Power vacuum

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In political science and political history, the term power vacuum is an analogy between a physical vacuum, to the political condition "when someone has lost control of something and no one has replaced them."[1] The situation can occur when a government has no identifiable central power or authority. The physical analogy suggests that in a power vacuum, other forces will tend to "rush in" to fill the vacuum as soon as it is created, perhaps in the form of an armed militia or insurgents, military coup, warlord or dictator.

During or following a civil war there is often a power vacuum of some sort. A power vacuum can also occur following a constitutional crisis in which large portions of the government resign or are removed, creating unclear issues regarding succession to positions of power.

Historical examples[edit]

Historic examples include the death of Alexander the Great, the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, and the decrease in power of Great Britain and France in the Middle East after the Suez Crisis.

Later examples[edit]

When in 2003 the United States led a coalition to oust Saddam Hussein in the Iraq War, the absence of an all-out Iraqi opposition force at war with government forces meant that once the Ba'ath Party was removed, no local figures were on hand to immediately assume the now-vacant administerial posts. For this reason, Paul Bremer was appointed by the United States government as the interim head of state to oversee the transition.[2]

In other western-led interventions such as in Kosovo (1999) and Libya (2011) where the pretext in each case was a humanitarian matter, there had been active opposition fighting on the ground to oust the relevant governments (in the case of Kosovo, this meant removal of state forces from the desired territory rather than ousting the government itself). Subsequently, successor entities were immediately effective in Libya and Kosovo.


  1. ^ http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/power-vacuum
  2. ^ Memo to Bremer from Office of General Counsel, CPA dated 22 May 2003http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/operation_and_plans/CPA_ORHA/Doc_128_CPA_Legal_Instruments.pdf. Retrieved February 28, 2014