Why Factions Switch Sides in Civil Wars: Rivalry, Patronage and Realignment in Sudan

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Why Factions Switch Sides in Civil Wars: Rivalry, Patronage and Realignment in Sudan
   W hy do actors switchsides in civil wars? And why do many of these conºicts feature systematic re-alignments among competing actors? Numerous conºicts include instances of defection with far-reaching implications. In Afghanistan, efforts to build a co-hesive army have been hampered by instances of Hazara, Tajik, and Uzbek com-manders defecting from the Afghan government and NATO coalition forces to join their erstwhile Taliban enemies. 1 The crisis unfolding in the Central AfricanRepublic, escalated by the coup against François Bozizé in March 2013, was pre-cipitated by the defection of many of the same “liberators” who brought hisgovernment to power in 2003. 2 Violence in Somalia has been driven by a repeti-tive cycle of fragmenting alliances among factions. Al-Shabaab’s relativemilitary success in Somalia from 2007 to 2010 owed much to its ability toforge a degree of cohesion and prevent defections. 3 In the eastern DemocraticRepublic of Congo, repeated failures to integrate armed groups into nationalinstitutions have led to a cycle of mutinies, sparking humanitarian crises. 4 Inthese and other wars, some factions switch sides as if passing through a re-volving door. Unstable alignments among fragmenting factions are more than just a characteristic of these wars—in many ways, they are the war, with re-peated side switching fueling cycles of protracted violence.Alignments in civil wars explain important outcomes, as illustrated by Lee J.M. Seymour is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam .The research for this article was funded by a Veni research grant from the Dutch Scientiªc Organi-zation. The author is grateful for research assistance from Anna Morath and comments from ArielAhram, Kristin Bakke, Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, Ursula Daxecker, Lotje de Vries, MariaKoinova, Jorg Kustermans, Bethany Lacina, Romain Malejacq, Theodore McLauchlin, Sabine Otto,Costantino Pischedda, Andrea Ruggeri, Marieke Schomerus, Henning Tamm, Rebecca Tromble,and the anonymous reviewers.1. Antonio Giustozzi, “The Taliban beyond the Pashtuns,” Afghanistan Papers No. 5 (Waterloo,Canada: Centre for International Governance Innovation, July 2010).2. International Crisis Group, “Central African Republic: Priorities of the Transition,” Africa Re-port No. 203 (Brussels: International Crisis Group, June 11, 2013).3. Stig Jarle Hansen,  Al Shabaab: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group 2005–2012 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).4. International Crisis Group, “Eastern Congo: Why Stabilization Failed,” Africa Brieªng No. 91(Brussels: International Crisis Group, October 4, 2012); and Timothy Raeymaekers, “Post-WarConºict and the Market for Protection: The Challenges to Congo’s Hybrid Peace,”  InternationalPeacekeeping , Vol. 20, No. 5 (November 2013), pp. 600–617. Why Factions Switch Sides in Civil Wars  Why Factions SwitchSides in Civil Wars Lee J.M. Seymour Rivalry, Patronage, andRealignment in Sudan  International Security,  Vol. 39, No. 2 (Fall 2014), pp. 92–131, doi:10.1162/ISEC_a_00179© 2014 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 92  Sudan’s troubled history. Fragmentation and side switching have pro-longed Sudan’s civil wars by frustrating peace efforts and forestalling militaryvictories. A cycle of defections in the western region of Darfur has vastly com-plicated mediation efforts and degraded the capabilities of insurgent andcounterinsurgent organizations, forestalling negotiated settlement or militaryvictory. 5 Reliance on tribal militias often drives ethnically motivated violence,rights abuses, and war crimes, all of which complicate postwar state building.In post-independence South Sudan, troubled legacies of collaboration weak-ened institutions, sowed mistrust, and complicated disarmament. The reinte-gration of factions that collaborated with the government during the warcreated an army beset by tribal rivalries and parochial loyalties. Tensionserupted in December 2013, when elite inªghting caused a civil war that sawapproximately 70 percent of South Sudan’s army defect to the opposition. Aseries of retaliatory massacres and protracted ªghting have displaced morethan a million people. 6 Scholars ªnd similar effects in other conºicts. Side switching and defectionhave been linked to longer civil war duration; higher numbers of peoplekilled; counterinsurgency dynamics and success; and fundamental changeswithin war, such as the emergence of new organizations, preferences, andidentities. 7 The wider literature links variation in fragmentation to importantdynamics, including the escalation to violence and outbreak of civil wars. 8 Several studies link patterns of inªghting among internally divided armed Why Factions Switch Sides in Civil Wars 93 5. Victor Tanner and Jérôme Tubiana, “Divided They Fall: The Fragmentation of Darfur’s RebelGroups,” Small Arms Survey Working Paper No. 6 (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, July 2007).6. International Crisis Group, “South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name,” Africa ReportNo. 217 (Brussels: International Crisis Group, April 10, 2014); and Alex de Waal, “WhenKleptocracy Becomes Insolvent: Brute Causes of the Civil War in South Sudan,”  African Affairs , July 2014, pp. 347–369.7. Stathis N. Kalyvas, “Ethnic Defection in Civil War,”  Comparative Political Studies , Vol. 41, No. 8(May 2008) pp. 1043–1068; Paul Staniland, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Insurgent Fratri-cide, Ethnic Defection, and the Rise of Pro-State Paramilitaries,”  Journal of Conºict Resolution ,Vol. 56, No. 1 (February 2012), pp. 16–40; Stephen Biddle, Jeffrey A. Friedman, and Jacob N.Shapiro, “Testing the Surge: Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?”  International Security ,Vol. 37, No. 1 (Summer 2012), pp. 7–40; and Fotini Christia,  Alliance Formation in Civil Wars  (Cam- bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).8. Adria Lawrence, “Triggering Nationalist Violence: Competition and Conºict in Uprisingsagainst Colonial Rule,”  International Security , Vol. 35, No. 2 (Fall 2010), pp. 88–122; KathleenGallagher Cunningham, “Understanding Strategic Choice: The Determinants of Civil War andNonviolent Campaign in Self-Determination Disputes,”  Journal of Peace Research , Vol. 50, No. 3(May 2013), pp. 291–304; and Michael Woldemariam, “Battleªeld Outcomes and Rebel Cohesion:Lessons from the Eritrean Independence War,”  Terrorism and Political Violence , online edition, July 15, 2014.  groups to violence against civilians and the diffusion of violent tactics acrossorganizations. 9 Other work suggests that preventing defection—whether of armed groups or individuals—is central to the overall political and military ef -fectiveness of armed groups and national movements. 10 Variation in the cohe-sion of armed groups also shapes how wars end, including the likelihood of attaining peace settlements, the scope of concessions within them, and theprobability of war recurrence. 11 This article provides a theoretical explanation for patterns of alignmentand side switching in civil wars. Drawing on evidence from Sudan, it focuseson an important category of civil wars fought in weak and collapsing statescharacterized by ºuid alignments among armed actors. Existing accounts arelargely deterministic, emphasizing how relatively ªxed ethnic identities andideological commitments constrain defection, how threats to survival compelthe alignment choices of actors with limited options, and how the longer-termaim of maximizing postwar power prompts defections to balance against pow-erful adversaries. I develop an alternative theory of opportunistic alignmentsonly loosely constrained by identity, ideology, and threats to survival, inwhich short time horizons emphasize immediate payoffs. Speciªcally, I iden-tify two key mechanisms that shape alignments: ªrst, political rivalries thatprompt collaboration with the side offering weapons, ammunition, and sup-port against local competitors; and second, patronage relations that induce col-laboration with the side providing material advantages. These mechanisms  International Security 39:2 94 9. Hanne Fjelde and Desirée Nilsson, “Rebels against Rebels: Explaining Violence between RebelGroups,”  Journal of Conºict Resolution , Vol. 56, No. 4 (August 2012), pp. 604–628; and KathleenGallagher Cunningham, Kristin M. Bakke, and Lee J.M. Seymour, “Shirts Today, Skins Tomorrow:Dual Contests and the Effects of Fragmentation in Self-Determination Disputes,”  Journal of ConºictResolution , Vol. 56, No. 1 (February 2012), pp. 67–93.10. Scott Gates, “Recruitment and Allegiance: The Microfoundations of Rebellion,”  Journal of Conºict Resolution , Vol. 46, No. 1 (February 2002), pp. 111–130; Paul D. Kenny, “Structural Integrityand Cohesion in Armed Organizations: Evidence from Protracted Conºicts in Ireland andBurma,”  International Studies Review , Vol. 12, No. 4 (December 2010), pp. 533–555; Peter Krause,“The Structure of Success: How the Internal Distribution of Power Drives Armed Group Behaviorand National Movement Effectiveness,”  International Security , Vol. 38, No. 3 (Winter 2013/14),pp. 72–116; Jeffrey A. Friedman, “Group Structure and Political Violence: Theory and Evidencefrom the American Indian Wars,” Harvard University, 2014; and Theodore McLauchlin, “Deser-tion, Terrain, and Control of the Home Front in Civil Wars,”  Journal of Conºict Resolution ,forthcoming.11. David E. Cunningham, “Veto Players and Civil War Duration,”  American Journal of Political Sci-ence , Vol. 50, No. 4 (October 2006), pp. 875–892; Wendy Pearlman, “Spoiling Inside and Out: Inter-nal Political Contestation and the Middle East Peace Process,”  International Security , Vol. 33, No. 3(Winter 2008/09), pp. 79–109; and Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham,  Inside the Politics of Self-Determination  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).  account for the surprising frequency of side switching in civil wars fought instates characterized by their fragile control over peripheries; shallow ideo-logical cleavages; and complex relations among multiple ethnic groups, par-ticularly in tribal societies divided along segmented lineages. Under suchconditions, factional leaders under pressure to secure resources in violent, pat-rimonial political systems leverage their ability to collaborate opportunisti-cally to secure military backing and material gains.The article proceeds as follows. First, I assess existing theories of alignmentand develop my argument. Second, I test these hypotheses using a nestedanalysis of the civil wars in southern Sudan and Darfur. I begin with an analy-sis of an srcinal dataset of factional alignments in these two wars followed bycase studies to reveal causal mechanisms and bolster causal identiªcation. Toassess the argument’s external validity and scope conditions, I brieºy discussother conºicts. I conclude with implications for theory and policy and ques-tions for future research.  Alignment and Defection in Civil Wars The question of what drives alignment intersects with several debates in theliterature on civil wars, including “ethnic defection,” 12 cohesion and fragmen-tation in armed groups and inªghting among them, 13 and alliance formation incivil wars and coalition building in their aftermath. 14 Alignment begins withactors drawn into a conºict through collaboration with actors on a particularside in a civil war, either at the level of individuals, factions, or the wider alli-ances they form in multiparty civil wars. I focus here on meso-level factional Why Factions Switch Sides in Civil Wars 95 12. Kalyvas, “Ethnic Defection in Civil War”; and Staniland, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.”13. See, for example, Abdulkader H. Sinno,  Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond  (Ithaca,N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2008); Paul Staniland, “Organizing Insurgency: Networks, Re-sources, and Rebellion in South Asia,”  International Security , Vol. 37, No. 1 (Summer 2012), pp. 142–177; Kristin M. Bakke, Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, and Lee J.M. Seymour, “A Plague of Ini-tials: Fragmentation, Cohesion, and Inªghting in Civil Wars,”  Perspectives on Politics , Vol. 10, No. 2(June 2012), pp. 265–283; and Michael Findley and Peter J. Rudloff, “Combatant Fragmentationand the Dynamics of Civil War,”  British Journal of Political Science , Vol. 42, No. 4 (October 2012),pp. 879–901.14. Christia,  Alliance Formation in Civil Wars ; Jesse Driscoll, “Commitment Problems or BiddingWars? Rebel Fragmentation as Peace Building,”  Journal of Conºict Resolution , Vol. 56, No. 1 (Febru-ary 2012), pp. 118–149; Seden Akcinaroglu, “Rebel Interdependencies and Civil War Outcomes,”  Journal of Conºict Resolution , Vol. 56, No. 5 (October 2012), pp. 879–905; and Håvard MokleivNygård and Michael Weintraub, “Bargaining between Rebel Groups and the Outside Option of Vi-olence,”  Terrorism and Political Violence , online edition, April 25, 2014, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09546553.2013.829459?tab  permissions#tabModule.  alignment. A faction is an organized group with an established leadershipthat acts as an autonomous organization respecting no higher command au-thority, even though it might join forces with other actors in the conºict or self-identify as part of a larger movement. Focusing on factions shifts attention tothe organizational level of analysis and the role of elites whose fortunes are bound to the fate of the armed groups they lead. Factional leaders tend to beoutright warlords or ambitious “big men” at the apex of informal networksthrough which they mobilize followers and command their loyalty. 15 Theygenerally draw on forms of tribal, religious, or political authority that facilitaterecruitment. Although their ªghters do not always follow them across enemylines when they defect, their authority bolsters loyalty and facilitates recruit-ment, especially when they have access to a pool of restless young men andgenerous infusions of weapons and money.The collaboration inherent in defection takes multiple forms. Factions mightprivately inform on their allies, arrange informal cease-ªres or more formal-ized nonaggression pacts with enemies, cooperate over zones of control andspheres of inºuence, or engage in forms of trading and exchange. 16 A factioncan engage in inªghting without crossing over into collaboration with its ene-mies. Coups or splits can occur with or without subsequent shifts in alignmentcharacteristic of side switching.Notwithstanding the importance of these forms of inªghting and collabora-tion, I focus here on the relatively understudied phenomena of alignment anddefection. I conceptualize and measure factional alignment as collaborationwith actors on one side in a conºict through participation in violence, and cor-respondingly measure defection as actors collaborating with forces they previ-ously fought against by targeting factions with which they were previouslyaligned. To be aligned, in this sense, is to collaborate with the actors whoseconºict structures violence, however loosely, along a war’s “master cleavage”that divides two or more sides in a conºict. 17 Defection, as deªned here, tra-verses this cleavage: a faction leaves one alliance to collaborate with an alli-  International Security 39:2 96 15. William Reno,  Warlord Politics in African States  (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1998); KimberlyMarten,  Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States  (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2012);and Mats Utas, ed.,  African Conºicts and Informal Power: Big Men and Networks  (London: Zed, 2012).16. Paul Staniland, “States, Insurgents, and Wartime Orders,”  Perspective on Politics , Vol. 10, No. 2(June 2012), pp. 243–264.17. Stathis N. Kalyvas, “Ontology of Political Violence: Action and Identity in Civil Wars,”  Per-spectives on Politics , Vol. 1, No. 3 (September 2003), pp. 475–494.
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