In recent years, scholars have devoted increased attention to cooperation among militant actors. These scholars were prompted in part by the prevalence of civil wars and insurgencies in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, which have seen numerous coalitions among myriad rebel groups. Other studies have been driven by the ongoing threat posed by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, whose danger derives in part from their ability to forge partnerships with like-minded groups.
There are good reasons for conflict scholars to explore the topic of cooperation between terrorist groups: research has shown that mutual collaboration among terrorist groups boosts their capacity and performance. Terrorist inter-group cooperation increases these groups’ longevity, level of violence, lethality, and ability to adopt innovations, and hence improves their bargaining leverage vis-à-vis their targets. Terrorist cooperation also matters because it defines and underlies much of the contemporary threat posed by terrorism.
But why do these groups cooperate in the first place? The question is puzzling because terrorist groups operate under special constraints: even minor risks can jeopardize their survival. Cooperation entails a degree of communication and knowledge-sharing and often involves face-to-face encounters between operatives – all of which can undermine militant groups’ imperative to maintain organizational control and ensure secrecy.
Terrorist groups engage in cooperation in spite of the risks involved if they deem cooperation to provide mutual benefits that will outweigh their inclination for organizational control and security. These benefits are designed to promote two types of group objectives: process goals and outcome goals.
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