Fighting the People, Fighting for the People: Insurgent Governance & Conflict Outcomes in China, Malaya and Vietnam

Opper, Marc, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Womack, Brantly, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Waldner, David, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Why are some insurgencies defeated by incumbents while others persist? In spite of their overwhelming superiority of resources and military power, incumbents often find it difficult to defeat insurgents. Irregular conflicts generally proceed according to the same script: incumbents advance into insurgent-held areas, insurgent’s armed forces flee or are promptly scattered by the overwhelming firepower of the incumbent, and insurgent administrators and supporters go underground. Unfortunately for incumbents, military victories do not translate into political victories. Incumbent forces, unable to identify insurgents and their supporters, return to the barracks. The insurgents then emerge from hiding and the cycle starts all over. Sometimes, however, this cycle is broken and insurgents are defeated.
I argue that the persistence of an insurgency is a joint function of insurgent’s governance strategy and its ability to control territory. I argue that when insurgents establish broad social coalitions, their movement will persist when they do not have control of territory because they enjoy the support of the civilian population and civilians will not defect to the incumbent. By contrast, when insurgents establish narrow coalitions, civilian compliance is a product of coercion and a defeat on the battlefield brings about and when insurgents cannot maintain exclusive control of territory, civilians will defect to the incumbent, bringing about a collapse of the insurgency.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Insurgency, Civil War, China
Issued Date: