The Enemy of My Enemy: Rebel Group Strategies at the Onset of Civil Conflicts



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This dissertation seeks to explain the why some rebel groups target the state while others target fellow armed groups. Much of the literature focuses on features of the state to explain intrastate violence, but I propose to turn the spotlight onto groups themselves, specifically their organizational control structure and relative material capabilities. At the onset of a civil conflict, groups can 1) target the state, 2) target other groups, 3) engage in mixed targeting, or 4) engage in reactive/no targeting. I argue that organizational structure informs which groups are likely to view as their primary threat, while relative capabilities provide groups with agency in combat: those with high/symmetric capabilities have focus, while those with low capabilities are more opportunistic. Through an examination of five civil conflicts in post-Soviet and post-Communist countries and statistical modeling with a novel dataset, I demonstrate that these two variables in conjunction with one another map onto the varied configurations of group targeting.



Civil conflict, Civil war, Mixed methods, Nationalism, Post-Soviet, Rebel group