The Political Economy of Counterinsurgency Violence

27 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 7 Oct 2009

Date Written: 2009


Classical counterinsurgency theory explains why discriminate counterinsurgency violence is effective, but does not convincingly explain why many counterinsurgents resort to indiscriminate violence and why it sometimes appears effective. Political scientists explain the motivation for indiscriminate counterinsurgency violence, but do not convincingly explain when it should be inefficient relative to discriminate violence. I formalize the model of insurgency found in the classical counterinsurgency literature to derive predictions over the discrimination of violence that the counterinsurgent uses. The theory explains when discriminate violence is more/less efficient from the counterinsurgent’s perspective and how enforcement behavior on the part of the rebels and population affects the counterinsurgent’s strategy. The counterinsurgent defeats the insurgency by deterring cooperation between the rebels and population. It targets the actor - be it the rebel group or the population - with the greater short term temptation to defect from its accomplice, regardless of the consequences. Thus, the counterinsurgent targets the actor who profits most from war, where profit is the temptation for wartime opportunism minus the costs. I discuss two examples of this pattern occurring during insurgencies in Guatemala and Turkey.

Suggested Citation

Hashimoto, Barry, The Political Economy of Counterinsurgency Violence (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Barry Hashimoto (Contact Author)

Emory University ( email )

201 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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