How do Modern Militant Groups Form, Survive, and Thrive?



Melissa Carlson, Iris Malone, & Asfandyar Mir

Date and Time

April 23, 2020 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM


Virtual Seminar

Livestream: Please check back on day of event for status update (if any).


About this Event: Despite the fact that armed groups directly influence patterns of war between and within states, the clandestine nature of these organizations often obscures the causes and consequences of their behavior. This panel uses a variety of innovative data sources on armed groups to shed new light on militant organizational dynamics.  Malone will discuss how different macro-level factors affect the formation of armed groups using a new dataset on 1,163 armed groups operating between 1970 and 2012. Mir will explore important trends in al-Qaida’s internal group politics, including targeting preferences, alliance preferences, and strategies for recruitment, training, and socialization, in a new data set with over 1,000 books, communiques, press releases, magazines, videos, and audios released by al-Qaida from South Asia between 2001 and 2019. Carlson will explain why third-party governments provide certain foreign militant groups more costly forms of support than others based on a novel data set of 151 Syrian militant brigades that received U.S. support between 2011 and 2017 and over 60 interviews with U.S. and Jordanian government officials and Syrian militants.


About the Speakers:

Melissa Carlson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at U.C. Berkeley, specializing in international relations, comparative politics, and methodology. She will join CISAC in 2019-2020 as a Middle East Initiative Pre-doctoral Fellow. Broadly, her research examines the dynamics of military partnerships between state governments and foreign militant groups. Melissa's dissertation develops an organizational theory of third-party provision of support: when foreign militant groups and state armed forces share similar organizational characteristics, they are more likely to form joint commands, carry out joint attacks, and provide each other with advanced weapons systems.  Melissa's other research interests focus on factors that influence informal cooperation between states, and on how refugee perceptions of host communities, host governments, and aid organizations influence refugee decision-making. Prior to beginning her PhD at U.C. Berkeley, Melissa worked as Public Information consultant for the International Organization for Migration, Iraq Mission in Jordan and Iraqi Kurdistan. Melissa has a M.A. in Political Science from U.C. Berkeley, and a B.A. in International Relations and Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from Claremont McKenna College.



Iris Malone is completing her Ph.D. in the Political Science Department at Stanford University and will join CISAC as a Postdoctoral Fellow.  In 2020, she will be joining the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs as an Assistant Professor. Iris’s research agenda develops and tests new theories about emerging security threats. It includes two research projects, examining the causes of civil war and interstate conflict. The first project includes the dissertation and a series of related empirical papers. It develops a new theory about why states sometimes make mistakes in response to emerging insurgent threats, leading to civil war.  It tests this theory with fieldwork interviews, machine learning, and case studies.  This project also introduces a new large-scale dataset on the organizational characteristics of 1,570 armed groups to ground future empirical work on insurgency and terrorism. The second project explores how uncertainty shapes patterns of interstate conflict and cooperation. Some of this work is forthcoming in International Studies Quarterly. Malone’s work is supported by the Tobin Research Initiative, Hoover Institution, and Stanford Institute for Research in the Social Sciences.  Prior to Stanford, she graduated from Cornell University with degrees in Chemistry and Government, summa cum laude.



Asfandyar Mir is a Postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. Asfandyar holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago. His research interests span international security and comparative politics, with current work focusing on counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, drone warfare, political violence, al-Qaida, and South Asian security issues. Some of his research has appeared in International Security, International Studies Quarterly, and Security Studies.


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