Post-2003 civil wars are different from previous civil wars in three striking ways. First, most of them are situated in Muslim-majority countries. Second, most of the rebel groups fighting these wars espouse radical Islamist ideas and goals. Third, most of these radical groups are pursuing transnational rather than national aims. Current civil war theories can explain some of what is going on, but not everything. In this article, I argue that the transformation of information technology, especially the advent of the Web 2.0 in the early 2000s, is the big new innovation that is likely driving many of these changes. I offer a theory to explain why rebel groups, especially those in Muslim countries, have chosen to pursue a particular type of extreme ideology and goals. I then identify the six big implications this new information environment is likely to have for rebel behavior in the future. Innovations in information and communication technology are currently manifesting themselves in the rise of global Jihadi groups in the Muslim world, but we can expect them to be exploited by other groups as well.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Literature Cited

  1. Aday S, Farrell H, Lynch M, Sides J, Kelly J, Zuckerman E. 2010. Blogs and bullets: new media in contentious politics. Policy rep., US Inst. Peace, Washington, DC [Google Scholar]
  2. Akcinaroglu S. 2012. Rebel interdependencies and civil war outcomes. J. Confl. Resolut. 56:879–903 [Google Scholar]
  3. Annan J, Blattman C, Mazurana D, Carlson K. 2011. Civil war, reintegration, and gender in northern Uganda. J. Confl. Resolut. 55:877–908 [Google Scholar]
  4. Arjona A. 2014. Civilian resistance to rebel governance Work. pap., Households in Conflict Netw., Inst. Dev. Stud., Univ. Sussex [Google Scholar]
  5. Balcells L. 2010. Rivalry and revenge: violence against civilians in conventional civil wars. Int. Stud. Q. 54:291–313 [Google Scholar]
  6. Balch-Lindsay D, Enterline AJ. 2000. Killing time: the world politics of civil war duration, 1820–1992. Int. Stud. Q. 44:615–42 [Google Scholar]
  7. Bellin E. 2012. Reconsidering the robustness of authoritarianism in the Middle East: lessons from the Arab Spring. Comp. Polit. 44:127–49 [Google Scholar]
  8. Berinsky AJ, Druckman JN. 2007. The polls—review: public opinion research and support for the Iraq War. Public Opin. Q. 71:126–41 [Google Scholar]
  9. Berman E. 2003. Hamas, Taliban and the Jewish underground: an economist's view of radical religious militias NBER Work. Pap. No.10004 [Google Scholar]
  10. Berman E. 2009. Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism Cambridge, MA: MIT Press [Google Scholar]
  11. Berman E, Laitin DD. 2008. Religion, terrorism and public goods: testing the club model. J. Public Econ. 92:1942–67 [Google Scholar]
  12. Bueno de Mesquita E. 2008. Terrorist factions. Q. J. Polit. Sci. 3:399–418 [Google Scholar]
  13. Buhaug H. 2006. Relative capability and rebel objective in civil war. J. Peace Res. 43:691–708 [Google Scholar]
  14. Byman D, Chalk P, Hoffman B, Rosenau W, Brannan D. 2001. Trends in Outside Support for Insurgent Movements Santa Monica, CA: RAND [Google Scholar]
  15. Carey SC, Mitchell NJ. 2017. Progovernment militias. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 20127–47 [Google Scholar]
  16. Cederman LE, Girardin L. 2007. Beyond fractionalization: mapping ethnicity onto nationalist insurgencies. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 101:173–85 [Google Scholar]
  17. Cederman LE, Wimmer A, Min B. 2010. Why do ethnic groups rebel? New data and analysis. World Polit. 62:87–119 [Google Scholar]
  18. Christia F. 2012. Alliance Formation in Civil Wars. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  19. Cohen DK. 2013. Explaining rape during civil war: cross-national evidence (1980–2009). Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 107:461–77 [Google Scholar]
  20. Collier P, Hoeffler A. 2002. On the incidence of civil war in Africa. J. Confl. Resolut. 46:13–28 [Google Scholar]
  21. Collier P, Hoeffler A. 2004. Greed and grievance in civil war. Oxf. Econ. Papers 56:563–95 [Google Scholar]
  22. Collier P, Hoeffler A, Soderbom M. 2004. On the duration of civil war. Cross-Cult. Res. 41:253–73 [Google Scholar]
  23. Cunningham DA, Gleditsch KS, Salehyan I. 2014. Trends in civil war data: geography, organizations, and events. What Do We Know About Civil Wars? TD Mason, SM Mitchell 247–60 Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield [Google Scholar]
  24. Cunningham DE. 2006. Veto players and civil war duration. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 50:875–92 [Google Scholar]
  25. Cunningham DE. 2011. Barriers to Peace in Civil War New York: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  26. Cunningham KG. 2013. Actor fragmentation and civil war bargaining: how internal divisions generate civil conflict. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 57:659–72 [Google Scholar]
  27. Cunningham KG, Bakke KM, Seymour LJM. 2012. Shirts today, skins tomorrow: dual contests and the effects of fragmentation in self-determination disputes. J. Confl. Resolut. 56:67–93 [Google Scholar]
  28. Denny EK, Walter BF. 2013. Ethnicity and civil war. J. Peace Res. 51:199–212 [Google Scholar]
  29. Dodwell B, Milton D, Rassler D. 2016. The Caliphate's global workforce: an inside look at the Islamic State's foreign fighter paper trail Monogr., Combating Terrorism Cent., US Milit. Acad. West Point [Google Scholar]
  30. Doyle MW, Sambanis N. 2000. International peacekeeping: a theoretical and quantitative analysis. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 94:779–801 [Google Scholar]
  31. Dugan A. 2013. On 10th anniversary, 53% in U.S. see Iraq War as mistake. http://www.gallup.com/poll/161399/10th-anniversary-iraq-war-mistake.aspx
  32. Elbadawi I, Sambanis N. 2000. Why are there so many civil wars in Africa? Understanding and preventing violent conflict. J. Afr. Econ. 9:244–69 [Google Scholar]
  33. Ellingsen T. 2000. Colorful community or ethnic witches' brew? Multiethnicity and domestic conflict during and after the Cold War. J. Confl. Resolut. 44:228–49 [Google Scholar]
  34. Fearon JD. 1995a. Ethnic war as a commitment problem Work. pap., Dep. Polit. Sci., Stanford Univ. [Google Scholar]
  35. Fearon JD. 1995b. Rationalist explanations for war. Int. Organ. 49:379–414 [Google Scholar]
  36. Fearon JD. 2004. Why do some civil wars last so much longer than others?. J. Peace Res. 41:275–301 [Google Scholar]
  37. Fearon JD. 2010. Governance and civil war onset. World Development Report, 2011 Washington, DC: World Bank [Google Scholar]
  38. Fearon JD, Kasara K, Laitin DD. 2007. Ethnic minority rule and civil war onset. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 101:187–93 [Google Scholar]
  39. Fearon JD, Laitin DD. 2003. Ethnicity, insurgency, and civil war. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 97:75–90 [Google Scholar]
  40. Fjelde H, Hultman L. 2014. Weakening the enemy: a disaggregated study of violence against civilians in Africa. J. Confl. Resolut. 58:1230–57 [Google Scholar]
  41. Fjelde H, Nilsson D. 2012. Rebels against rebels: explaining violence between rebel groups. J. Confl. Resolut. 56:604–28 [Google Scholar]
  42. Flanigan ST. 2008. Nonprofit service provision by insurgent organizations: the cases of Hizballah and the Tamil Tigers. Stud. Confl. Terrorism 31:499–519 [Google Scholar]
  43. Fortna VP. 2004a. Does peacekeeping keep peace? International intervention and the duration of peace after civil war. Int. Stud. Q. 48:269–92 [Google Scholar]
  44. Fortna VP. 2004b. Interstate peacekeeping: causal mechanisms and empirical effects. World Polit. 56:481–519 [Google Scholar]
  45. Furtado CS. 2007. Inter-rebel group dynamics: cooperation or competition the case of South Asia. PhD thesis. Univ. Illinois, Urbana-Champaign [Google Scholar]
  46. Gates S, Nordas R. 2015. Recruitment, retention, and religion in rebel groups. Presented at Peace, Conflict, and Development Worksh., Oslo, Mar. 24. http://www.sv.uio.no/esop/english/research/news-and-events/events/conferences-and-seminars/dokumenter/gates_nordas_2015.pdf
  47. Gates S, Nygard HM, Strand H, Urdal H. 2016. Trends in armed conflict, 1946–2014. PRIO Confl. Trends [Google Scholar]
  48. Gleditsch KS. 2007. Transnational dimensions of civil war. J. Peace Res. 44:293–309 [Google Scholar]
  49. Gleditsch NP, Rudolfsen I. 2016. Are Muslim countries more prone to violence?. Res. Polit. 3:2 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2053168016646392 [Google Scholar]
  50. Gleditsch NP, Wallensteen P, Eriksson M, Sollenberg M, Strand H. 2002. Armed conflict 1946–2001: a new dataset. J. Peace Res. 39:615–37 [Google Scholar]
  51. Gurr TR. 1971. Why Men Rebel Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  52. Harbom L, Melander E, Wallensteen P. 2008. Dyadic dimensions of armed conflict, 1946–2007. J. Peace Res. 45:697–710 [Google Scholar]
  53. Hegre H, Ellingsen T, Gates S, Gleditsch NP. 2001. Toward a democratic civil peace? Democracy, political change, and civil war. 1816–1992 Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 95:33–48 [Google Scholar]
  54. Hultman L. 2012. Attacks on civilians in civil war: targeting the Achilles heel of democratic governments. Int. Interact. 38:164–81 [Google Scholar]
  55. Humphreys M, Weinstein JM. 2006. Handling and manhandling civilians in civil war. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 100:429–47 [Google Scholar]
  56. Humphreys M, Weinstein JM. 2008. Who fights? The determinants of participation in civil war. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 52:436–55 [Google Scholar]
  57. Huntington SP. 1968. Political Order in Changing Societies New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  58. Huntington SP. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century Norman: Univ. Oklahoma Press [Google Scholar]
  59. Iannaccone LR. 1992. Sacrifice and stigma: reducing free-riding in cults, communes, and other collectives. J. Polit. Econ. 100:271–91 [Google Scholar]
  60. Iannaccone LR, Berman E. 2006. Religious extremism: the good, the bad, and the deadly. Public Choice 128:109–29 [Google Scholar]
  61. Inst. Homeland Secur. 2009. The Internet as a terrorist tool for recruitment and radicalization of youth. White pap., US Dep. Homeland Secur., Sci. Technol. Directorate [Google Scholar]
  62. Jacobson M. 2010. Terrorist financing and the Internet. Stud. Confl. Terrorism 33:353–63 [Google Scholar]
  63. Joscelyn T. 2013. Global al Qaeda: affiliates, objectives, and future challenges. Testimony to the House Comm. For. Aff., Subcomm. Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, Jul. 18
  64. Kalyvas SN, Balcells L. 2010. International system and technologies of rebellion: how the end of the Cold War shaped internal conflict. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 104:415–29 [Google Scholar]
  65. Kanet RE. 2006. The superpower quest for empire: the Cold War and Soviet support for “wars of national liberation.”. Cold War Hist. 6:331–52 [Google Scholar]
  66. Kathman JD. 2010. Civil war contagion and neighboring interventions. Int. Stud. Q. 54:989–1012 [Google Scholar]
  67. Kedar O. 2005. When moderate voters prefer extreme parties: policy balancing in parliamentary elections. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 99:185–99 [Google Scholar]
  68. Krause P. 2014. The structure of success: how the internal distribution of power drives armed group behavior and national movement effectiveness. Int. Secur. 38:72–116 [Google Scholar]
  69. Lake DA. 2002. Rational extremism: understanding terrorism in the twenty-first century. Dialogue IO 1:15–29 [Google Scholar]
  70. Lawrence C. 2012. Syrian rebels said to cut deals for arms from extremists. CNN Security Clearance Blog http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/17/syrian-jihadists-getting-weapons/ [Google Scholar]
  71. Mapping Military Organizations Project 2010. http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/
  72. Metelits C. 2010. Inside Insurgency: Violence, Civilians, and Revolutionary Group Behavior New York: NYU Press [Google Scholar]
  73. Muller EN. 1985. Income inequality, regime repressiveness, and political violence. Am. Sociol. Rev. 50:47–61 [Google Scholar]
  74. Nygard HM, Weintraub M. 2015. Bargaining between rebel groups and the outside option of violence. Terrorism Polit. Violence 27:557–80 [Google Scholar]
  75. Ostovar A, McCants W. 2013. The rebel alliance: why Syria's armed opposition has failed to unify. Tech. rep., Cent. Naval Anal., Arlington, VA [Google Scholar]
  76. Paige JM. 1975. Agrarian Revolution: Social Movements and Export Agriculture in the Underdeveloped World New York: Free Press [Google Scholar]
  77. Petersen RD. 2001. Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe New York: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  78. Pettersson T, Wallensteen P. 2015. Armed conflicts, 1946–2014. J. Peace Res. 52:536–50 [Google Scholar]
  79. Popkin SL. 1979. The Rational Peasant: The Political Economy of Rural Society in Vietnam Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press [Google Scholar]
  80. Posner DN. 2004. The political salience of cultural difference: why Chewas and Tumbukas are allies in Zambia and adversaries in Malawi. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 98:529–45 [Google Scholar]
  81. Poushter J. 2015. In nations with significant Muslim populations, much disdain for ISIS. FACTANK, Nov. 17. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/in-nations-with-significant-muslim-populations-much-disdain-for-isis/
  82. Powell R. 2006. War as a commitment problem. Int. Organ. 60:169–203 [Google Scholar]
  83. Quinn K, Hechter M, Wibbels E. 2003. Ethnicity, insurgency, and civil war revisited Work. pap., Dep. Polit. Sci., Univ. Calif. Berkeley [Google Scholar]
  84. Regan PM. 2002. Civil Wars and Foreign Powers: Outside Intervention in Intrastate Conflict Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich. Press [Google Scholar]
  85. Russett BM. 1964. Inequality and instability: the relation of land tenure to politics. World Polit. 16:442–54 [Google Scholar]
  86. Salehyan I. 2007. Transnational rebels: neighboring states as sanctuary for rebel groups. World Polit. 59:217–42 [Google Scholar]
  87. Salehyan I, Gleditsch KS. 2006. Refugees and the spread of civil war. Int. Organ. 60:335–66 [Google Scholar]
  88. Salehyan I, Siroky D, Wood RM. 2014. External rebel sponsorship and civilian abuse: a principal-agent analysis of wartime atrocities. Int. Organ. 68:633–61 [Google Scholar]
  89. Sambanis N. 2002. A review of recent advances and future directions in the quantitative literature on civil war. Defence Peace Econ. 13:215–43 [Google Scholar]
  90. Sanin FG, Wood EJ. 2014. Ideology in civil war: instrumental adoption and beyond. J. Peace Res. 51:2213–26 [Google Scholar]
  91. Scott JC. 1976. The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  92. Seymour LJ. 2014. Why factions switch sides in civil wars: rivalry, patronage, and realignment in Sudan. Int. Secur. 39:92–131 [Google Scholar]
  93. Shapiro JN, Weidmann NB. 2015. Is the phone mightier than the sword? Cellphones and insurgent violence in Iraq. Int. Organ. 69:247–74 [Google Scholar]
  94. Staniland P. 2014. Networks of Rebellion: Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  95. Steinert-Threlkeld ZC. 2016. Spontaneous collective action: peripheral mobilization during the Arab Spring Work. pap., Dep. Polit. Sci., Univ. Calif. San Diego [Google Scholar]
  96. Stepan A, Linz JJ. 2013. Democratization theory and the “Arab Spring.”. J. Democracy 24:15–30 [Google Scholar]
  97. Stewart MA. 2015. Civil war as state-building: the determinants of insurgent public goods provision Work. pap., Georgetown Univ. [Google Scholar]
  98. Taydas Z, Peksen D. 2012. Can states buy peace? Social welfare spending and civil conflicts. J. Peace Res. 49:273–87 [Google Scholar]
  99. Tilly C. 1978. From Mobilization to Revolution New York: Random House [Google Scholar]
  100. Tirole J. 1988. The Theory of Industrial Organization Cambridge, MA: MIT Press [Google Scholar]
  101. von Einsiedel S. 2014. Major recent trends in violent conflict. Policy rep., United Nations Univ. Cent. Policy Res., Tokyo, Jpn. [Google Scholar]
  102. Walter BF. 1997. The critical barrier to civil war settlement. Int. Organ. 51:335–64 [Google Scholar]
  103. Walter BF. 2002. Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  104. Walter BF. 2004. Does conflict beget conflict? Explaining recurring civil war. J. Peace Res. 41:371–88 [Google Scholar]
  105. Walter BF. 2015. Why bad governance leads to repeat civil war. J. Confl. Resolut. 59:1242–72 [Google Scholar]
  106. Walter BF. 2016. Extremist ideology as a tool of war. Work. pap., Dep. Polit. Sci., Univ. Calif. San Diego [Google Scholar]
  107. Walter BF, Phillips G. 2016. Rebel online propaganda in civil war Work. pap., School Glob. Policy Strategy, Univ. Calif. San Diego [Google Scholar]
  108. Warren TC, Troy KK. 2015. Explaining violent intra-ethnic conflict group fragmentation in the shadow of state power. J. Confl. Resolut. 59:484–509 [Google Scholar]
  109. Weinstein JM. 2007. Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence New York: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  110. Woldemariam MH. 2011. Why rebels collide: factionalism and fragmentation in African insurgencies PhD thesis, Princeton Univ., Princeton, NJ [Google Scholar]
  111. Wood EJ. 2003. Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador New York: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  112. Wood EJ. 2009. Armed groups and sexual violence: When is wartime rape rare?. Polit. Soc. 37:131–61 [Google Scholar]
  113. Wood RM. 2014a. From loss to looting? Battlefield costs and rebel incentives for violence. Int. Organ. 68:979–99 [Google Scholar]
  114. Wood RM. 2014b. Opportunities to kill or incentives for restraint? Rebel capabilities, the origins of support, and civilian victimization in civil war. Confl. Manag. Peace Sci. 31:461–80 [Google Scholar]
  115. Wood RM, Kathman JD, Gent SE. 2012. Armed intervention and civilian victimization in intrastate conflicts. J. Peace Res. 49:647–60 [Google Scholar]
  116. Wucherpfennig J, Metternich NW, Cederman LE, Gleditsch KS. 2012. Ethnicity, the state, and the duration of civil war. World Polit. 64:79–115 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error