Insurgent Effectiveness in Civil Wars: Evidence from Jordan and Syria

By Samuel Plapinger
Submitted to Session P5018 (Rebels and Insurgents: Recruitment, Effectiveness, and Support, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
All Middle East; Arab States; Jordan; Palestine; Syria;
19th-21st Centuries; Comparative; Conflict Resolution; Current Events; Middle East/Near East Studies; Peace Studies; Security Studies; Terrorism;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Why do some insurgent groups perform better than others in civil wars? The existing literature on combatant effectiveness, focusing as it does on ultimate conflict outcomes, tells us little about the diverse performances of non-state armed actors during a given conflict or their efficacy at lower levels of capacity. The paper fills this gap by developing a novel framework to measure and explain insurgent effectiveness. To measure effectiveness, I classify insurgencies into two possible stages (attrition or conventional), and rely on a series of indicators to capture differences in performance within each stage. To explain effectiveness, I argue that the relative rigor of insurgent recruitment practices shapes a group’s capacity to execute the key tasks of insurgency (combat motivation, maintaining discipline, and decentralizing military command) and, ultimately, its ability to wage war. Groups that select, induct, train, and socialize recruits in a consistent and comprehensive manner throughout their areas of operation have what I call robust recruitment practices, and are better able to execute the three key tasks and perform effectively in combat. To test this argument and establish its internal validity, I conduct micro-comparative case studies of insurgent group performance in the Jordanian Civil War (1968-1971), drawing on 105 interviews conducted in Arabic with former Jordanian military/intelligence/government officials and ex-insurgent commanders and fighters from the conflict along with archival research in Jordan, Lebanon, and the United States. As an external validity check, I examine select armed groups in the ongoing conflict in Syria using English- and Arabic-language policy analyses, NGO/IO reports, and media sources. The paper’s findings contribute to both civil wars scholarship and the literatures on military effectiveness and violent non-state actors, while also providing the first disaggregated study of the Jordanian Civil War existing in English or Arabic and a deeper understanding of how armed groups pursue combat at the organizational level in both past and current conflicts.