Grant will help unravel internal politics of terrorist violence

University Communications

Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, Associate Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, has received a three-year, $892,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research to study how the internal dynamics of terrorist and insurgent organizations affect their use of violence.

His project, entitled "Factions, Internal Competition, and Asymmetric Violence," ultimately aims to increase the efficacy of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism tactics by better understanding the internal factors contributing to their external aggressions.

"Terrorist and insurgent groups, like any organization, are internally complicated, with competing factions, leadership struggles and all the rest of it," said Bueno de Mesquita. "It seems pretty clear when looking at terrorist groups that part of what is going on when they engage in violence…is the internal political struggles within the group."

His research will fill an important gap in the current terrorism literature. Few scholars have focused on internal factions, when those factions are in conflict with each other, when they are in conflict with government and how those two are linked.

It is key to view them as strategic opponents with internal dynamics much like a firm, to which institutions, organizational structure and goals matter, according to Bueno de Mesquita.

"We need to think seriously about their recruitment practices. We need to think seriously about their compensation practices. We need to think seriously about when factions integrate versus when they are in conflict with each other. We need to think seriously about how they transmit information," he said.

Bueno de Mesquita will use the grant to support data collection and analysis, development of new theoretical models of factionalized conflict and help from research assistants, consultants and postdoctoral fellows. He will start his data analysis with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and hopefully move on to Iraq and Pakistan, depending on the data available.

By supplying the ONR with targeted theoretical models and case analyses, Bueno de Mesquita hopes his research will shed light on the reasons behind terrorist and insurgent violence and help to improve prevention efforts.