Cover: The Strategic Logic of Militia

The Strategic Logic of Militia

Published Feb 16, 2012

by Seth G. Jones

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The use of militia in insurgencies has been highly controversial and politically-charged. Most accounts consider militia harbingers of instability that weaken state authority and commit brazen human rights violations. This paper reviews 130 insurgencies since World War II and finds that most governments have utilized militia during insurgencies. Why do governments use militia? The paper finds that governments turn to militia when state security forces are weak and policymakers believe militia can help pacify key areas of the country, especially rural areas where state control is minimal or non-existent. The historical evidence suggests that government perceptions are fairly accurate. A militia has often been effective in helping defeat insurgent groups, though the outcome of insurgencies is determined by a range of factors, not just the performance of militia. But the use of militia has sometimes come at a heavy price since some have perpetrated abuses and weakened state power. To be effective over the long run, governments need to establish tight control mechanisms that prevent militia from challenging the state and committing human rights abuses that can undermine local support. In short, a well-regulated militia appears to be an important — and perhaps an essential — part of a counterinsurgency campaign. Consequently, the emphasis of policymakers should be on the quality of regulation, not on whether a militia is inherently desirable or undesirable.

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