Civilianizing Civil Conflict: Civilian Defense Militias and the Logic of Violence in Intra-State Conflict

Govinda Clayton, Andrew Thomson

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17 Citations (Scopus)
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This article examines how civilian defense militias shape violence during civil war. We define civilian defense forces as a sedentary and defensive form of pro-government militia that incumbents often use to harness the participation of civilians during a counterinsurgency campaign. We argue that civilian defense forces reduce the problem of insurgent identification. This leads to a reduction in state violence against civilians. However, we also claim that these actors undermine civilian support for insurgents, which leads to an increase in rebel violence against civilians and overall intensification of conflict. A statistical analysis of government and rebel violence against civilians from 1981 to 2005, and a qualitative assessment of a civilian defense force operating in Iraq from 2005 to 2009, offer strong support for our theoretical claims. These findings provide further insight into pro-government militias and their effects on violence. They also have wider ethical implications for the use of civilian collaborators during civil war.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-510
Number of pages45
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number3
Early online date12 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2016


  • Pro-Government Militias
  • Civilian Defense Forces
  • Counterinsurgency
  • Civil War
  • Violence against Civilian


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