Organization and Community: The Determinants of Insurgent Military Effectiveness

Posted: 15 Jun 2014

See all articles by Alec Worsnop

Alec Worsnop

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Date Written: 2014


The United States and other members of the international community have expended billions of dollars and thousands of lives confronting insurgent organizations across the globe. Strikingly, however, there has been little systematic analysis of how some insurgent organizations have developed and maintained the military capacity to challenge superior military forces. Thus, this dissertation project is motivated by a fundamental question: What explains why some insurgent organizations are more militarily effective than others? Building on the study of conventional militaries, informal and formal institutions, and sub-state conflict, I focus on the centrality of organizational characteristics in determining military effectiveness. This organizational focus is driven by the observation that while structural and material factors may play a role in the explaining the capacity of military actors, the most important factor is how organizations are able to utilize what they have.

This dissertation constructs a comprehensive theory accounting for the importance of both informal structures of community support and formal military structures such as logistics, command and control, and personnel management systems in explaining how some insurgent organizations achieve relatively high levels of military effectiveness and others do not. In particular, to achieve base levels of effectiveness, I argue that insurgents must use formal elements to actively link themselves to the informal networks within the organization. In addition, this framework uncovers two understudied potential insurgent development pathways. First, organizations built around weak communities are not destined to become ineffective military forces. Instead, they may compensate for a lack of strong bonding ties of trust by constructing informal structures and legitimacy. Second, organizations surrounded by strong pre-existing communities may not develop into effective military entities. Organizations surrounded by strong communities can only benefit from them if they act to leverage those bonds and complement them with dedicated formal military structures.

Keywords: Iraq, Vietnam, Insurgency, substate conflict

Suggested Citation

Worsnop, Alec, Organization and Community: The Determinants of Insurgent Military Effectiveness (2014). Available at SSRN:

Alec Worsnop (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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