Militias, Ideology, and the State Journal of Conflict Resolution
Paul Staniland  |  August, 2015

Research on militias portrays them as subservient proxies of governments used to achieve tactical goals. The conventional wisdom, however, ignores the diversity of state–militia relations. This article outlines four distinct strategies that states can pursue toward militias, ranging from incorporation to suppression. It then argues that regime ideology shapes how governments perceive and deal with militias. A new theory of armed group political roles brings politics back into the study of militias. Comparative evidence from India and Pakistan shows that varying regime ideological projects contribute to different patterns of militia–state relations. These findings suggest that political ideas ought to be central to the study of political violence, militias should be studied in direct dialog with other armed groups, and a traditional focus on civil war should be replaced by the broader study of “armed politics.”