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Study of Internal Conflict – SOIC Conflict Studies

This page captures research and analysis by SSI professors, USAWC faculty and students, and research assistants into the causes and outcomes of internal conflicts since 1945 as part of the ongoing Study of Internal Conflict (SOIC). Research and analysis will also include topics in Unconventional and Irregular Warfare.

SOIC Conflict Studies

The Study of Internal Conflict (SOIC) began in 2014 as a research project at the Strategic Studies Institute to determine the actual causes of government failure in internal conflict. The study has analyzed more than 40 military, political, economic and geographical factors in 53 wars since 1945 to determine which conflict parameters correlate with government failure in at least 90 percent of all insurgencies and civil wars.  Five factors have been identified which are present in virtually every government defeat: (1) Less than 85 percent of the total population expressing a national identity, (2) Less than 85 percent government legitimacy, (3) less than 85 percent of population being fully isolated from contact with the rebel group, (4) the existence of persistent external sanctuary for the rebel group, and (5) the lack of sustainable, pre-existing security forces under the control of the government at the outset of the conflict. Furthermore, it was found that in no case since 1945 have counterinsurgency methods such as “reconstruction,” “pacification” and “clear, hold and build” ever increased popular support for the government or increased legitimacy in any quantifiable degree anywhere in the world.  The first four case studies are presented here. Additional case studies will be posted each month.  The article “COIN Doctrine is Wrong” in the summer 2021 issue of Parameters describes the research study, the definitions, the conflicts, the factors and the analytical methodology in more detail.

  •  Uganda 1980–1986

    Uganda 1980–1986

    In 1979 former Ugandan President Idi Amin was ousted from power in a coup lead by the Tanzania People‟s Defense Forces. Following this coup, the Ugandan government was comprised of multiple political groups, eventually leading to a military commission which was then put in charge of the 1980 elections. Four parties ran for election; the Ugandan People‟s Congress (UPC), the Democratic Party, the Uganda Patriotic Movement, and the Conservative Party. The UPC‟s candidate was Dr. Milton Obote ... | Researcher: Annika R. Brady | Image: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Idi_Amin_and_Mobutu.jpeg
  •  Tibet Uprising 1956–59

    Tibet Uprising 1956–59

    China invaded and occupied Tibet in 1951. At the time of the rebellion, Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, had been under the control of the People’s Republic of China since the Seventeen Point Agreement imposed in 1951. This was an agreement that was signed by a Tibetan delegation in Beijing under duress, which ceded control of Tibet to China.1 The main instigator of the uprising was a rumor that Chinese authorities planned to kidnap the Dalai Lama.2 At first, the uprising mostly consisted of peaceful ... | Researcher: Lauren Kiesel | Image: https://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/leisure/society/images/2022/5/17/shadow.jpg
  •  Thailand 1965–83

    Thailand 1965–83

    Researcher: Tyler Lissy The internal conflict of Thailand from 1965–83, also known as the Communist insurgency in Thailand, was fought between the government of Thailand and the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). Following the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s, the CPT began to align with Maoism and signaled this alignment in 1964 through congratulating the People’s Republic of China on its 15th anniversary of independence, demanding the removal of US military forces from Thailand and expressing a desire for a regime change. Photo from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Operation-samchai.jpg
  •  Tajikistan 1992–1997

    Tajikistan 1992–1997

    Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic, gained independence in 1991. The ensuing political struggle for power escalated into a civil war following the first elections to form a government. The Tajik Communist Party (CPT) won the presidential election, prompting opposition parties to denounce the elections as illegitimate. The two largest opposition parties, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and the nationalist Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT) united with other opposition ... | Researcher: Isabella Sullivan | Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spetsnaz_troopers_during_the_1992_Tajik_war.jpg
  •  Rwanda 1994

    Rwanda 1994

    The Rwandan Genocide was one of the most horrific atrocities in modern history. The conflict was primarily between the two main ethnic groups in Rwanda, the Hutu and the Tutsi. These two ethnic groups have had a tumultuous history, the modern chapter of which was opened by the colonization of Rwanda by Belgium after World War 1. The Belgians elevated the Tutsis as collaborators in colonial rule by making them higher-ranking members of society than the Hutus via identity cards ... | Researcher: Skyler Wilkey | Image: https://www.reddit.com/media?url=https%3A%2F%2Fi.redd.it%2Ffcxehtny3at11.jpg
  •  Rhodesian Bush War 1965–1980

    Rhodesian Bush War 1965–1980

    In 1965, the colony of Rhodesia declared independence from the United Kingdom in an attempt to avoid decolonization and the inevitable elimination of white minority rule. Approximately 230,000 people, or about 5 percent of a total population of approximately 4.2 million at the time of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), were white. The majority black population was divided between the Shona (approximately 90 percent of the indigenous population) and the Ndebele, the majority of whom ... | Researcher: Lauren Kiesel | Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcnasty09/2616920731/
  •  Peru 1980–2003

    Peru 1980–2003

    Peru experienced an internal conflict between the government and the Communist Party Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, which was established by Abimael Guzman in Ayacucho, in the wake of democratization after more than a decade of military government. Peru’s economic struggles at the time provoked rural and peasant groups to rebel against the government. The key figure in this conflict was Abimael Guzman, a former university professor, who concentrated on spreading a doctrine based on the teachings of Marx ... | Researcher: Ali Sina Sharifi | Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/latinofilmfestival/274842978
  •  Mozambique 1979–1992

    Mozambique 1979–1992

    The Mozambican Civil War began in 1979 and lasted until a negotiated settlement was signed by both parties in 1992. The conflict was fought in the Republic of Mozambique between the Frelimo government and Renamo insurgents. The governing party at the start of the civil war was the Frente de Libertacao de Mozambique (Frelimo). The national government consistently had approximately 30,000 soldiers throughout the conflict. Frelimo was Marxist in orientation and aligned its foreign ... | Researcher: Isabella Sullivan | Image: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Afonso_Dhlakama,_1993_in_Maringue.jpg
  •  Liberian Civil War 1989–96

    Liberian Civil War 1989–96

    Researcher: Justin Eng The First Liberian Civil War (1989–96) was fought over government power and wealth. In 1980, Samuel K. Doe ousted the one-party True Whig government but carried on their oppression, corruption, and violence. He controlled elections, survived an attempted coup d’état, and carried out ethnic cleansing. Photo from https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/museums/nmusn/explore/photography/humanitarian/20th-century/1990-1999/1990-liberia-operation-sharp-edge.html
  •  Laos 1959–75

    Laos 1959–75

    The Laotian civil war was fought during the years 1959–75, mainly between the Royal Lao government (RLG) and the Communist Pathet Lao, along with non-state actors such as the Hmong guerillas and external actors like the United States and North Vietnam (DRV). While Laos gained independence from France in 1953 and had a declaration of neutrality from the Geneva Conference, the presence of Pathet Lao grew in the north, thus leading to an invitation for a coalition government in 1957. | Researcher: Tyler Lissy | Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/13476480@N07/35213355896
  •  Indonesia Permesta 1957–61

    Indonesia Permesta 1957–61

    On March 2, 1957, civil and military leaders in East Indonesia formed a rebel movement in response to Republic of Indonesia policies they felt were stifling local economies and disproportionately benefiting the majority Javanese ethnic group.1 The movement initially took root in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi. Throughout 1957, leaders from Makassar traveled to Jakarta to meet with the officials in the Indonesian Army and the Republic of Indonesia. In January, Lieutenant ... Researcher: Owen Dyer | Image: https://www.harapanrakyat.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Sejarah-Pemberontakan-Permesta.jpg
  •  Guatemalan Civil War 1960–96

    Guatemalan Civil War 1960–96

    Researcher: Ryan Oster In 1954, the fairly elected Guatemalan president, Jacobo Arbenz, was ousted by Guatemalan rebels with assistance from the CIA. Arbenz intended to nationalize the United Fruit Company, and the United States feared he would try to implement other socialist policies that could promote Soviet influence and jeopardize economic interests in the region. Photo from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Exhumation_in_the_ixil_triangle_in_Guatemala.jpg
  •  Darul Islam 1949–62

    Darul Islam 1949–62

    Researcher: Owen Dyer Study Sequence No. 49 Darul Islam 1949–62 In 1948, toward the end of the Indonesian National Revolution, radical Islamic politician Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosoewirjo established the state of Darul Islam and initiated a revolution against the newly formed Republic of Indonesia. Darul Islam emerged from pro-independence Islamic militias that had fought against Dutch occupation alongside other nationalist factions. Such militias broke ties with the Republic of Indonesia following the Renville Agreement of January 1948. ... Photo source unknown
  •  Cuban Revolution 1956–59

    Cuban Revolution 1956–59

    The Cuban Revolution resulted from rising opposition to the government of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Batista assumed power in 1952 when he led a coup against President Carlos Prío Socarrás.1 Once Batista forced his way into power, he voided the constitution and paved the way for an era of government corruption. This gave rise to a revolution that harnessed significant support from the Cuban population. Batista’s dictatorship was a stark contrast from his ... | Researcher: Courtney Rhodes | Image: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cuban_rebel_soldiers_in_the_Habana_Hilton_foyer,_January,_1959.jpg
  •  Costa Rica 1948

    Costa Rica 1948

    In 1948, José Figueres Ferrer led an armed uprising against the government of President Teodoro Picado that left 2,000 dead and fundamentally shaped modern Costa Rica. The conflict stemmed primarily from factional disputes and a highly contested election. During the 1940s, Costa Rican politics was dominated by Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia. Although Calderón received backing from business interests and the Roman Catholic Church, he also allied himself with the Communist Popular Vanguard Party and developed ... | Researcher: Owen Dyer | Image: https://micostaricadeantano.com/2019/05/15/la-guerra-civil-del-48/
  •  Congo 1996–2003

    Congo 1996–2003

    This conflict may be viewed as either an international conflict or as a hybrid conflict in contrast to a purely civil war or insurgency. It is sometimes referred to as the “First African World War,” and conflict took place between the military forces of several countries, and fighting took place in Congo (initially Zaire), Rwanda and Uganda. It could alternatively be viewed as a civil war with extensive military engagement of neighboring countries. The origin of the conflict was the ethnic slaughter ... | Researcher: John Crisafulli | Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Security_Council_Resolution_1533
  •  China 1945–49

    China 1945–49

    The Chinese Civil War was a military conflict fought between the Kuomintang (KMT or the Nationalist government), and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Following the Japanese defeat in the Second Sino-Japanese War, during which mainland China was divided by the KMT and CCP, the two parties sought complete control of China. Initially following the Japanese surrender, the two sides agreed upon peace talks and a ceasefire, but armed conflict ensued shortly after. | Researcher: Tyler Lissy | Image https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/06/Long_march_Mao.jpg
  •  Cambodia 1967–75

    Cambodia 1967–75

    In 1967, the Communist Party of Kampuchea initiated an eight-year armed conflict with the Kingdom of Cambodia that left between 275,000 and 310,000 dead. The conflict emerged from period of immense instability both within Cambodia and in the wider Indochina peninsula. During the late 1960s, Prince Norodom Sihanouk lost support from Cambodia’s conservatives due to economic woes and ... | Researcher: Owen Dyer | Image: https://cdn.historycollection.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Khmer-Rouge-soldiers-drive-through-the-capital.-Phnom-Penh.-1975.-SJOBERGAFPGetty-Images-1.jpg
  •  Bougainville 1988–1998

    Bougainville 1988–1998

    Bougainville is an island province in PNG and the site of one of the world's largest gold and copper mines. From 1988 to 1998, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) waged a civil war in Papua New Guinea (PNG), resulting in an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 military and civilian deaths. The Bougainville mine, operated by Bougainville Copper Ltd., accounts for around 40 percent of PNG's exports. Papua New Guinea achieved independence in 1975, and though the government has remained democratic, it has been ... | Researcher: Peter Mayer | Image: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/2688346/koa-moana-162
  •  Angola 1975–2002

    Angola 1975–2002

    The Angola conflict began shortly before Angola’s independence from Portugal in 1975. Two former anti-colonial guerilla movements fought for control of the country, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). The MPLA seized control of the capital of Luanda and most major cities and functioned as the de facto government of Angola, with UNITA controlling the southeast part of the country. UNITA and the MPLA drew support from different tribal groups...
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Glossary of Terms and Study Definitions

External Sanctuary.  “External sanctuary” is defined as a land border with a neighboring country that the rebel combatants could and did cross in militarily significant numbers without excessive difficulty or danger. Militarily significant numbers are considered to be platoon-size elements crossing with their weapons and equipment, rather than individuals exfiltrating and infiltrating across a guarded border. Once across the border, for the destination to be considered “sanctuary,” the rebels must be reasonably certain of safety from detention, repatriation, or pursuit. Certainty of external support in the form of funding, new equipment, training, or new recruits is not required for the cross-border area to be considered “sanctuary,” but it must be across an international border. Determining whether external sanctuary existed in a given case was relatively easy in actual practice, as during the course of the study, there have been no cases in which adjudication was required whether the criteria were met. In other words, all cases have been clear-cut. If sanctuary was available at the start of the conflict, but the government succeeded in sealing off its borders to eliminate the sanctuary during the conflict, the study defines this as a “negative” finding for external sanctuary despite its earlier existence, and it appears as “Yes → No” in the data matrix.

Government Victory.  “Government victory” is defined as the government which was in power at the start of the conflict or its natural successors (i.e., not a change of government) remained in power eighteen months after the end of hostilities, and the territory of the country remained unchanged from the start of the conflict. If the rebels succeeded in bringing down the government or in achieving their goal of either establishing an independent breakaway country, even if the government remained in power, the government cannot be said to have won the conflict.

Legitimacy of Government.  The study uses established political science principles in defining legitimacy of government. Princeton University Encyclopedia for example defines it as: “The belief that a rule, institution, or leader has the right to govern. It is a judgment by an individual about the rightfulness of a hierarchy between rule or ruler and its subject and about the subordinate’s obligations toward the rule or ruler.” The level established by the study for analysis is 85 percent of the population holding such a belief.

National Identity.  The study uses established political science principles in defining “national identity” as citizens locating their personal identities at the level of the state and not at a sub-state stratum such as their tribe, clan, ethnicity, linguistic or religious group. The level established by the study for analysis is 85 percent of the population holding such a state or nation-level identity.

Population Protection.  Although population protection is a bedrock principle of counterinsurgency doctrine, it was necessary to define what the SOIC means by the term in order for researchers to assess whether or not a population was in fact being protected. The definition the study uses states that a population is protected if “85 percent or more of the civilian population is effectively sealed off from meaningful contact with the rebel group.” Examples of meaningful contact would be the printing and distribution of leaflets, pamphlets or other propaganda material in any significant degree, the persistent ability of a rebel group to make radio broadcasts which reached any significant number of listeners, the ability of rebels to give speeches in public or address groups of more than a few individuals in private, the ability of rebels to credibly threaten, intimidate or bribe government officials, or to assassinate government workers or leaders. This definition acknowledges that it is not possible to create a completely airtight firewall between civilians and rebels that will prevent 100 percent of rebel propagandists or terrorists from slipping past government security cordons 100 percent of the time. Thus “Population Protection” is defined as the reliable, continuous maintenance a high level of public security which prevents all but rare interaction between the civilian population and rebel elements.

Sustainable, pre-existing security forces.  This term is defined for the study as an existing security force at the outset of the conflict which was funded by the government, wore some sort of uniform, observed some sort of hierarchical rank structure in which the soldiers largely obeyed the orders of their superiors, was capable of transporting itself and sustaining itself in the field, and which generally carried out the orders of the Head of State or the appointed government official responsible for security. In the case of military rule, the standing security force had to be subordinate to the military element holding state power.

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