Hostname: page-component-59f8fd8595-klmmf Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-22T11:56:59.277Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Winning Hearts and Minds for Rebel Rulers: Foreign Aid and Military Contestation in Syria

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2021

Allison Carnegie*
Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
Kimberly Howe
Feinstein International Center, Tufts University, Medford MA, USA
Adam G. Lichtenheld
Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
Dipali Mukhopadhyay
Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


A primary objective of foreign aid in conflict zones is to help political actors win citizens’ ‘hearts and minds’. Previous studies have focused on assistance provided to state actors; however, this article examines aid's impact on rebel governance. It argues that aid only bolsters opinions of rebel governors where military control is uncontested. In contested areas, rebels lose credibility if they cannot offer protection, and they have difficulty delivering – and receiving credit for – services in insecure environments crowded with competitors. Using novel data from the Syrian civil war, this article shows that aid improves opinions of opposition councils in uncontested areas but not in communities experiencing intra-rebel conflict. It also explores the underlying mechanisms using in-depth interviews with residents of Aleppo City and Saraqeb. The findings reveal a more nuanced relationship among aid, military competition and governance than prior studies have suggested, which has implications for both scholars and policy makers.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Abboud, SN (2016) Syria. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Ahmed, FZ (2012) The perils of unearned foreign income: aid, remittances, and government survival. American Political Science Review 106(1), 146165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baczko, A, Dorronsoro, G and Quesnay, A (2018) Civil War in Syria: Mobilization and Competing Social Orders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Bakke, KM, Cunningham, KG and Seymour, LJ (2012) A plague of initials: fragmentation, cohesion, and infighting in civil wars. Perspectives on Politics 10(2), 265283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bates, RH and Donald Lien, D-H (1985) A note on taxation, development, and representative government. Politics & Society 14(1), 5370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beath, A, Christia, F and Enikolopov, R (2015) The National Solidarity Programme: assessing the effects of community-driven development in Afghanistan. International Peacekeeping 22(4), 302320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berman, E, Shapiro, JN and Felter, JH (2011) Can hearts and minds be bought? The economics of counterinsurgency in Iraq. Journal of Political Economy 119(4), 766819.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bob, C (2005) The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boege, V et al. (2008) On hybrid political orders and emerging states: state formation in the context of fragility. B Berghof Handbook Dialogue No. 8.Google Scholar
Böhnke, JR and Zürcher, C (2013) Aid, minds and hearts: the impact of aid in conflict zones. Conflict Management and Peace Science 30(5), 411432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brass, JN (2016) Allies or Adversaries: NGOs and the State in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brown, FZ (2018) Dilemmas of Stabilization Assistance: The Case of Syria. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Available from https:36// Scholar
Bush, SS (2017) Varieties of international influence and the Middle East. PS: Political Science & Politics 50(3), 668671.Google Scholar
Carnegie, A and Dolan, L (2020) The effects of aid on recipients’ reputations: evidence from natural disaster responses. Review of International Organizations 3. Doi: 10.1007/s11558-020-09393-y.Google Scholar
Carnegie, A et al. (2021a) The effects of foreign aid on rebel governance: evidence from a large-scale US aid program in Syria. Economics & Politics. Doi: 10.1111/ecpo.12178.Google Scholar
Carnegie, A et al. (2021b), “Replication Data for: Winning Hearts and Minds for Rebel Rulers: Foreign Aid and Military Contestation in Syria”,, Harvard Dataverse, V1, UNF:6:xT1QH7o2vGrOBmUw0LS75Q== [fileUNF]Google Scholar
Chandler, D (2015) Rethinking the conflict-poverty nexus: from securitising intervention to resilience. Stability: International Journal of Security and Development 4(1), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chandler, D and Richmond, O (2015) Contesting postliberalism: governmentality or emancipation? Journal of International Relations and Development 18(1), 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Christia, F (2012) Alliance Formation in Civil Wars. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Coggins, BL (2011) The history of secession: an overview. In Pavković, A and Radan, P (eds), The Ashgate Research Companion to Secession. London: Routledge, pp. 24–43.Google Scholar
Corstange, D and York, EA (2018) Sectarian framing in the Syrian civil war. American Journal of Political Science 62(2), 441455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crost, B, Felter, J and Johnston, P (2014) Aid under fire: development projects and civil conflict. American Economic Review 104(6), 18331856.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cruz, C and Schneider, CJ (2017) Foreign aid and undeserved credit claiming. American Journal of Political Science 61(2), 396408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
De Waal, A (2009) Mission without end? Peacekeeping in the African political marketplace. International Affairs 85(1), 99113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Donker, TH (2020) Jihadism & Governance in North-Syria. Mittelweg 27(2), 5885.Google Scholar
Fabbe, K, Hazlett, C and Sınmazdemir, T (2019) A persuasive peace: Syrian refugees’ attitudes towards compromise and civil war termination. Journal of Peace Research 56(1), 103117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Findley, MG (2018) Does foreign aid build peace? Annual Review of Political Science 21, 359384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fishstein, P and Wilder, A (2012) Winning hearts and minds? Examining the relationship between Aid and Security in Afghanistan. Medford, MA: Feinstein International Center, Tufts University. Available from Scholar
Fjelde, H and Nilsson, D (2012) Rebels against rebels: explaining violence between rebel groups. Journal of Conflict Resolution 56(4), 604628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fjelde, H and Nilsson, D (2018) The rise of rebel contenders: barriers to entry and fragmentation in civil wars. Journal of Peace Research 55(5), 551565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gill, P (2016) Today we Drop Bombs, Tomorrow We Build Bridges: How Foreign aid Became a Casualty of war. London: Zed Books Ltd.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gilligan, MJ, Pasquale, BJ and Samii, C (2014) Civil war and social cohesion: lab-in-the-field evidence from Nepal. American Journal of Political Science 58(3), 604619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gubser, P (2002) The impact of NGOs on state and non-state relations in the Middle East. Middle East Policy 9(1), 139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guiteras, RP and Mobarak, AM (2015) Does development aid undermine political accountability? Leader and constituent responses to a large-scale intervention. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Available from Scholar
Gupta, KL (ed.) (1999) Foreign Aid: New Perspectives. Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hazelton, JL (2017) The ‘hearts and minds’ fallacy: violence, coercion, and success in counterinsurgency warfare. International Security 42(1), 80113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Holland, A and Peters, M (2020) Explaining Migration Timing: Political Information and Opportunities. International Organization 74(3), 560583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Howe, K (2016) No end in sight: a case study of humanitarian action and the Syria conflict. Planning from the Future. Component 2.Google Scholar
Huang, R (2016) The Wartime Origins of Democratization: Civil War, Rebel Governance, and Political Regimes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Humphreys, M, de la Sierra, RS and Van der Windt, P (2015) Social Engineering in the Tropics: A Grassroots Democratization Experiment in the Congo. Technical report Working Paper. Available from Scholar
Jablonski, RS (2014) How aid targets votes: the impact of electoral incentives on foreign aid distribution. World Politics 66(2), 293330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jackson, RH and Rosberg, CG (1982) Why Africa's weak states persist: the empirical and the juridical in statehood. World Politics 35(1), 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Johnston, PB et al. (2019) Return and Expand: The Finances and Prospects of the Islamic State After the Caliphate. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.Google Scholar
Kalyvas, SN (2003) The ontology of ‘political violence’: action and identity in civil wars. Perspectives on Politics 1(3), 475494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kalyvas, SN (2006) The Logic of Violence in Civil War. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kalyvas, SN (2015) Rebel governance during the Greek civil war. In Arjona, A, Kasfir, N and Mampilly, Z (eds), Rebel Governance in Civil War. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 98119.Google Scholar
Kasfir, N (2015) Rebel governance constructing a field of inquiry: definitions, scope, patterns, order, causes. In Arjona, A, Kasfir, N and Mampilly, Z (eds), Rebel Governance in Civil War. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 21–46.Google Scholar
King, E and Samii, C (2014) Fast-track institution building in conflict-affected countries? Insights from recent field experiments. World Development 64, 740754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kuperman, AJ (2008) The moral hazard of humanitarian intervention: lessons from the Balkans. International Studies Quarterly 52(1), 4980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lake, D (2010) The practice and theory of US statebuilding. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 4(3), 257284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lister, C (2016) Profiling Jabhat al-Nusra. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Available from Scholar
Lyall, J, Zhou, Y-Y and Imai, K (2018) Can Economic Assistance Shape Combatant Support in Wartime? Experimental Evidence from Afghanistan. Available from Scholar
Lynch, M (2016) The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
Mampilly, ZC (2012) Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life During War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Mansuri, G and Rao, V (2004) Community-based and driven development: a critical review. The World Bank Research Observer 19(1), 139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mikulaschek, C, Pant, S and Tesfaye, B (2019) Winning hearts and minds in civil wars: governance, leadership change, and support for violence in Iraq. American Journal of Political Science 64(4), 773790.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mukhopadhyay, D (2014) Warlords, Strongman Governors, and the State in Afghanistan. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nixon, H and Mallett, R (2017) Service Delivery, Public Perceptions and State Legitimacy: Findings from the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium. London: Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium.Google Scholar
North, DC, Wallis, JJ, Weingast, BR et al. (2009) Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nunn, N and Qian, N (2014) US food aid and civil conflict. American Economic Review 104(6), 16301666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pedersen, PS and Walther, O (2018) Things Fall Apart: Rebel Fragmentation in Syria's Civil War (2011–2017). Available from Scholar
Pischedda, C (2018) Wars within wars: why windows of opportunity and vulnerability cause inter-rebel fighting in internal conflicts. International Security 43(1), 138176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Reno, W (1997) War, markets, and the reconfiguration of West Africa's weak states. Comparative Politics 29(4), 493510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Revkin, MR (2020) What explains taxation by resource-rich rebels? Evidence from the Islamic State in Syria. Journal of Politics 82(2), 757–764.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Risse, T and Stollenwerk, E (2018) Legitimacy in areas of limited statehood. Annual Review of Political Science 21, 403418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sacks, A (2012) Can Donors and non-State Actors Undermine Citizens’ Legitimating Beliefs? Washington, DC: World Bank.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sexton, R (2016) Aid as a tool against insurgency: evidence from contested and controlled territory in Afghanistan. American Political Science Review 110(4), 731749.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Staniland, P (2012) States, insurgents, and wartime political orders. Perspectives on Politics 10(2), 243264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stewart, MA (2018) Civil war as state-making: strategic governance in civil war. International Organization 72(1), 205226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Suykens, B (2015) Comparing rebel rule through revolution and naturalization: ideologies of governance in Naxalite and Naga India. In Arjona, A, Kasfir, N and Mampilly, Z (eds), Rebel Governance in Civil War. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 138157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tao, R et al. (2016) A hybrid approach to modeling territorial control in violent armed conflicts. Transactions in GIS 20(3), 413425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Timmons, JF (2005) The fiscal contract: states, taxes, and public services. World Politics 57(4), 530567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Winters, MS, Dietrich, S and Mahmud, M (2017) Perceptions of foreign aid project quality in Bangladesh. Research & Politics 4(4), 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Winters, MS, Dietrich, S and Mahmud, M (2018) Aiding the virtuous circle? International development assistance and citizen confidence in government in Bangladesh. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 12(4), 468483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wong, S (2012) What Have Been the Impacts of World Bank Community-Driven Development Programs? Washington, DC: World Bank. Available from Scholar
Wood, RM and Kathman, JD (2015) Competing for the crown: inter-rebel competition and civilian targeting in civil war. Political Science Quarterly 68(1), 167179.Google Scholar
Yuichi Kono, D and Montinola, GR (2009) Does foreign aid support autocrats, democrats, or both? The Journal of Politics 71(2), 704718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: Link

Carnegie et al. Dataset

Supplementary material: PDF

Carnegie et al. supplementary material

Carnegie et al. supplementary material

Download Carnegie et al. supplementary material(PDF)
PDF 196 KB