Why Do Rebels Split? Examining The Causes Of Rebel Group Fragmentation

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Why do rebel groups undergo fragmentation? While extensive research about the consequences of rebel fragmentation exists, research on the process of fragmentation remains relatively nascent. This dissertation collects three papers on the causes of rebel group fragmentation. In the first paper, I develop a junior cadres-based explanation of fragmentation. I argue that in a centralized rebel group, factions will emerge when leaders block junior cadres’ access to senior decision-making bodies. Junior cadres who want to influence the organization’s politics therefore face a choice between remaining within the rebel group and exiting it. Factionalizing is a way to redress grievances by aggrieved junior cadres who deem peaceful mechanisms for upward mobility ineffective. Using original datasets and personal interviews, I find strong evidence supporting my argument in the case of Palestinian Fatah. In the second paper, I argue that the solution to the question of fragmentation lies in rebel socialization—specifically, military training (MT). MT increases group cohesion by strengthening horizontal bonds among combatants; vertical bonds between combatants and commanders; and members’ institutional bonds to the organization’s overall mission and esprit de corps. Members become mutually dependent, thus making splintering more costly and fragmentation less likely. I test this argument on a global sample of 83 rebel groups active between 1989 and 2010. I find that rebel groups that have recently conducted MT are less likely to fragment by about 75 percent. In the third paper, I explore the effect of foreign fighters (FFs) on rebel fragmentation, examining a number of mechanisms derived from previous research. First, I explore how reduced group dependency on local fighters, preference divergence, strategic disagreements, and member segregation increase the likelihood of fragmentation for rebel groups that recruit FFs. Second, I posit that if the foreignness of FFs in relation to local insurgents makes fragmentation more likely, then rebel groups that recruit coethnic FFs will be less likely to experience fragmentation. I test these arguments on a global sample of 227 rebel groups active between 1989 and 2011. I find that rebel groups that recruit FFs are significantly more likely to fragment, even after accounting for the endogenous choice of rebel groups to recruit FFs. Against my expectations, I find that the recruitment of coethnic FFs does not diminish the probability of fragmentation. This finding raises questions about the value of ethnic homogeneity in the context of FFs in particular.