Ideology, armed conflict, and terrorism studies

I wanted to share a new journal article I’m excited about: Ideology and Armed Conflict by Jonathan Leader Maynard in the Journal of Peace Research.

I’ve mentioned the increasing crossover between civil war studies and terrorism studies a few times on this blog (the newly-released Oxford Handbook of Terrorism is another example). This new article, Ideology and Armed Conflict, sits within this trend but goes even further. It encompasses civil war studies, terrorism studies, and also international relations, by helping make sense of a concept that’s crucially important for all these fields.

Civil war studies has only relatively recently been interrogating the concept of ideology, something that terrorism studies has been grappling with for decades. However, this article does so with greater theoretical rigour than some approaches within terrorism studies (which sometimes either takes ideology as a given, or alternatively expresses excessive scepticism that ideology matters).

Maynard explicitly conceptualises four mechanisms (commitment, adoption, conformity and instrumentalisation) through which ideology can exert a strong influence on armed conflict even when the proportion of “true believers” is remarkably small. He also proposes ways to understand when and how ideological change does, and does not, occur.

The article covers a wide scope, using examples from the Cold War:

Groups may, for example, stick with existing ideologies out of fear of membership defection, loss of public legitimacy and credibility, or the withdrawal of patron support (Drevon, 2017; Gutiérrez Sanín & Wood, 2014: 220). Even as sincere faith in orthodox communist ideology declined among Soviet elites in the 1980s, for example, ‘hardliners’ feared that abandoning the ideological struggle against global capitalism would weaken the militarized party–state apparatus, and so bitterly opposed reforms (English, 2002: 72–78, 83–87).

From jihadist movements:

Similarly, Salafi-Jihadism has become an attractive ideological framework for armed groups in part because it allows them to call upon the support of powerful transnational networks of jihadist activists and sympathizers (Adamson, 2005; Bakke, 2014; Hegghammer, 2010/11; Owen, 2010: ch. 7; Walter, 2017).

Ideologies are not static features of individuals, groups, organizations or societies, but change before, during, and after conflict. The consequences of such change can be profound: Hegghammer (2010/11), for example, suggests that ideological changes within transnational Islamist networks are crucial in explaining the rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters from the 1980s onwards (see also Bakke, 2014)…

And from the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

Ideological effects often arise, therefore, from networked interdependencies of different sorts of actors guided by different mechanisms, with the largest scale effects emerging from mutually reinforcing internalized and structural dynamics. For example, neoconservative justifications of the Iraq War – as an exercise in rapid democracy-promotion which would positively transform Middle Eastern regional security – were, in many respects, dramatic breaks from previous US policy assumptions and appear puzzling and dangerous from conventional strategic perspectives (Flibbert, 2006: 310–311; Gilpin, 2005: 5–6, 17). These justifications proved so consequential, however, because they were simultaneously longstanding commitments for key members of the Bush administration, provided a plausible roadmap of action for broader sympathetic constituencies after 9/11, were successfully institutionalized within the administration (as critics of the war were sidelined) in ways that created strong pressure for officials to support an emerging ideological consensus, and were instrumentally effective in mobilizing public support and legitimating the administration’s priorities (Flibbert, 2006).

It’s unfortunately behind a paywall, but if you can access it and are interested in ideology and conflict in any way, I recommend it. And I highly recommend it if you follow terrorism studies but want to see how the concept of ideology is used in other fields.