Perspectives on Politics

Research Article

States, Insurgents, and Wartime Political Orders

Paul Stanilanda1

a1 University of Chicago. E-mail:


Bargains, deals, and tacit understandings between states and insurgents are common in civil wars. This fascinating mix of conflict and cooperation shapes patterns of politics, governance, and violence. Building on recent findings about state formation, I offer a conceptual typology of political orders amidst civil war. Wartime political orders vary according to the distribution of territorial control and the level of cooperation between states and insurgents. Orders range from collusion and shared sovereignty to spheres of influence and tacit coexistence to clashing monopolies and guerrilla disorder. Examples from contemporary South Asian conflicts illustrate these concepts, which are scalable and portable across contexts. Scholars need to think more creatively about the political-military arrangements that emerge and evolve during war. A key policy implication is that there are many ways of forging stability without creating a counterinsurgent Leviathan.

Paul Staniland is Assistant Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago (


The author has benefited greatly from discussions with and suggestions by Dan Altman, Fotini Christia, Kristin Fabbe, Jeff Friedman, Eric Hundman, Rebecca Incledon, Sameer Lalwani, Janet Lewis, Austin Long, Dipali Mukhopadhyay, Dann Naseemullah, Jonathan Obert, Sarah Parkinson, Roger Petersen, Joshua Rovner, Alexandra Scacco, Dan Slater, Abbey Steele, colleagues in the MIT Security Studies Program, participants in the MIT Working Group on the Strategic Use of Force, Perspectives on Politics' anonymous reviewers, and its Editor in Chief Jeffrey C. Isaac. Danielle Fumagalli provided excellent research assistance.