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Foreign Fighters: Transnational Identity in Civil Conflicts Open Access

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What messages do insurgencies use to recruit foreign fighters? As current events in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate, foreign fighters represent a significant concern in counter-insurgency planning and a growing challenge to basic concepts of sovereignty. Yet transnational insurgencies are not merely a contemporary phenomenon, nor one limited to Islamists. How have recruiters in various conflicts elicited costly collective action in distant wars where foreigners would seem to have had no apparent grievances or interests at stake and in which empirical evidence also suggests recruits were offered little in the way of material incentives? To answer this question, I first establish the population of cases from which to draw by creating a data set of modern civil wars with transnational insurgents. This yielded both interesting empirical findings on the scope of the phenomenon and permitted the formation of a typology from which to select comparative cases. I conduct structured focused comparisons across four disparate cases: The Texas Revolution (1835-36), the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), the Israeli War of Independence (1948-49), and the Afghanistan War (1978-1992). Utilizing archived documents and primary sources, I analyze recruitment propaganda, how it was disseminated and received, and why recruiters believed the appeals offered would be effective. The data indicates that transnational recruitment occurs when local insurgents attempt to broaden the scope of conflict so as to increase their resources and maximize their chances of victory. However, due precisely to their lack of resources, they typically must motivate outsiders to join them for reasons other than material gain. They therefore overcome collective action barriers by framing participation in conflicts as a necessary defensive mobilization to individuals who are typically active in shared ethnic, religious, or ideological communities. This consistent recruitment pattern likewise suggests common dissuasion and disruption strategies available to counter-insurgency planners.

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