"Rebel and Incumbent Law:
(In)compatible Legal Preferences and Civil War Outcomes"
Civil conflicts are notoriously intractable. Even after adversaries agree to formalize peace and power-sharing, civil wars recur around 50 percent of the time. While the conventional wisdom emphasizes who should govern or who should control territory as the main incompatibilities of civil war, the exclusive focus on executive or territorial control blinds researchers to another critical incompatibility: adversaries’ legal preferences. This incompatibility occurs when the legal institutions and legal proscriptions that rebels have for serving fundamental functions of governance—a formalization and aggregation of their values, beliefs, and expectations for how society should be/is structured—diverge from the incumbent. If there are multiple groups in society who do not agree on the legitimacy of the governing legal system over specific issue domains (e.g., recognition of social diversity, property rights, source of law, and procedural justice), then these groups are more likely to resort to violence than they are to utilize state courts. Additionally, if the state and sub-state actors in dispute have divergent legal preferences, but both groups are expected to work within the same governing legal system in the post-conflict environment, then these divergent preferences can obstruct dispute resolution by delegitimizing said system and incentivizing the actors to return to fighting. Therefore, peace may break down because parties lack an agreed upon mechanism to resolve interpretation and implementation disputes. This implies that groups fight over rules, not just goods. Moreover, it implies there are persistent effects of divergent preferences for the “rules of the game,” and these provide the incentive for groups to go back to the battlefield. To test portions of this argument, I engage in both qualitative and quantitative empirical analyses utilizing original data on rebel and incumbent legal systems.
*This research is being generously supported by the National Science Foundation (Award #2017173)
and Rice University’s Social Sciences Research Institute.
Although this dissertation is a book manuscript there is a solo-authored paper noted on the research page.
The above photo includes pamphlets made by the FMLN and other rebel groups during the Salvadoran Civil War. It was taken during my Jan 2019 archival visit to the UCA, San Salvador, El Salvador.