Non-state armed groups have become a pressing issue in the field of International Relations. From 9/11 to the Islamic State, rebel groups have established that they are anything but a local phenomenon, and that their impact extends to the global arena. Non-state armed groups often establish control over large swaths of territory, but how they govern their territory varies widely, from total chaos to well-run governing institutions. When these institutions exist, some include and even empower civilians to run local affairs, while others exclude civilians from governance. I argue that rebels choose different governing strategies that maximize their utility of territorial control, based on certain characteristics of civilian inhabitants. Rebels’ constituency determines whether rebels seek to govern civilians or control them solely with coercive violence, and community cohesion (or lack thereof) then determines the type of institutions that rebels develop. I focus on three different outcomes for communities under rebel control—no institutions, exclusive institutions, and inclusive institutions. I test my argument using historical, statistical, and case evidence, leveraging original cross-national data on local order in rebel held territory as well as interviews with village heads, ex-combatants, and community members in Aceh, Indonesia. The results provide robust support for my theory, yielding implications for our understanding of human security during conflict and challenging notions that states are the only actors that govern in our world today.
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