Explaining patterns of violence in collapsed states

William S Reno*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Analyses of predatory violence that stress individual fighters' pursuits of short-term opportunities for enrichment explain why insurgents seem to be so uninterested in taking time to propagandize, recruit, and organize local populations to fight. International efforts to resolve this kind of conflict often aim to sever this link between resources, conflict, and these short-term goals. Quick opportunities do attract certain kinds of people and shape how they organize and how they fight. But critical cases often are overlooked in analyses linking local resources to propensities for predation. This behaviour may indicate the construction of new institutions that contribute to post-conflict stability such that people with guns obey people without guns. Individual interests are not irrelevant, but present an incomplete picture of the behaviour and organization of insurgents. A more complete explanation entails looking more closely at the relation of insurgents to non-combatants and to the politics of patronage, or the ‘state’ as it has become in the most extreme examples of state collapse. Historically this obedience to community leadership or to political cadres has been integral to the mobilization of insurgents with political programs and liberated zones, and ultimately, the creation of new versions of state authority. The examples in this article generate two propositions. First, local relationships put more constraints on how strongmen mobilize fighters and use violence once conflicts break out. Second, regions more closely connected to prewar capital-based patronage networks were more likely to host predatory armed groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-374
Number of pages19
JournalContemporary Security Policy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations

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