Coordination and Security: How Mobile Communications Affect Insurgency

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David Siegel
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Journal of Peace Research 52 (3): 312-322

Recent work has shown that the introduction of mobile communications can substantially alter the course of conflict. In Afghanistan and India targeting mobile communications is a central part of the insurgent campaigns. The opposite was true in Iraq. There insurgents instead threatened providers who did not do enough to maintain mobile phone networks. These differences likely arise from two competing effects of mobile communications: they make it easier for antigovernment actors to coordinate collective action, thereby increasing violence, and for pro-government civilians to collaborate with security forces allowing them to more effectively suppress rebels, thereby decreasing violence. To study these competing effects we analyze a formal model of insurgent action in which changes in the communications environment alter both (i) the ability of rebels to impose costs on civilians who cooperate with the government and (ii) the information flow to government forces seeking to suppress rebellion with military action. Our analysis highlights the importance of the threat of information sharing by non-combatants in reducing violence and offers some guidelines for policymakers in thinking about how much to support ICT development in conflict zones. In particular, we show that officials can generate reasonable expectations about whether expanding ICT access will exacerbate conflict or reduce it by assessing the relative gains to both sides from changes in ICT access along several simple dimensions.