How Does Leadership Decapitation Affect Violence? The Case of Drug Trafficking Organizations in Mexico
Journal of Politics 77 (2): 324-336, 2015
13 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2013 Last revised: 26 May 2016
Date Written: March 1, 2015
Many governments target leaders of violent groups, but consequences of this strategy are unclear. Additionally, most studies examine political groups such as terrorists, ignoring criminal organizations – even though they can represent serious threats to security. This article presents a theoretical framework for how political and criminal groups differ, and uses the framework to explain how group type should condition leadership removal’s effects. Decapitation should weaken criminal organizations, temporarily reducing violence. However, as groups fragment and newer groups emerge to address market demands, violence increases in the longer term. Empirical analysis using original data on Mexican criminal organizations generally supports the argument. Interestingly, the short-term violence reduction is only associated with leaders arrested (not killed), and the reduction is more robust when the target is a mid-level leader, as opposed to the top leader. These results differ markedly from those found in studies of political groups.
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