Department of Political Science


Video: Kristin Bakke - When the Enemy of My Enemy Is Not My Friend

14 August 2012

TEDxUCL talk, June 2, 2012

"When the Enemy of My Enemy Is Not My Friend: Why Rebels Sometimes Target Their Own"

The cohesiveness of groups is seldom something we can take for granted in politics, especially in (or after) violent conflicts. In Libya, the ongoing struggles among the various factions that last year formed the opposition to Gaddafi’s rule is a telling example of how tenuous the unity of armed groups can be. In Syria, the various factions that make up the opposition to President Assad have tried to form a united front to stand stronger against the regime. These current examples are not unique. In this TEDx presentation, which is based on collaborative work with Dr. Kathleen G. Cunningham (University of Maryland) and Dr. Lee Seymour (Leiden University), SPP's Dr. Kristin M. Bakke argues that if we are to understand the patterns of violence in civil wars, we have to focus on how any one organization finds itself in a dual contest: first against the state it challenges, and second, with the other organizations in the group it represents. Only by focusing on this dual contest can we understand why organizations fighting in the name of the same group often target the group’s own members, including civilians. They do so, Dr. Bakke and her co-authors argue, because organizations direct their violence against the potential support base of their rivals. This dual contest has implications not only for how scholars think about and study civil wars, but also for policy-makers engaged in peace initiatives.

For more on this research, please see the following publications:

  • Bakke, Kristin M., Kathleen G. Cunningham, and Lee Seymour. 2012. “A Plague of Initials: Fragmentation, Cohesion, and Infighting in Civil Wars." Perspectives on Politics 10 (2): 265-284.
  • Cunningham, Kathleen G., Kristin M. Bakke, and Lee Seymour. 2012. “Shirts Today, Skins Tomorrow: Dual Contests and the Effects of Fragmentation in Self-Determination Disputes.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 56 (1): 57-93.

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