Choosing Terror: Rebels' Use of Terrorism in Internal Armed Conflicts 1970-2010

56 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2013

See all articles by Virginia Page Fortna

Virginia Page Fortna

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2013


Why do some rebel groups use terrorism as a tactic while others do not? Why some opposition groups engage in terrorism while others do not is of obvious importance both to the study of terrorism more generally, and to policy makers. But most existing studies of terrorism are not well-equipped to answer this question as they lack an appropriate comparison category. This project examines terrorism in the context of civil war to remedy this problem.

I argue that terrorism is more likely to be used when it is expected to be most effective, namely against democratic governments, and when the otherwise prohibitive legitimacy costs of using terrorism are expected to be lowest. I argue that legitimacy costs vary with government regime type, rebel aims and rebel funding sources. This paper begins to test hypotheses derived from this theory, as well as prominent alternative arguments, including the notion that terrorism is a weapon of the weak, and that it is caused by competition among groups (outbidding), with preliminary data on armed opposition groups involved in internal armed conflicts from 1970-2010. Preliminary findings show support for the efficacy/legitimacy argument and cast doubt on alternatives.

Keywords: causes of terrorism, civil wars, civilian targeting

Suggested Citation

Fortna, Virginia Page, Choosing Terror: Rebels' Use of Terrorism in Internal Armed Conflicts 1970-2010 (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN:

Virginia Page Fortna (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

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