The CSS Blog

Revisiting Rebellion: Why Women Participate in Armed Conflict

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Courtesy simon/flickr

This piece was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 2 August 2016.

What makes a person choose to support or fight for a non-state armed group (NSAG)? This is a question that social science scholars have been asking for years. Work from political science and international relations has crystallized around two overarching reasons why individuals participate in organized political violence. The first, stemming largely from work by Ted Gurr, deals with grievance. This notion predicts that rebellion is not solely a rational act, but that it also requires feelings of frustration, exclusion, and/or relative deprivation. Scholars building on this idea have usually operationalized this to mean a grievance centered on political, economic, ethnic, and/or religious factors. The second school of thought, based on rational choice and economic models, predicts that individuals will choose to join a rebellion only when there is a perceived personal benefit–like power, money, or loot.

As noted in my recent article in the Journal of Global Security Studies, prior works that look at “greed” and “grievance” as motivating factors have found that both of these explanations are at least partly right. However, these examinations have usually been undertaken with the assumption that the default recruitment pool is made up of men and boys. Recent work has challenged this assumption, showing that women have contributed to the majority of NSAGs active since 1990, that they have contributed to rebellions in about 60 countries, and that women are more likely to be present in groups that use terrorism to further their aims (here, here, and here). Given this new knowledge, previous research using male-focused economic indicators or surveys that over-sample men seems to only tell part of the story.

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The Polarizing Effect of Islamic State Aggression on the Global Jihadist Movement

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Courtesy wwwuppertal/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Combating Terrorism Center on 27 July 2016.

The Islamic State will struggle to hold onto the governments it builds and the territory it captures outside of Syria and Iraq because it antagonizes local jihadist competitors and powerful non-Muslim states. The Islamic State could soften its antagonism toward these entities for the sake of expediency, but then it would no longer be able to recruit followers as the uncompromising champion of the global jihadist ideal.

Since it announced its caliphate in the summer of 2014, the Islamic State has taken on 17 affiliates or “governorates” that operate in 12 countries outside of Syria and Iraq. Many of the governorates were preexisting jihadist groups or factions that joined the Islamic State because they identified with its antagonism toward local jihadist competitors and its unyielding animosity toward non-Muslim nations. Yet this hostility subsequently limits the group’s ability to build governments or take territory beyond the confines of Syria and Iraq. In most countries where the Islamic State has planted its flag, its aggression prompted powerful local jihadist rivals[a] or international foes to check its advances. The Islamic State could soften its antagonism to one or the other for the sake of convenience, but this would compromise its recruiting ability and tarnish its reputation as the uncompromising champion of the global jihadist ideal.

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Interview – Stacey Philbrick Yadav

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Courtesy Surian Soosay/Flickr

This interview transcript was originally published by the E-International Relations (E-IR) on 17 July 2016.

Stacey Philbrick Yadav is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges where she contributes to interdisciplinary programs in International Relations, Middle Eastern Studies, Developmental Studies, and Social Justice Studies. Her specialization is in the comparative politics of the Middle East. She currently serves on the board of the American Institute of Yemeni Studies, where she is involved in initiatives to link academic research to public policies. She has written widely on Yemeni and Lebanese politics over the past several years and published her book Islamists and the State: Legitimacy and Institutions in Yemen and Lebanon in 2013.

Where do you see the most significant research occurring in the political science of the Middle East?

I’m excited to see increasing attention to the intersection of the formal and the informal in analysis of Middle East politics. For a long time, it was rather “either/or,” but more recently there has been some great mapping of the ways in which informal political practices and discourses shape and are shaped by formal institutions and international agreements. The role of unprecedented mass mobilization during and after the 2011 uprisings was taken by some as evidence of the “irrelevance” of formal institutions, but on the contrary, careful scholarship on specific uprisings has shown the iterative relationship between the informal and the formal in creative and theoretically significant ways. Even before the uprisings, some scholars were doing this in critical political economy, but I see early lessons developed in that literature carried into analysis of social movements and other research traditions and it’s exciting.

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De-escalating South Sudan’s New Flare-up

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South Sudan Civil War, courtesy Surian Soosay/Flickr

This article was originally published by the International Crisis Group on 12 July 2016.

Violent clashes in the capital of South Sudan have soured the country’s fifth anniversary of independence. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians were killed in the four days after 7 July, including two Chinese peacekeepers. The confrontation threatens to destroy the fragile progress made toward implementing a 2015 peace agreement to end a two-year civil war. The deal had allowed some opposition soldiers back into the capital, Juba, and the clashes have been between them and units of the national army and presidential guard. The UN is protecting tens of thousands of civilians in its compounds around the city, one of which has been repeatedly hit.

In this Q&A, senior analyst for South Sudan, Casie Copeland, explains what is behind the fighting in Juba and what can help prevent the conflict spiralling out of control.

What triggered this recent spate of violence, and who is responsible?

The return to conflict was a growing danger, as Crisis Group noted in its 1 July statement on Preventing Renewed War in South Sudan. In the nine months that the ceasefire has been observed, forces have simply paused hostilities while remaining in close proximity: there has been no joint security oversight or move toward unification or demobilisation. This would have been an untenable status quo even if there had been political progress, which has not materialised.

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China’s Fishing Militia Is a Military Force in All But Name: It’s Time to Unmask Beijing’s Third Navy

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Courtesy of Frédéric Glorieux/flickr

This article was originally published by War is Boring on 9 July 2016.

As the South China Sea heats up, one of Beijing’s most important tools — its Maritime Militia or “Little Blue Men,” roughly equivalent at sea to Putin’s “Little Green Men” on land — offers it major rewards while threatening the United States and other potential opponents with major risks.

When the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague announces its rulings on the Philippines-initiated maritime legal case with China on July 12 — likely rejecting some key bases for excessive Chinese claims in the South China Sea — the Maritime Militia will offer a tempting tool for Beijing to try to teach Manila (and other neighbors) a lesson while frustrating American ability to calm troubled waters.

This major problem with significant strategic implications is crying out for greater attention, and effective response. Accordingly, this article puts China’s Maritime Militia under the spotlight to explain what it is, why it matters and what to do about it.

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