Methods in the Madness: Modeling Tactics of Violence in Insurgencies and Rebellions

Miguel Garces, Ian Lustick, Thomas McCauley, Patrick O’Mahen

This paper was presented at the 2016 International Studies Association Annual Convention in Atlanta, GA.

What role do different forms of violence play in shaping insurgencies and counterinsurgencies? Traditional political science research has recognized the potential political consequences of violence, particularly when it comes to strategic bombing and nuclear weapons. It has also been recognized that among insurgencies there are “repertoires of violence,” which structure the tactics that can be deployed. Unlike the city-destroying capabilities of major powers, however, there has been little investigation into what political effects, if any, accrue from these small-scale choices of how insurgencies and counterinsurgencies choose to implement acts of violence. This paper will draw on our own previous work studying Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) for the Office of Naval Research “Sciences Addressing Asymmetric Explosive Threats” program in order to use agent-based modeling (ABM) to explore tactics as options within a repertoire of violence with possible political consequences. By drawing on a rich vein of government reports and media accounts surrounding the development and use of IEDs by insurgent groups around the world, we identify and describe a set of theoretical parameters that inform both a group’s decision and ability to deploy IEDs or any other specific tactic, including infantry engagement, mechanized forces, bombings, or airstrikes. Our findings suggest that although tactics can sometimes play an interesting role in the political dynamics of insurgency, it is more likely that these effects are outweighed by larger political circumstances.

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