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Home » What explains the steep increase in organised violence in the modern era? : Politics and Sociology Essay, NUI, Ireland

What explains the steep increase in organised violence in the modern era? : Politics and Sociology Essay, NUI, Ireland

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Dynamics and Logics of Civil War

Abstract

This article reviews the literature on civil war. We focus on the most recent period of scholarly activity, beginning in the early 2000s when the publication of prominent quantitative studies triggered a surge in the empirical research of civil war as a well-defined conceptual category. We identify three explanatory logics that have dominated much of this literature and that view civil wars as a consequence of greed, grievances, and opportunities, respectively. We evaluate the arguments and findings of these theoretical approaches with respect to each of the main phases of war: outbreak, wartime dynamics, conflict termination, and postwar recovery.

The article concludes by identifying key challenges confronting future civil war
research. In particular, we emphasize the continuing need to advance theories that bridge the main explanatory logics as well as the different phases of conflict. Researchers should also pay more attention to defining the appropriate spatiotemporal scope of their studies.

Keywords

civil wars, conflict resolution, rebellion, civilian casualties, bargaining, internal armed conflict, war outcomes

(WWII) period, conflict researchers have been relatively slow to adapt to this trend. Related topics such as “revolutions” and “ethnic conflict” enjoyed their respective surges of scholarly attention in the 1970s and 1990s, but most scholarship using “civil war” as a conceptual category appeared during the past one and a half decades.

Clearly, centuries of interstate warfare, including two world wars, together with the threat of superpower confrontation during the cold war cast a long shadow over the field.

How Political Violence Ends: Paths to Conflict Deescalation and Termination

Group 3 of the APSA Task Force on Political Violence and Terrorism was charged with addressing the following questions:

What does the community of scholars in political science know about how violent conflicts end that policy makers and the general public might want to know? What are the pathways out of political violence, and what responses to political violence – by affected states, by rebel groups, and by the international community – encourage the de-escalation (or escalation) of violence and the transition to peace?

Answering these questions is complicated by the fact that political violence can assume a number of different forms – from interstate wars to revolutionary civil wars to secessionist conflicts to terrorism (in its many forms) to communal violence, to riots. There are limits to the extent to which
we generalize across forms of political violence concerning what factors contribute to the deescalation or termination of conflict.

With that caveat in mind, the members of Group 3 offer the following summary of what social scientists have identified as the most salient issues concerning how armed conflicts come to an end, what can be done to bring them to an earlier and less destructive conclusion, and what can be done to prevent them from recurring.

I. Patterns of Political Violence

Since the end of World War II, there have been several profound shifts in the pattern of armed conflict occurring in the world. First, civil wars – revolutions, secessionist wars, ethnic conflict, and domestic terrorism – have surpassed interstate wars as the most frequent and deadly form of armed conflict in the world.

The Correlates of War Project (COW) reports that there were only twentythree interstate wars between 1945 and 1997, resulting in 3.3 million battle deaths. By contrast, there were more than four times as may civil wars (108), resulting in almost four times as many casualties (11.4 million; Sarkees 2000).

While COW includes only major armed conflicts, the Armed Conflict 1 Dataset (ACD) produced by the International Peace Research Institute of Oslo and the Department of Peace and Conflict Resolution at Uppsala University (Sweden) codes major, minor and intermediate conflicts.

Of the 231 incidents identified in ACD as occurring between 1946 and 2005, 167 were internal conflicts, 21 were “extrastate” conflicts (mostly anti-colonial wars), while only 43 were interstate conflicts (Gleditsch et al. 2002: 620; Harbom, Högbladh and Wallensteen 2006).2 Thus, armed conflict since 1945 has been largely a matter of civil war.

Second, whereas interstate wars between the major powers of the international system (Europe, the U.S., Japan, and China) dominated the patterns of conflict for much of the previous three centuries, almost all of the civil wars of the last sixty years have taken place in the Third World

What is a Civil War and Why Study it

When domestic political conflict takes the form of military confrontation or armed combat we speak of civil war. This is a destructive development: the mean number of deaths in the 146 civil wars that took place between 1945 and 1999 is 143,883 (Sambanis 2004b). Besides direct fatalities, civil war causes many more indirect ones through mass dislocation, epidemics, famines, and the degradation of the state apparatus.

Economic costs are also massive, both directly and indirectly. Economic development is stalled or, even, reversed. Civil war is also a phenomenon prone to serious semantic confusion, even contestation. The description of a conflict as a civil war carries symbolic and political weight since the term can confer or deny legitimacy to a warring party. Indeed the very use (or not) of the term is part of the conflict itself.

This is why euphemisms are so common. Civil war is often described through such terms as Troubles, Emergency, or Situation, while rebels are typically described as bandits or, more recently, terrorists (and some civil wars are presented as being instances of the ‘‘war on terror’’). This sort of semantic and political contestation accounts, in great part, for the fact that the systematic study of civil wars is a rather recent development.

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