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The Rebel Alliance: Why Syria's Armed Opposition Has Failed to Unify

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The issues that motivate Syria s rebel groups and shape inter-rebel interactions can be challenging to identify. To better understand these dynamics, this report investigates the question Why have Syria s Sunni Arab rebels failed to unify We first address this issue by exploring the literature on rebel group interactions in the context of civil wars. This literature stresses two factors a group s goals and resource levels in how rebel groups decide to cooperate, ignore, or compete with their rebel counterparts. In general, groups with similar goals and resources are more likely to interact but less likely to develop deep alliances. Groups with similar goals and differing levels of resources are more likely to develop deep ties, as the smaller group might be willing to sacrifice some of its autonomy for greater access to resources. Groups with divergent goals are less likely to develop deep ties and more likely to compete, especially if they have asymmetric resource levels. We use this framework to examine how goals and resources could be affecting rebel alliance building in Syria. We first identify the major segments of the Sunni Arab rebellion and discuss their key goals. We then discuss how rebel groups have acquired resources through the external support of foreign states and wealthy private donors. We then analyze how divergent goals and resource levels appear to have influenced rebel alliance building and the rebellion during the first year of the armed conflict January 2012 February 2013. Finally, we discuss what the trends in alliance building could mean for the future of the Syrian civil war and its aftermath.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Unconventional Warfare

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