Which strategies contribute towards a belligerent's ability to shift territorial control in its favor more quickly than others? This dissertation advances a theory of territorial control dynamics in conventional civil war that places the civilian population at the center of the analysis. Existing scholarship explaining territorial control in conventional civil war has emphasized the role of relative military capabilities, direct military confrontations aimed at territorial conquest, and the existence of established zones of control, with civilians generally residing in areas clearly dominated by one party or another, not in contested areas. As such, theory holds that this makes the civilian population 'less consequential'. I argue that as a strategy in conventional civil war aimed at increasing territorial control, displacement serves a direct and indirect purpose suited towards these ends. Beyond using strategic displacement as a means of clearing out civilians to facilitate territorial conquest and consolidating territorial control, belligerents can strategically displace civilians into enemy-held territory as a way of geographically concentrating the civilian population. This can serve to undermine the enemy's capacity to govern. Beyond the frontlines, strategic displacement is employed in part as a strategy of exhaustion. Using indirect violence to promote the repeated civilian displacement within the enemy's rearguard serves as indirect mechanism by which to exhaust the enemy by eroding the enemy's ability to maintain territorial control, both in the short and long term. As opposition groups are faced with the meeting the demands of the local civilian population in an increasingly concentrated geographical expanse, and the more civilians are randomly displaced within enemy-held territory, the more pressure the opposition group has placed on its governance capacity and the more exhausted the enemy becomes. This in turn weakens the ability of the enemy to maintain territorial control. However, I argue that these effects vary across armed groups, dependent upon each group's respective governance capacity. This effect is also amplified when the enemy does not represent a unitary movement.


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Graduation Date





Mirilovic, Nikola


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences


School of Politics, Security and International Affairs

Degree Program

Security Studies




CFE0009360; DP0027083





Release Date

December 2023

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)