Andreas Forø Tollefsen
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Through case studies of conflicts in West Africa and Maoist India, qualitative fieldwork, formal modeling, and econometric analyses, this volume seeks to answer what factors explain variations in the combat frontier between urban-based states and rural-based rebel groups. While some conflicts exhibit stationary and consolidated frontiers, other display roving and disputed borders, often with considerable consequences to civilian populations trapped in the irregular combat frontiers. The book proposes two characteristics of trade networks as strong determinants for the delineation of the combat frontier. First, the road networks (the ‘hardware’ of the urban-rural economic relationship), when radial, incentivize predation and make cities lucrative prey, since they tend to concentrate profits in towns or cities. Reticulated road networks, however, increase distribution of trade to towns and cities in the network, making cities less profitable to capture. Secondly, the social system upon which trade networks are based (the ’software’ of the economic relationship), when ranked, facilitates elite-elite exchange between the urban traders and the rural rebel commanders. This results in consolidated territorial borders. Unranked social structures, however, create fuzzy combat frontiers where profit is concentrated in urban centers. An implicit assumption of the book is that rural rebel groups are primarily motivated by greed, whereas cities in radial economies are considered lucrative prey. However, the book gives scant attention to opportunity arguments, where state capacity, institutional quality and the relative strength between urban states and rural rebels play an essential role in determining the faith of urban areas in civil wars. Nonetheless, the book presents a compelling case for the importance of the social structure of trade networks in explaining the dynamics of rural-urban conflict.