Explaining Indiscriminate Violence: Leadership Deficits and Militant Group Tactics

47 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2013

See all articles by Philip B.K. Potter

Philip B.K. Potter

University of Virginia - Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics

Max Abrahms

Northeastern University

Date Written: 2013

Abstract

Certain types of militant groups are prone to indiscriminate violence — those suffering from leadership deficits. These deficits exacerbate the principal-agent problem between leaders and foot soldiers, who have stronger incentives to attack civilians. We establish the validity of this proposition with a tripartite research strategy that balances generalizability and identification. First, we demonstrate in a sample of over a hundred militant organizations operating in the Middle East and North Africa that those lacking centralized leadership are more likely to target civilians. Civilian targeting is equally prevalent when leaders are impeded from communicating tactical instructions to the rank and file. Second, we show that when the leaderships of militant groups are degraded from drone strikes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan tribal regions, the selectivity of organizational violence plummets. Third, we elucidate the mechanism with a detailed case study of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Palestinian group that turned to terrorism during the Second Intifada because decapitation strikes empowered low level members with incentives to attack civilians. These findings indicate that a lack of principal control is an important, underappreciated cause of militant group violence against civilians. l be provided by author.

Suggested Citation

Potter, Philip B.K. and Abrahms, Max, Explaining Indiscriminate Violence: Leadership Deficits and Militant Group Tactics (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2299818

Philip B.K. Potter (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics ( email )

PO Box 400787
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22904
United States

Max Abrahms

Northeastern University ( email )

220 B RP
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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