Processes & War, Military Intervention

The international arena has been plagued with violence committed by a variety of Nonstate Armed Groups (NAGs), including ethnic and religious insurgents, terrorists, and revolutionaries, which threaten not only the states they target but also the entire world’s stability and security. An intriguing observation related to armed groups is their ability to attract outside state supporters. Indeed, almost half of all groups that emerged in the post-World War II period received some form of backing from states including but not limited to funds, arms, and safe havens. In this respect, it is possible to draw parallels between interstate alliances and state–group alliances. The major International Relations theories—realism, liberalism, and constructivism—have significant insights to offer in explaining the origin and evolution of state–rebel group alliances. These insights are empirically tested using new data on outside state support of rebel groups that emerged in the post–1945 period. Two forms of alliances exist between states and groups: strategic or instrumental and principled or ideational. A strategic alliance occurs if a state supports a group fighting against its enemy or rival, so security-related concerns and common threat motivate a given alliance. An ideational or principled alliance occurs if a state supports an ideationally contiguous armed group with which it has ethnic, religious, and/or ideological ties. Whether there is a strategic or principled alliance between armed groups and their state supporters has implications for the onset, course and termination of non-state violence in world politics. The empirical findings using large-N statistical analysis show that (1) states form alliances with rebel groups in both the absence and presence of interstate hostilities; (2) states form alliances with ideationally contiguous rebel groups, that is, groups that have common ethnic, religious, and ideological ties to states’ population and/or a group of people in its society; (3) democratic states do not ally with rebels, which fight against other democratic states; and (4) states, in general, are less likely to support rebels, which fight against ideationally contiguous states. Socialism emerges as a unifying ideology contributing to a high degree of solidarity both among states and between states and armed groups. The empirical findings imply that the perceived motivation of state supporters by armed groups; whether states support rebels due to strategic or ideational concerns, should have some influence on armed groups’ level of lethality, duration, and attitude toward civilians and governments they fight against. Only a fully developed research agenda offering empirically informed theoretical insights can address these questions by facilitating future venues of research on the origin and evolution of state–NAG alliances.

(2014) Causes and consequences of unbalanced relations in the international politics of the Middle East, 1946–2010, Taylor & Francis

Tags: Middle East & North African Politics, Conflict Processes & War

Introduction In 1970, Syria and Jordan had a defense pact as part of their Arab League membership. They had a common enemy in Israel. Since 1967, these two countries were engaged in a low-level, but quite intense conflict with Israel. Both also supported several Palestinian organizations fighting Israel. However, in September of that year, a civil war broke out in Jordan between the Palestinian organizations and the Hashemite regime. Syria’s President, Salah Jadid sent in an armored column into Jordan to help the Palestinians. This invasion was quickly defeated, but not before Israel — the common enemy of both — advanced its troops to the Jordanian border, threatening to intervene against the Syrians.

Media Appearances:

TV Appearances:

(2017) CNN Turk

Turkish-European Relations and Counterterrorism

(2016) CNN Turk

Syrian Conflict and Counterterrorism