Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Philip Potter ─ Tactical Diversity in Militant Violence

Monday, November 9, 2015

4 p.m.

Joukowsky Forum

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Militant groups, like all organizations, face crucial decisions about the strategies that they employ. In this article, we assess why some militant organizations successfully diversify into multiple tactics while others limit themselves to just one or a few. This is an important puzzle because militants with increasingly diversified tactics are more likely to stretch counterterrorist defenses, achieve tactical success, and threaten state security. We theorize that government repression and inter-organizational competition put pressure on militants and incentivize groups to diversify their tactical portfolios in order to ensure their survival and continued relevance. The results from empirically analyzing multiple datasets show robust support for our theory. To address the possible endogeneity of repression and diversification we then confirm these findings in a more fully identified specification that employs ethnic fractionalization as an instrument in a multi-process recursive model. Finally, we demonstrate that organizations that diversify under pressure adopt more disruptive tactics such as hijacking and suicide bombing, rather than devolving into less threating approaches such as isolated shootings and kidnappings. The policy implication is that while countries cannot anticipate the character of future tactical innovations, they may be able to anticipate which groups will most readily adopt them.

Philip Potter is an assistant professor of politics at the University of Virginia, specializing in foreign policy and international relations. He also conducts research in the area of international terrorism and is the principal investigator for a Department of Defense Minerva Initiative project to map and analyze collaborative relationships between terrorist organizations. Professor Potter has recently published articles in International OrganizationThe Journal of PoliticsInternational Studies Quarterly, and The Journal of Conflict Resolution. His book War and Democratic Constraint (coauthored with Matthew Baum), was published by Princeton University Press in Spring 2015. He has been a fellow at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania and holds degrees from UCLA and McGill University.

Download the paper here.

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