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.

Conflict Study:

1988 — 1998

Conflict Study:

1980 — 1986

Conflict Study:

1979 — 1992

Conflict Study:

1992 — 1997

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.