Restrained Insurgents: Why Competition Between Armed Groups Doesn’t Always Produce Outbidding (Fall 2023)




Berlin, Mark
Rangazas, Stephen

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Texas National Security Review



Contemporary civil wars frequently involve numerous armed groups. How do armed groups compete with rival organizations for popular support? Existing research posits that militant organizations operating in the same conflict will often compete for support by outbidding rivals with escalatory acts of violence. However, evidence from various conflicts suggests that armed groups often forgo violent escalation in competitive environments, presenting themselves as more moderate alternatives to the local population. Armed groups may strategically limit, rather than escalate, their levels of violence during competition to differentiate themselves from rivals. In doing so, they can carve out a niche of support that differs from that of their rivals and avoid the negative backlash that may result from violent escalation. In order to advertise their relative moderation, armed groups may restrict the lethality of violence against civilians and moderate their rhetoric. Examining these arguments, we utilize Arabic- language primary sources and event-level data to analyze competition between prominent jihadist groups in Algeria (1998–2004) and Yemen (2015–2021).

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