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Acosta, Benjamin, Reyko Huang, and Daniel Silverman. "Introducing ROLE: A Database of Rebel Leader Attributes in Armed Conflict." Journal of Peace Research. Published Article. Submitted Manuscript. Appendix. Codebook. Replication Data.

Abstract: Existing literature on civil wars relies predominantly on state- and organization-level variables to understand conflict dynamics and outcomes. In this article, we propose that rebel leaders’ personal backgrounds and experiences are also key to explaining the behavior of the organizations they lead. Just as scholars have long highlighted the importance of state leaders’ biographical characteristics in interstate war and diplomacy, we argue that the attributes of rebel leaders affect their organizations’ decisions and actions in civil war. To substantiate our claims, we introduce the Rebel Organization Leaders (ROLE) Database, which contains a wide range of biographical information on all top rebel leaders in civil wars ongoing between 1980 and 2011. We first describe the contents of the database and present a number of novel descriptive findings about rebel leaders. To illustrate its utility, we then examine the influence of rebel leaders’ attributes on their organizations’ use of terrorism in civil war. Ultimately, our work encourages—and enables—a new research agenda that goes beyond rebel organizations and campaigns as units of analysis and brings individual leaders more fully into modern conflict and peace studies.


Huang, Reyko, Daniel Silverman, and Benjamin Acosta. 2022. "Friends in the Profession: Rebel Leaders, International Social Networks, and External Support for Rebellion." International Studies Quarterly 66(1): sqab085. Published Article. Submitted Manuscript. Appendix. Replication Data.


Abstract: What drives foreign state support for rebel organizations? While scholars have examined the geopolitical and organizational factors that fuel foreign support, the role of rebel leaders in this process remains under-studied. In this article, we propose that rebel leaders’ personal backgrounds shapes their ability to obtain foreign support during conflict. In particular, we argue that rebel leaders with significant prior international experiences – including study abroad, work abroad, military training abroad, and exile – are at an advantage in securing wartime external support for their organizations. These experiences provide opportunities for would-be rebel leaders to interact with a multitude of foreign individuals who may later enter politics or otherwise gain prominence in their respective societies, allowing them to build interpersonal social networks across borders. Such networks offer key points of contact when rebel leaders later seek foreign backing. We test this theory using data from the new Rebel Organization Leaders (ROLE) database, finding robust support for our argument as well as the broader role of rebel leader attributes in explaining external support. Our results underscore the value of incorporating individual leaders and their social networks more squarely into the study of modern war.

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