Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Logic of Coercive Kidnapping
by Gilbert, Danielle A., Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2020, 321; 28089365
Abstract (Summary)

What explains kidnapping by violent, political organizations? Despite a dramatic spike in kidnappings over the last several decades, there has been limited scholarly examination of this tool of coercion. Addressing this gap, my dissertation examines the kidnapping strategies of violent, political organizations (VPOs), including rebels, terrorists, and paramilitaries. I argue that kidnapping is used to enforce groups' protection rackets. Kidnapping is both the most lucrative way to punish those who refuse to pay the groups' taxes, as well as a strategic means of compelling future cooperation. Thus, groups that tax local populations are more likely to kidnap; groups with a secure external source of funding -- such as resource wealth or state support -- are less likely to take hostages. Group structure in turn helps explain variation in kidnapping frequency. Because systematic kidnapping requires role specialization among combatants, I argue that groups can kidnap often if they have developed an enforcement infrastructure to take, guard, and negotiate for a hostage, and protect against policing. This study explains when we should see kidnapping in armed conflict, describing an unexplored way that selective violence bolsters insurgency.

To test my theory, I adopt a multi-method approach. First, I built a global dataset of 1,882 rebel, terrorist, and paramilitary groups, and coded kidnapping behavior across these armed groups. Statistical analyses of these data allow me to demonstrate that a group's choice to kidnap is significantly correlated with their funding sources, across conflicts and over time. Second, I draw on qualitative evidence from extensive fieldwork in Colombia, where nearly 40,000 people were kidnapped during the recent civil war. I conducted 78 in-depth interviews with ex-combatants from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), National Liberation Army (ELN), and April 19th Movement (M-19) guerrilla groups; commanders of the military and police anti-kidnapping units; and hostage negotiators. Using process tracing and structured, focused comparisons, I provide evidence for the relationship between kidnapping and other sources of funding; how the groups used kidnapping to recoup money from millionaires who eschewed the groups' extortion; and the complex organizational hierarchy, specialized roles, and advanced planning required for each attack.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Downes, Alexander
Commitee: Downes, Alexander, McClintock, Cynthia, Finkel, Eugene
School: The George Washington University
Department: Political Science
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 82/3(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science
Keywords: Civil war, Colombia, Interviews, Kidnapping, Terrorism
Publication Number: 28089365
ISBN: 9798664790641
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