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Article

Considering incidents that make headline news internationally, given the modern information and communication technology revolution, the facility of citizens to rapidly mobilize represents a considerable threat to autocratic survival. While the speed with which popular movements emerge has increased exponentially, and the news of their existence spreads faster and farther, civil unrest has threatened the stability and survival of dictators for centuries. The paranoia and machinations of dictators depicted in films, such as the portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, while sensationalized, capture the astounding array of threats with which unelected leaders must concern themselves. On the one hand, they must worry about insider threats to their standing, such as conspiratorial plots from people within the dictator’s own circle or mutiny among government soldiers. On the other hand, dictators also must monitor threats originating from non-regime actors, such as new alliances forming among once-fragmented opposition groups or the possibility of sustained insurgency or a popular revolution. From force to finesse, autocratic leaders have developed a broad and evolving range of tactics and tools to diminish both internal and external domestic threats to their reign. The success of dictators’ endeavors to insulate their regimes from forces that might challenge them depends on accurate and reliable information, a resource that can be as valuable to the leader as would a large armory and loyal soldiers. Dictators invest significant resources (monetary as well as human capital) to try to gather useful information about their existing and potential opponents, while also trying to control and shape information emitted by the regime before it reaches the public. New information and communication technologies (ICTs), which have drawn a great deal of scholarly attention since the beginning of the 21st century—present both risks and rewards for dictators; inversely they also create new opportunities and hazards for citizens who might utilize them to mobilize people opposed to the regime. While civil unrest could encompass the full range of domestic, nonmilitary actors, there also needs to be a specific focus on various forms of mass mobilization. Historically, more dictators have been forced from office by elite-initiated overthrows via coups d’état than have fallen to revolution or fled amid street protests. Civil unrest, in its many forms, can affect autocratic survival or precipitate regime breakdown. While mass-based revolutions have been a relatively rare phenomenon to date, the actions of many 21st-century dictators indicate that they increasingly concern themselves with the threats posed by popular protests and fear its potential for triggering broader antigovernment campaigns. The ease of access to information (or the lack thereof) help explain interactions between authoritarian regimes and citizens emphasizes. The role of information in popular antigovernment mobilization has evolved and changed how dictators gather and utilize information to prevent or counter civil unrest that might jeopardize their own survival as well as that of the regime.

Article

Niklas Swanström and Christina Wenngren

Transnational organized crime is part and parcel of the modern, globalized economy. The black market has irrefutable influence over both economic and political structures. It corrodes, corrupts, and coopts the institutions with which it comes into contact. Features that arise as a side effect of organized criminal activity also impact economic, social, and political developments. Isolated approaches aimed at counteracting criminal networks have proved ineffective, necessitating a fresh perspective on foreign policy-based solutions. A central difficulty of researching organized crime is the opaque nature of criminal networks, whose members prefer to operate in the shadows. The underworld does not owe accountability to any outsiders, nor do crime syndicates generally file tax returns. International bodies like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are forced to rely on the reports of member states, which are often subject to distortion. This makes accurate assessment of the extent and impact of organized crime difficult, to say the least. Part of what makes the black market difficult to combat is the malleable approach of criminal networks. They employ a variety of strategies to pursue their illicit activity and will quickly adapt to the given strength or weakness of their host state. These strategies manifest themselves as either evasion, confrontation, or infiltration of state institutions. All of these strategies undermine legitimate sociopolitical structures, making it imperative to implement effective foreign policy initiatives that fight the trade as a whole.

Article

Contemporary civil conflicts frequently impose disproportionate costs of civilian populations. By some estimates, roughly 90% of conflict causalities were combatants in the wars of the early 20th century, but by the end of the century nearly 90% of causalities were civilians. While scholars have spent decades examining phenomena such as genocide and terrorism, they have only recently begun to systematically examine the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to the more general occurrence of civilian victimization during intra-state armed conflict. What is civilian victimization, and how does it differ from other forms of political violence? Is it possible to differentiate between “collateral damage” and intentional civilian targeting during civil conflicts? While virtually all conflicts impose significant costs on civilians, those costs vary tremendously across armed conflicts. Moreover, while collateral damage is an unfortunately common feature of warfare, violence perpetrated against civilians often includes massacres, bombings of civilian targets with negligible military value, summary executions, ethnic cleansing, and other forms of intentional attacks on noncombatants. Yet, these practices are comparatively more common during some wars, in some areas, or by some groups. This variation suggests that while all internal conflicts are violent, certain characteristics of actors, the conflict spaces, and/or the patterns of interactions between rebels, the government they challenge, and civilians within the conflict zone explain why some conflicts produce greater levels of abuse against civilians than do others. Do similar factors explain both government-sponsored civilian victimization and violence committed by non-state actors during civil conflict? A cursory review of available data clearly demonstrates that both state and non-state forces often engage in high levels of civilian victimization. In general, the existing evidences suggest that the motives for state and non-state actor violence are similar. However, key differences in the nature of institutional and organizational arrangements suggest that rebels and governments experience different types of constraints on their ability to act on their motives. How can the international community effectively respond in order to reduce the severity of civilian victimization in ongoing conflicts? This important policy question has produced a range of conflicting answers; however, the most recent scholarship on the topic suggests that both United Nations peacekeeping operations—particularly when they include a strong mandate for civilian protection and a robust military force—and international condemnation (“naming and shaming”) can effectively reduce the magnitude of intentional violence against civilians.

Article

Paul Nugent

African borders, which mostly follow the contours of the former colonies, are widely regarded as artificial and yet have enjoyed remarkable longevity. On the one hand, there have been relatively few serious secessionist and/or irredentist bids. On the other hand, a limited number of border disputes have been settled and mostly without recourse to conflict. This is often attributed to the willingness of states to accept the principle of the intangibility of borders inherited from colonialism and the associated legal principle of uti possidetis. Most claims to secession are based on a preexisting sense of territoriality, whereas there are relatively few that are premised on the rights of peoples to self-determination. It has been pointed out that claims to secession are often tabled as a bargaining position rather than as a nonnegotiable demand. However, the secession of South Sudan has created a genuine precedent, and there has been an upsurge of secessionist movements that reflects this reality. In addition, there has been a proliferation of fresh border disputes, which reflects the increased competition for valuable resources such as oil. This would suggest that some of the landscape of border politics is undergoing a shift. However, a number of factors continue to work in favor of the reproduction of existing borders. Paradoxically, the fact that guerrilla insurgencies tend to breed in borderlands, from where movements either aspire to take over the existing state or seek to carve out zones of de facto control, means that the borders themselves are not challenged. War economies depend on transboundary flows in which local populations themselves are deeply invested. Moreover, the flight of displaced populations and refugees toward borders may create greater insecurity at the margins but also tends to reinforce borders in both a legal and a practical sense. Finally, the struggle to determine the basis on which trade and transport is managed involves associational actors operating at the national level. Equally, fishermen, herders, farmers, and other local actors frequently invoke national affiliations to justify their own right to exploit resources within border zones. At the border itself, one observes a convergence of international, national, and local political scales in a particularly striking manner.

Article

Although the Boko Haram crisis started like other riots before it and was initially treated as such, its escalation and metamorphosis from ordinary religious protest to insurgency has given an air of notoriety and fatality to it in Nigeria and across the borders of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Despite being similar in orientation, philosophy, and modus operandi to the Maitatsine religious crises of 1980 to 1985 in Nigeria, the Boko Haram crisis is clearly marked out by its more virulent nature, its sophistication, the wider global attention it has attracted, its festering nature, and more significantly the seeming inability to bring it under control. Presented here are the views and perspectives of scholars on the origin and growth of the Boko Haram phenomenon in Nigeria, its philosophy and ideology, its strategies and tactics, and its progression from common religious crisis and eventual metamorphosis to insurgency. The highly volatile religious background from which the sect emerged and the central role played by Mohammed Yusuf in its nurturing and growth are discussed. Also discussed are the impact of Salafism and the writings of Ibn Taymiyya, among others, on the sect and the motivation it derives from the global jihad movement. The article examines and appraises the Nigerian government approach in seeking to contain the group and situate it in the context of the African states and global coalition against terror and discusses why the central government has struggled to firmly contain the group. The central role played by Mohammed Yusuf in the evolution and growth of the sect is brought out in the first part of the article. Pertinent was the influence of individuals and groups on Yusuf’s beliefs and activities aided by his demagoguery. His group’s abhorrence of Western education and lifestyle as well as rejection of democracy as a form of government and justification of violence, aided by Salafist thoughts and writings, form the kernel of the next section on philosophy and ideology. The third section, on transformation and changing strategies, discusses the factors in the escalation of the crisis, its various manifestations, and the growing global link of the sect resulting from its brutal suppression in 2009. The various measures devised to contain the sect and its effectiveness or otherwise are presented. A final section discusses the efforts made by the group to integrate itself into the global jihad movement as well as government response, particularly at the regional level, to defeat it.

Article

El Salvador experienced five decades of direct military rule from 1931 through 1982, followed by a semi-authoritarian phase from 1982 to 1992 during which elected civilians ostensibly governed while the military retained veto power and impunity. Twelve years of civil war produced significant political change, and a 1992 peace settlement finally brought constitutional and institutional reforms that curbed the military’s political power. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the armed forces had a somewhat informal structure, and while coups d’état occurred periodically, the military was more the tool of powerful individuals than the source of their power. An uncompetitive electoral system in the early 20th century broke down in 1931 after a combination of political reforms and financial crisis undermined civilian authority, and a coup enabled the minister of defense to seize power. Shortly thereafter, the fledgling military government suppressed a peasant uprising with extreme violence, thereby consolidating its own position and discouraging challenges from oligarchic elites. Initially military rule was personalistic, with power vested in General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, but in the 1940s this transitioned to a more institutional system in which the officer corps collectively shaped the broad outlines of how the country would be governed and prevented any one leader from dominating. For over 30 years the institutional military government sought to achieve a degree of legitimacy through controlled elections, repressed opposition when it grew too strong, promoted economic growth, and implemented mild social reforms that always stopped short of challenging oligarchic interests. The military’s strategy failed to resolve severe social and political tensions that arose from the country’s highly unequal distribution of land and income. The military faced popular demands for access to land and adequate wages, while the agrarian elite resisted any reform. Factional strife broke out regularly within the military over whether to rely mainly on repression to contain social and political demands, or to break with the oligarchy and deliver deeper reforms. The result was an inconsistent policy that occasionally created political space for opposition and then violently closed it. By the late 1970s there were massive protests and the beginnings of armed insurgency. Outright civil war began in 1980, and the country began a partial transition to civilian rule in 1982. Despite ample help from the United States, the military failed to defeat the insurgents. In 1990, the conservative elected civilian government began negotiating with the insurgents, leading to accords that definitively excluded the military from political power. After 1992 the country struggled with a sluggish economy and pervasive crime, and questions remained about past human rights crimes. The political system was genuinely democratic, featuring unrestricted debate and a wide range of political ideologies. The military remained largely subordinate to civil authority under governments of both the right and the left. Yet legacies of authoritarianism persisted, and in 2020 a populist elected civilian president called on the military for political support and used it to detain people unlawfully during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Article

Philip G. Roeder

National secession seeks to create a new sovereign state for a nation residing on its homeland that is currently located inside another sovereign state. This goal distinguishes national secession from regional secession, autonomy, and decolonization and shapes the strategies, operational objectives, and tactical choices of the leaders of national-secession campaigns. Explanations for the success of some campaigns—particularly, success at getting on the global agenda—have focused on the identities, grievances, or greed of their members. Explanations for why some campaigns have turned to protracted intense violence have focused on these motivations and on tactical-logistical opportunities. The existing literature suffers from its failure to agree on theoretical and conceptual fundamentals. As a consequence, empirical studies focus on very different universes of cases and operationalize key variables in diverging ways. The existing literature frequently does not consider how the goal of national secession constrains the strategies, operations, and tactics of such campaigns. And so, it often fails to consider whether studies with another dependent variable can be extended to the study of national secession. Explanations stress indeterminate or substitutable causes and remote constraints on most national-secession campaigns—causes and constraints taken “off the shelf” from theories about conflicts operating under very different strategic and operational constraints. Missing from these explanations is the authenticity and realism of the programs for national secession in the assessments of the populations that each program presents as a nation with a right to a sovereign state of its own. Explanations and recommendations for responses by common-state governments, their allies, and the international community often fail to understand the centrality of the war of programs between national secessionists and common-state governments and the ways this constrains what compromises are possible and what responses are most likely to lead to domestic and international peace in such conflicts.

Article

Jun Koga Sudduth

Political leaders face threats to their power from within and outside the regime. Leaders can be removed via a coup d’état undertaken by militaries that are part of the state apparatus. At the same time, leaders can lose power when they confront excluded opposition groups in civil wars. The difficulty for leaders, though, is that efforts to address one threat might leave them vulnerable to the other threat due to the role of the military as an institution of violence capable of exercising coercive power. On one hand, leaders need to protect their regimes from rebels by maintaining strong militaries. Yet, militaries that are strong enough to prevail against rebel forces are also strong enough to execute a coup successfully. On the other hand, leaders who cope with coup threats by weakening their militaries’ capabilities to organize a coup also diminish the very capabilities that they need to defeat their rebel challengers. This unfortunate trade-off between protection by the military and protection from the military has been the long-standing theme in studies of civil-military relations and coup-proofing. Though most research on this subject has focused primarily on rulers’ maneuvers to balance the threats posed by the military and the threats coming from foreign adversaries, more recent scholarship has begun to explore how leaders’ efforts to cope with coup threats will influence the regime’s abilities to address the domestic threats coming from rebel groups, and vice versa. This new wave of research focuses on two related vectors. First, scholars address whether leaders who pursue coup-proofing strategies that weaken their militaries’ capabilities also increase the regime’s vulnerability to rebel threats and the future probability of civil war. Second, scholars examine how the magnitude of threats posed by rebel groups will determine leaders’ strategies toward the militaries, and how these strategies affect both the militaries’ influence over government policy and the future probability of coup onsets. These lines of research contribute to the conflict literature by examining the causal mechanisms through which civil conflict influences coup propensity and vice versa. The literatures on civil war and coups have developed independently without much consideration of each other, and systematic analyses of the linkage between them have only just began.

Article

The idea that civil war has to be feasible to occur, and that feasibility is largely a function of the availability of lootable income has gained wide acceptance in the specialized literature on civil war. A parallel debate exists on whether or not liberal, capitalist economies produce a lower risk of domestic conflict. A micro logic for why capitalist economies are less likely to break down in armed conflict is offered to bridge these two literatures. It argues that autarchic economic policies often associated with predatory states drive investment in the shadows for capturing rents from market-constraining policies. The survivability of groups is based on infrastructures of violence and escape rather than simply the availability of lootable income. Free-market economies are far less likely to generate investment in this form of rebellion-specific capital that ultimately facilitates an open challenge of predatory states. Such a view of conflict is able to reconcile why internal conflicts last long, how narratives of greed and grievance coexist in conflict zones, why dominant state forces fail to stamp out insurgency, and why autarchic states are highly militarized. Any theory focused on grabbing to explain the onset of conflict should endogenize the causes of survivability, which ultimately determines how many battle deaths get generated to meet the threshold for becoming a civil war.