Taking Away the Guns: Forcible Disarmament and Rebellion

Abstract:  In the early 1920's, Russia's North Caucasus region was gripped by rebellion, political violence and the emergence of parallel Islamic governing structures that directly challenged the sovereignty of the nascent Soviet state. Yet by late 1925 the uprising had largely subsided, and the Soviets asserted a near-monopoly on the use of force and policymaking in the region. Historians are divided over how this result came about. Some attribute the region's pacification to the Soviets' use of forcible disarmament to collect and dispose of all privately-owned weapons in key violent hot spots. Others argue that disarmament was unnecessary and perhaps even counterproductive. The latter view is consistent with research on postwar demobilization and peacekeeping, which argues that commitment problems should make the population extremely reluctant to give up their arms. Using new declassified micro-level data from Russian archives, I endeavor to uncover the logic behind the Soviets' use of disarmament and identify what effect, if any, this practice had on rebel violence. I show that the Soviets used this method where conventional counterinsurgency failed due to poor intelligence and backlash from collateral damage. In these circumstances, forcible disarmament was a reliably effective tool of pacification -- short-term and long-term, locally and regionally.

yz_disarm4.pdf1.33 MB