Civil War, Guerrilla Warfare, and Terrorism: Understanding Non-state Political Violence Through the Philippines’ Moro Conflict

Open Access
Chen, Robert Y
Area of Honors:
International Politics
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Douglas William Lemke, Thesis Supervisor
  • Gretchen Casper, Honors Advisor
  • non-state political conflict
  • terrorism
  • civil war
  • non-state actor
  • de facto state
  • moro islamic liberation
  • philippines
Civil wars are traditionally studied as distinct from other forms of political dissidence. If a given political conflict does not reach a battle-related death threshold – a standard criterion for classifying a conflict as a civil war – it would fall out of most civil war datasets. I argue that this distinction is arbitrary, and that separating the study of civil war from the study of political conflict both limits and distorts our understanding of all forms of political conflict. In lieu of the separate study of different forms of conflict, I propose a framework from which to consider a particular form of conflict (self-determination) holistically, placing different non-state actor political strategies – terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and interstate war-like conventional warfare – on a spectrum, hypothesizing that actors choose their tactics based on their strength relative to their opponent, the government. In this way, we can understand when, where, and why a non-state actor seeking self-determination will employ terrorism as opposed to attempting to build a de facto state from which to challenge the government. I use the case of the 47-year Moro conflict in the southern Philippines to demonstrate the merits of an approach to understanding strategy choice in self-determination movements.