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Group Cohesion and Peace Processes

Image courtesy of Cristian Santinon/Flickr. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on 12 September 2017.

Summary

  • Weak cohesion within nonstate armed groups can—and has often threatened to—under­mine negotiated transitions away from conflict.
  • Cohesion is measured along two axes: vertical (degree of command and control over cadres) and horizontal (degree of unity among leaders).
  • Challenges are typically related to negotiating partners who have little credibility, nego­tiating positions that are either unclear or incoherent, factions within groups that oppose the peace process, and splintering within groups.

Introduction

Weak cohesion within nonstate armed groups (NSAGs) has often threatened to undermine negoti­ated transitions from conflict.[1] This can have an impact at any time—when parties are deciding on whether to join a process, during negotiation of peace agreements, and into implementation.

Cohesion can generally be measured along two axes: vertical (command and control over cadres) and horizontal (unity among leaders). Vertical cohesion is weak when leaders cannot control their fighters, and strong when they can. Horizontal cohesion is weak when leadership includes competing and disjointed factions, and strong when leaders have consensus over goals and are coordinated in action. Weak cohesion manifests in various combinations along these axes and is often a blend of the two.[2]

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A Wary Farewell to Arms for the FARC

Courtesy of bixentro/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the International Crisis Group (ICG) on 9 March 2017.

When Colombians streamed to the polls four months ago to vote in a plebiscite to accept or reject a peace agreement with the country’s leading guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), opinion polls predicted a resounding victory for the accord. Many citizens and internationals expected that the world’s second longest continuous armed conflict and one of its oldest Marxist insurgencies would soon become an historical relic.

In Havana, the FARC leadership and its negotiating team sat with journalists to watch the votes come in. Once the result was announced – the accord was rejected by less than one-half of 1 per cent – the guerrilla group retired to a private meeting at which its leaders decided the loss was only a temporary setback. “The FARC-EP maintains its will to find peace”, declared FARC leader Timochenko that same day, “and reiterates its willingness to use words as the only weapon to build a [new] future”.

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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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Mediation Perspectives: Spoiler Alert – How Governments Can Undermine Peace Agreements

Pacman figure made with 9mm Parabellum cartridges about to eat the peace sign. Courtesy of Ragnar Jensen/flickr

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.

Most armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War have been civil wars. In contrast to wars between states, civil wars last longer – on average for seven to ten years – and usually end in some kind of settlement. Such settlements can result in mere ceasefires or, in more ideal cases, power-sharing agreements and genuine attempts to deal with the root causes of conflict. Yet one in two civil war settlements fail and violence reoccurs. Today’s blog provides one explanation for why this rate is so staggeringly high – the ‘spoiler’ role played by governments.

In most cases, peace deals in civil wars are signed when warring parties are weak, particularly the government. Military stalemate, exhaustion, and external pressure may encourage belligerents to settle at the negotiating table. Under such circumstances, a settlement is likely to be a compromise that still threatens some actors’ power, worldview and interests. As a result, they may try to undermine or ‘spoil’ the agreement in a way that allows them to reap the benefits they consider favorable, while not paying its designated price. The benefits may include retaining state power, gaining international or domestic recognition for committing to peace, continued exploitation of resources, and maintaining patronage networks, among many others.

Given these benefits, the underlying reasons why peace deals aren’t complied with are thus plentiful. Yet the media, as well as academia and its ‘spoiler theory’, all too often focus on the violent breaches of a peace and attribute blame to the rebel group. But since being a ‘spoiler’ works both ways, we’re left with a glaring question: How do governments impede or violate peace agreements and what non-violent means do they employ towards that end?

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Syria 90-Day Forecast: The Assad Regime and Allies in Northern Syria

Destruction in Baba Amr, Homs, Syria, courtesy Freedom House/flickr

This forecast was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 24 February 2016.

The expanded interventions of Russia and Iran into the Syrian Civil War have shifted the trajectory of the conflict in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, granting him the strongest position on the battlefield as of February 24, 2016. Regime forces bolstered by Iranian ground troops and Russian air support have achieved major gains against both the Syrian armed opposition and ISIS in Northern Syria since September 2015, marking a fundamental shift in battlefield momentum following a compounding series of regime losses in the first half of 2015. President Assad now sits within reach of several of his military objectives, including the encirclement and isolation of Aleppo City and the establishment of a secure defensive perimeter along the Syrian Coast.[1] The regime and its allies will likely retain their battlefield gains if there is no intervention by the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the UAE. Russian campaign designers have clearly planned the ongoing operations in northern Syria, introducing to the Syrian battlefield signature Russian doctrinal concepts such as frontal aviation, cauldron battles, and multiple simultaneous and successive operations. These have made the joint Syrian-Russian-Iranian military operations more effective for a longer duration than previous operations. The offensive operations conducted by the regime and its allies may nevertheless culminate over the 90-day timeframe, as pro-regime forces attempt to advance deeper into core opposition-held terrain and take high casualties. Regular reinforcement of ground capabilities by Iran and Russia will therefore remain necessary over the next three months in order to maintain this level of momentum in the face of continued manpower shortages, attrition, and opposition military actions designed to slow and divert the campaign.

Although an uncontrolled collapse of the Syrian regime seemed feasible in June 2015,[2] Russia’s intervention into the Syrian Civil War has ultimately reset the military balance in Syria. ISW published its last forecast in September 2015 based upon six fundamental assumptions, one of which did not hold for the entirety of the forecasting period. The forecast assumed that Russia would maintain a defensive posture in Syria in order to prevent regime collapse rather than prioritize offensive operations.[3] This assumption remained true in the first few weeks after the start of the Russian air campaign on September 30, 2015. Russia later shifted its air campaign in mid-October 2015 in order to provide direct support to joint Iranian-Syrian counteroffensives on the ground. The aggressive operations undertaken by Russia and Iran in Syria have precluded many of the previously-forecasted courses of action by the regime, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusra, and ISIS.

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