UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend : a theory of rebel alliance patterns in civil war Moncrief, Stephen Edward


Civil wars are rarely two-player affairs. Indeed, civil wars often feature several distinct rebel organizations contesting an incumbent’s territorial control, and while it would seem efficient for these rebel groups to ally with one another against the incumbent, the opposite occurs with surprising frequency: distinct rebel groups regularly fight one another even as they fight the same incumbent. I offer a simple theory that aims to explain why insurgent groups fighting the same incumbent will ally in some instances, but not in others. I argue that when an incumbent boasts military capability sufficient to credibly threaten the elimination of the opposition, rebel groups will be more likely to ally with each other in order to avoid destruction. However, when rebel groups do not fear elimination, they are less likely to ally and more likely to fight amongst themselves, even as they continue their campaigns against the incumbent. There are two reasons that these groups will fight each other: (1) in order to decrease the number of potential bargaining partners for the incumbent or a key sector of the civilian population, and (2) to avoid being disadvantaged when it comes time to divide valuable war spoils, especially when those spoils are won by supplanting the incumbent. I demonstrate the empirical plausibility of this theory with three well-documented cases, and conclude with suggestions for future research on the topic of internecine targeting between rebel groups.

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