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Rebel capability and strategic violence against civilians


  • Reed M Wood

    (School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University,


This article explores the strategic motivations for insurgent violence against civilians. It argues that violence is a function of insurgent capacity and views violence and security as selective benefits that insurgents manipulate to encourage support. Weak insurgent groups facing collective action problems have an incentive to target civilians because they lack the capacity to provide sufficient benefits to entice loyalty. By contrast, stronger rebels can more easily offer a mix of selective incentives and selective repression to compel support. This relationship is conditioned by the counterinsurgency strategies employed by the government. Indiscriminate regime violence can effectively reduce the level of selective incentives necessary for insurgents to recruit support, thus reducing their reliance on violence as a mobilization tool. However, this relationship only holds when rebels are sufficiently capable of credibly providing security and other incentives to civilian supporters. These hypotheses are tested using data on one-sided violence from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program. The statistical analysis supports the hypothesis that comparatively capable insurgents kill fewer civilians than their weaker counterparts. The results also suggest a complex interaction between insurgent capability and government strategies in shaping insurgent violence. While weaker insurgents sharply escalate violence in the face of indiscriminate regime counterinsurgency tactics, stronger groups employ comparatively less violence against civilians as regime violence escalates.

Suggested Citation

  • Reed M Wood, 2010. "Rebel capability and strategic violence against civilians," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 47(5), pages 601-614, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:47:y:2010:i:5:p:601-614

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    Cited by:

    1. Crost, Benjamin & Duquennois, Claire & Felter, Joseph & Rees, Daniel I., 2015. "Climate Change, Agricultural Production and Civil Conflict: Evidence from the Philippines," IZA Discussion Papers 8965, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Anderton Charles H. & Carter John R., 2015. "A New Look at Weak State Conditions and Genocide Risk," Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 21(1), pages 1-36, January.
    3. Ruhe, Constantin, 2012. "Predicting atrocities. Statistically modeling violence against civilians during civil war," NEPS Working Papers 7/2012, Network of European Peace Scientists.
    4. Ore Koren, "undated". "Hunger Games: Food Security and Strategic Preemptive Conflict," HiCN Working Papers 253, Households in Conflict Network.
    5. Austin L. Wright, 2016. "Economic Shocks and Rebel," HiCN Working Papers 232, Households in Conflict Network.
    6. Yuri M. Zhukov & Charles H. Anderton & Jurgen Brauer, "undated". "On the Logistics of Violence," Working Paper 255276, Harvard University OpenScholar.
    7. Uih Ran Lee, 2015. "Hysteresis of targeting civilians in armed conflicts," Economics of Peace and Security Journal, EPS Publishing, vol. 10(2), pages 31-40, October.
    8. repec:eee:jeeman:v:88:y:2018:i:c:p:379-395 is not listed on IDEAS


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