Balancing the Books: How Militant Organizations Compensate for Weaknesses with Alliances

45 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2017

See all articles by Samuel Plapinger

Samuel Plapinger

University of Virginia - Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics

Philip B.K. Potter

University of Virginia - Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics

Date Written: March 20, 2017

Abstract

All organizations have relative strengths and weaknesses. The successful ones effectively draw on their comparative advantages to mitigate their flaws. We argue that this process of “balancing the books” helps to explain the alliance and affiliation behavior of major militant organizations. We identify ideological and operational credibility as two essential attributes of successful transnational terrorist organizations and trace the impact of variations in the relative endowments of these assets thought three cases. We argue that organizations with substantial operational credibility — typified by the so-called Islamic State — can draw on their reputation and success to build international networks that they can then point to as a source of ideological credibility. In contrast, organizations with an ideological “surplus” and an operational “deficit” — typified by al-Qaeda — can lend their ideological credibility to affiliates who in turn supply the organization with reach into active conflicts that bolsters their reputation for capable violence. Finally, those without solid endowments of either attribute — typified by the Red Army Faction — have no recourse to affiliates when faced with setbacks. These findings indicate that, in contrast to the prevailing wisdom, substantial upticks in a militant group’s alliance formation may not be an indication of mounting organizational strength so much as a strategic response to underlying problems. This is important because mistaking a signal of weakness for a signal of strength risks the misallocation of valuable counterterrorism resources.

Keywords: Terrorism, Militant Organizations, Alliances, Non-State Actors, Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Red Army Faction

Suggested Citation

Plapinger, Samuel and Potter, Philip B.K., Balancing the Books: How Militant Organizations Compensate for Weaknesses with Alliances (March 20, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2940373 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2940373

Samuel Plapinger (Contact Author)

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

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

Philip B.K. Potter

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

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

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