Theses Doctoral

Rebel Organizations in Crackdown and Truce

Hanson, Kolby

In the past three decades, more than two dozen civil conflicts have ended in a long-term truce between the government and rebels. In these agreements, neither side disarms or makes any substantial concessions. Instead, rebel forces are permitted to recruit, fund themselves, and patrol territory without punishment so long as they leave government forces alone. Governments typically offer these agreements when they have few domestic or political interests in the conflict (as in remote separatist regions) or when they face short-run international pressure to reduce violence (as in high-profile conflicts).
What happens to rebel organizations when the government permits them to operate and recruit freely? Governments and scholars believe that forbearance benefits rebel organizations, allowing them to gather new funds and new members who will empower them on the battlefield and at the bargaining table. This book argues instead that these periods of truce undermine rebel organizations by changing the types of recruits they attract. Truces do indeed make life safer and easier for rebel soldiers, attracting an influx of new rebel recruits. But they also undermine a key screening process in rebel recruitment. Rebel leaders need rebel soldiers to sacrifice their own desires (safety, pleasure, and profit) for the movement’s goals (battlefield victory, territorial control, and bargaining credibility). The safety and material benefits of truce disproportionately attract selfish opportunists who are prone to desert, defect, and disobey in the long run. Constrained by recruitment competition and bureaucratic incapacity, rebel leaders struggle to screen or control these new soldiers. I lay out this argument in a formal model of rebel recruitment, competition, and screening, validated with dozens of interviews of current and former rebels in Northeast India and Sri Lanka.
I examine the effects of long-term truces on rebel organizations using three forms of evidence. First, I test how truces affect the behavior and motivations of rebel recruits with an innovative recruitment experiment in three separatist regions in Northeast India. By mimicking local rebel recruiting strategies in civic organizations and public gathering places, I gather nearly 400 likely rebel recruits. These recruits then evaluated randomly-generated hypothetical rebel groups, testing what factors make them more willing to join. The results shows that the safety and material benefits of truce disproportionately attract recruits who are less community-oriented, both in past behavior and self-assessments.
Second, I explore the broader impacts of these recruit-side motivations on rebel organizations with 76 in-depth case interviews in Northeast India and Sri Lanka. These interviewees include rebel leaders, current and former rebel soldiers, and civilians interacting with rebel groups. By comparing over time (before and after truce agreements) and between movements, I track how truces shape rebel recruitment and control.
Third, I construct an original worldwide dataset of civil conflict endings since 1946. This exercise shows just how common long-term truces are: since the end of the Cold War, more civil conflicts have ended in a truce than in a rebel victory or peace agreement. I also combine this data with existing conflict data, demonstrating that after a truce rebel groups are more likely to fragment, struggle in clashes with the government, and abuse civilians.
This book challenges several key assumptions that scholars and policymakers hold about conflict resolution, rebel organizations, and state development. By shining a light on the largely ignored phenomenon of long-term truces in civil conflicts, it demonstrates what happens when reducing violence does not resolve a conflict. With innovative experimental evidence of rebel recruits’ motivations, it shows how changing resources can shift the quantity and quality of recruits rebels attract. By tracking rebel organizations before and after truce, it shows how a government can more effectively undermine a rebel movement in the long run with forbearance than with violent crackdown.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Fortna, Virginia Page
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2019