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Monopolies of Violence? Civil Insurgency and the Accountability Deficit

Alexei Abrahams - Citizen Lab, University of Toronto
Brandon Merrell - PhD candidate, U.C. San Diego

Researchers of civil conflict and state-building often argue that governments should possess a "monopoly on violence" to enforce laws, facilitate commerce, and provide security. Monopolists, however, are notorious for predatory behavior. How can citizens empower a sovereign to maintain order without sacrificing the ability to hold the ruler accountable if it oversteps? Although norms and institutions deter tyrannical tendencies in some states, elsewhere citizens face a fundamental tradeoff between government power and accountability. We model this interaction and find that citizens can resolve this dilemma by nurturing an insurgent movement. Though the presence of armed insurgents may provoke civil war, the threat of unrest can also inhibit government predation and encourage the ruler to develop institutional constraints or extend additional political and economic guarantees to citizens. The results invite a fundamental rethinking of both the desirability of counterinsurgency and development interventions as well as the relationship between civilians, social movements, and governance outcomes.

Presented at the 2018 APSA Annual Meeting and the 2019 SPSA Annual Meeting.