Patricia A. Weitsman
Military alliances predate even the state system as a form of international cooperation, and they take on many forms. The motivations of states seeking to join, the commitment levels formalized in the alliance agreement, and degrees of institutionalization all take different forms in the literature, but these scholarly perspectives can be boiled down to a few approaches: the realist, the rationalist and formalist, the liberal or institutionalist, and finally, the constructivist arguments on alliance identities. Moreover, a common thread among the literature on military alliances is an understanding that alliances provide a wide range of services to their members, and contain more than one motivation for forming and maintaining the alliances. Given that the motivations for forming alliances are varied, especially during different threat environments, it is important to ask what the consequences are. In this vein, scholars consider two primary issues: if these alliances can fulfill their intended missions, and if there are unintended consequences which may arise and lead to undesirable results. A related issue to the study of what motivates alliances is in how well they perform in terms of cohesion. Cohesion is, roughly speaking, the capacity of an alliance to effectively carry out its goals. Finally, there are the coalitions—ad hoc multinational understandings that are forged to undertake a specific mission, and dissolve once that mission is complete. They are not wholly analytically distinct from wartime alliances, although the latter may have a greater degree of institutionalization and may predate a specific wartime operation.
Bipolarity was viewed both as an empirical condition and as a central explanatory concept, albeit contested, during the Cold War (1945–1989), when two superpowers dominated the international system. The United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) confronted each other as military and ideological rivals heading competing alliance systems—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), founded in 1949, and the Warsaw Pact established in 1955. Nuclear weaponry added a new wrinkle to the global superpower competition, particularly after the Soviet Union broke the American nuclear monopoly in 1949. A rich literature around these themes emerged as scholars sought to grapple with the explanatory dynamics propelling state behavior under the systemic constraints of bipolarity and the technological challenges presaged by the nuclear age. Such an academic focus meant that the study of international politics, particularly in the United States, was largely refracted through the prism of U.S.-Soviet competition and centered on the nature and implications of polarity, power, alliances, and nuclear deterrence. When the Soviet Union imploded, bipolarity in the sense of two predominant powers ended, as did the division of the world into two opposing blocs. In the post-Cold War period, scholars turned their attention to investigating questions regarding the impact on the nature of system structure and the international order of the collapse of one of the poles.
Accordingly, during the Cold War, scholars debated the conceptual and empirical understandings of bipolarity as well as its implications and the causal factors on which the expectation of bipolar stability was based. In the post-Cold War period, scholars reflected over whether the end of ideological (capitalism/democracy vs. communism/single party authoritarianism) conflict presaged the end of history or inaugurated a clash of civilizations, with some questioning the salience of the concept of polarity and the viability of the state system in the face of rising subnational and transnational pressures.
Karen Ruth Adams
The scientific study of war is a pressing concern for international politics. Given the destructive nature of war, ordinary citizens and policy makers alike are eager to anticipate if not outright avoid outbreaks of violence. Understanding the causes of war can be a complex process. Scholars of international relations must first define war, and then establish a universe of actors or conflicts in which both war and peace are possible. Next, they must collect data on the incidence of war in the entire universe of cases over a particular period of time, a random sample of relevant cases, a number of representative cases, or a set of cases relevant to independent variables in the theories they are testing. Finally, scholars must use this data to construct quantitative and qualitative tests of hypotheses about why actors fight instead of resolving their differences in other ways and, in particular, why actors initiate wars by launching the first attack. Instead of taking the inductive approach of inventorying the causes of particular wars and then attempting to find general rules, it is necessary for scholars to approach the problem deductively, developing theories about the environment in which states operate, deriving hypotheses about the incidence of war and attack, and using quantitative and qualitative methods to test these hypotheses.
Mackubin Thomas Owens
Civil–military relations is an interdisciplinary area of research, reflecting the work of political scientists, military, sociologists, and historians. History and culture, the constitution of the state and the statutes and practices arising therefrom, changes in the international security environment, technology, the character of conflict, and the changing concept of “soldier-hood” all influence the civil–military relations of a state. There are many possible patterns of civil–military relations that provide different answers to the questions of who controls the military and how, the degree of military influence appropriate for a given society, the appropriate role of the military in a given polity, who serves, and the effectiveness of the military instrument that a given civil–military relations produces. Moreover, there is no “general” or “unified field” theory that successfully explains all of these patterns. For a variety of reasons, Samuel Huntington's institutional theory remains the dominant paradigm for examining civil–military relations. When it comes to the question of civilian control of the military, Peter Feaver’s agency theory corrects some of the flaws in Huntington’s theory. Morris Janowitz and the military sociologists also provide useful insights, especially regarding the question of who serves and related issues. In the case of concordance theory, critics argue that the definition of military intervention sets the bar too low to be meaningful. Ultimately, the patterns of civil–military relations affect national security because of their impact on strategic assessment.
Stathis N. Kalyvas and Paul D. Kenny
A civil war, also known as intrastate war, is a war between organized groups within the same state or country. It is a high-intensity conflict that often involves regular armed forces. One of the reasons for the lack of consensus in the study of civil war is disagreement over what exactly civil war means. Theoretically, civil war overlaps with other categories of armed conflict, particularly revolution, political violence, ethnic conflict, and terrorism. Civil wars since the end of World War II have lasted for over four years on average, a considerable rise from the one-and-a-half-year average of the 1900–1944 period. While the rate of emergence of new civil wars has been relatively steady since the mid-19th century, the increasing length of those wars has resulted in increasing numbers of wars ongoing at any one time. Since 1945, civil wars have resulted in the deaths of over 25 million people, as well as the forced displacement of millions more, along with economic collapse. According to scholars of civil war research, the causes of civil war include economic motivations or greed, and political or social grievances. Greed-based explanations focus on individuals’ desire to maximize their profits, while grievance-based explanations center on conflict as a response to socioeconomic or political injustice. A third concept, opportunity-based explanations, talks about factors that make it easier to engage in violent mobilization.
Idean Salehyan and Clayton L. Thyne
Civil war is an armed conflict between the state and another organized domestic party over a contested political incompatibility, which results in a number of casualties exceeding a certain threshold for both parties. Attempts to operationalize these criteria have produced many data sets, which conceptualize civil war as distinct from one-sided violence, organized crime, and communal fighting. Civil wars are devastating for states experiencing them, their neighbors, and the entire global community. Combatant and civilian deaths, rape, massive refugee flight, negative impacts on economy and infrastructure, spread of infectious diseases, global spread of illegal narcotics, and the promotion of terrorism are all consequences of civil wars. Theories explaining why civil wars occur focus on objectives of the rebels, ability of rebels to successfully challenge the government, influence of external actors on interactions between the government and the opposition, external financing of potential rebel groups, and impact of a state’s neighbors on the likelihood of civil conflict or how neighboring conflicts and refugee communities serve as breeding grounds for cross-border rebel movements. Conflicts persist until neither side believes that it can achieve unilateral victory and continued fighting is costly. Governments are more likely to win early when they have large armies, but time to government victory increases when they are faced with secessionist rebels and when external parties are involved. Meanwhile, external mediation diminishes informational and credible commitment problems during bargaining and reduces conflict duration. Promising directions for future research on civil war include geographic disaggregation, survey research, and computational/agent-based modeling.
Alyssa K. Prorok and Paul K. Huth
The academic study of warfare has expanded considerably over the past 15 years. Whereas research used to focus almost exclusively on the onset of interstate war, more recent scholarship has shifted the focus from wars between states to civil conflict, and from war onset to questions of how combatants wage and terminate war. Questioned as well are the longer-term consequences of warfare for countries and their populations. Scholarship has also shifted away from country-conflict-year units of analysis to micro-level studies that are attentive to individual-level motives and explanations of spatial variation in wartime behavior by civilians and combatants within a country or armed conflict. Today, research focuses on variations in how states and rebel groups wage war, particularly regarding when and how wars expand, whether combatants comply with the laws of war, when and why conflicts terminate, and whether conflicts end with a clear military victory or with a political settlement through negotiations. Recent research also recognizes that strategic behavior continues into the post-conflict period, with important implications for the stability of the post-conflict peace. Finally, the consequences of warfare are wide-ranging and complex, affecting everything from political stability to public health, often long after the fighting stops.
Conflict analysis and resolution (CAR) is defined by a set of ideas about avoiding, minimizing, and stopping violence that often is mutually destructive. CAR relates to all domains of conflicts, whether within or between families, organizations, communities, or countries. The CAR field emerged between 1946 and 1969, as numerous wars and crises erupted, associated with the Cold War and the national liberation struggles of the decolonization process. Many doctrines, theories, and research appeared to explain and influence those conflicts. New governmental and nongovernmental actions were also undertaken to prevent future wars by building transnational institutions and fostering reconciliation between former enemies. The rapid expansion and institutionalization of CAR began in the early 1970s, when many American pioneers in the field became discouraged by their failure to accomplish more during the 1950s and 1960s. The end of the Cold War in 1989 and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 profoundly changed the world environment. Several developments contributed to limiting destructive international and domestic conflicts. These include the increasing economic integration of the world and the intensification of global communications; the growing adherence to norms protecting human rights; increasing number of democratic countries; and growing engagement of women in governance. Core CAR concepts include conflict analysis, conflict fluidity and subjectivity, and multiplicity of actors.
Louis Kriesberg and Joyce Neu
Core concepts of the interdisciplinary social science field of conflict analysis and resolution (CAR) are discussed. Work in the field is based on numerous generally accepted ideas about the nature of conflict and constructive approaches to conflict. These ideas include ways of waging conflicts constructively, tracing the interconnectedness of conflicts, and assessing the multiplicity of actors. Other important core concepts relate to stages of conflicts: emergence, escalation, de-escalation and settlement, and sustaining peace. Finally, current and future issues regarding CAR conceptualizations and their applications are examined.
Joyce Neu and Louis Kriesberg
The field of conflict analysis and resolution (CAR) is primarily defined as ideas about and applications of ways in which conflicts can be addressed constructively. The boundaries of the field cannot be sharply drawn. There are scholars, practitioners, and outside analysts who sometimes apply conflict resolution ideas and methods but who do not self-identify as belonging to the field. They do, nevertheless, contribute to the field. The field also refers to people designated or self-identified as conflict analysis and resolution scholars and/or practitioners. This article focuses on the development of the CAR field as an interdisciplinary social science endeavor within the broad international relations domain. The major periods covered include (1) development of the field and its preliminary beginnings from 1914 to 1945; (2) emergence of CAR as a field between 1946 and 1969; (3) expansion and institutionalization from 1970–1989; (4) diffusion and differentiation from 1990–2008; and, (5) advances and challenges 2009 through 2017.
From 1914 to 1945, as a result of World War I, there was a rise in pacifism. The creation of the United Nations in 1945 following World War II was intended as a means to prevent war and maintain peace. CAR research focused on analyzing the causes of violent conflicts. Researchers drew on psychoanalytic tools to examine, for example, attributes of leaders and social movements.
From 1946 to 1969, as a result of the Cold War and national liberation struggles, the world experienced an increase in the number of conflicts. Governmental organizations worked to avert a possible nuclear war and to limit conflict escalation through the United Nations and by the creation of forerunners to the European Union. In the nongovernmental sector, high-level unofficial meetings began taking place to build peace and reduce tensions. CAR research grew and included the use of game theory and rational models.
The period of expansion and institutionalization (1970–1989) saw the growth of alternative dispute resolution that positively affected the creation of new CAR institutions. Nongovernmental CAR organizations grew in number and effectiveness offering dialogue and problem-solving workshops to disputing parties. Research focused on nonviolent means of resolving conflicts as well as how conflicts can be waged constructively.
From 1990 to 2008, the field witnessed a period of diffusion and differentiation. The end of the Cold War gave way to a period with fewer armed conflicts. Nongovernmental organizations and university programs in CAR increased. Intergovernmental organizations such as the UN and the African Union began to focus on professionalizing their mediation and peacemaking efforts.
The period from 2009 through 2017 saw the field continue to grow. New challenges included the quashing of nonviolent resistance movements in the Middle East and North Africa, the impacts of climate change, the rise in terrorism, and the widespread use of technology for both positive and negative impacts on peace. This period saw a dramatic increase in the application of CAR research and experience in governmental and intergovernmental organizations’ work.
Even though most conflicts in everyday life manifest themselves as cursory bagatelles, there are conflicts that end up in situations of organized, collective violence (e.g., armed conflict). To understand how trivial contradictions can become meaningful conflicts in a broader societal context, it is crucial to examine the process of conflict escalation. Conflict escalation can be understood as an intensification of a conflict with regard to the observed extent and the means used. An escalating conflict represents a developing social system in its own right, having the legitimization of violence as a key feature. Here, a broader social science perspective on the concept of conflict escalation is offered, outlining its intellectual history, explaining its major perspectives and current emphases, and exploring newer avenues in approaching social conflict.
Predictive models, which includes forecasting models, are used to study all types of conflict and political violence, including civil wars, international conflict, terrorism, genocide, and protests. Thesee models are defined as those where the researcher explicitly values predictive performance when building and analyzing the model. This is different from inferential models, where the researcher values the accurate operationalization of a theory, and experimental or quasi-experimental designs where the focus is on the estimation of a causal effect. Researchers employ preditive models to guide policy, to assess the importance of variables, to test and compare theories, and for the development of research methods. In addition to these practical applications, there are more fundamental arguments, rooted in the philosophy of science, as to why these models should be used to advance conflict research. Their use has led to numerous substantive findings. For example, while inferential models largely support the democratic peace hypothesis, predictive models have shown mixed results and have been used to refine the scope of the argument. Among the more robust findings are the presence of nonlinear relationships and the importance of dependencies in all types of conflict data. These findings have implications for how researchers model conflict processes. As predictive models become more common and more integrated into the study of conflict, it is important that researchers understand their underlying components to use them appropriately.
Sara McLaughlin Mitchell and Patrick M. Regan
The issue of armed conflict management was first mentioned in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1957, when Quincy Wright wrote that the resolution of international conflict can be facilitated by national government efforts “to prevent tensions for arising and aggravating disputes […] among nations. Such resolution can also proceed through the application of appropriate methods of negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement […] and the coordination of measures to prevent aggression.” However, there was remarkably little emphasis on studies of negotiation, mediation, or interstate bargaining before the mid-1970s. A more concerted focus on managing armed conflict began in the mid-1970s, and the 1990s and 2000s saw an explosion in the number of published quantitative studies on conflict management, driven in part by the significant growth in data collection projects on interstate conflict management. Over the past half-century, quantitative studies have identified the factors that promote the use and success of interstate conflict management. It should be noted that a lot of the usual suspect variables in the conflict literature, such as power parity, democracy, rivalry, and contiguity, appear in conflict management analyses as well. Yet the dialogue between these two literatures is often limited. On the other hand, conflict management courses typically organize themselves around the dependent variable, examining different forms of conflict management techniques (good offices, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, adjudication, etc.). Progress will be made on both fronts when we start thinking about these processes in a unified framework.
The academic study of conflict resolution was born as as a critique of mainstream International Relations (IR), which explains why feminist theory and conflict resolution share many things in common. For example, both feminists and conflict resolution scholars challenge traditional power politics grounded in realist or neorealists analyses of conflict. They also share the core belief that war is not inevitable and that human beings have the capacity to resolve conflicts through nonviolent means. In the past two decades, with the expansion of feminist scholarship in IR, feminist interventions in conflict resolution have gained more currency. This essay reviews feminist scholarship in conflict resolution, with particular emphasis on five elements: critiques of the absence and/or marginalization of women in the field and an effort to include women and to make women visible and heard; articulation of a unique feminist standpoint for approaching peacemaking and conflict resolution, which is essentially different to, and qualitatively better than, mainstream (or male-stream) perspectives; feminist theorization of difference in conflict resolution theory and practice (challenges to essentialism, intersections, power and privilege, culture); feminist redefinition of central concepts in the field, especially violence, power, peace, and security; and original feminist research and theorizing, including field research in conflict areas, designed to transform rather than just reform the field. This essay argues that in order to further expand and institutionalize conflict resolution studies, mainstream scholars must be willing to engage seriously the contributions and critiques of feminists.
For more than four decades, advocates of consociationalism and their opponents have been engaged in a debate over about how to design institutions to achieve sustainable peace in divided societies. In general, existing theories acknowledge the importance and usefulness of institutional design in conflict resolution, but offer rather different prescriptions as to the most appropriate models to achieve stable conflict settlements. Three such theories are of particular significance: power sharing in the form of its liberal consociational variant, centripetalism, and power dividing. Consociationalism, centripetalism, and power dividing offer a range of distinct prescriptions on how to ensure that differences of identity do not translate into violence. They often go beyond “politics at the center” and also provide arguments on territorial dimensions of ethnic conflict settlement. Practitioners of conflict resolution recognize the need to combine a range of different mechanisms, giving rise to an emerging practice of conflict settlement known as “complex power sharing.” None of the three theories of conflict resolution fully captures this current practice of complex power sharing, even as liberal consociationalism appears to be the most open to incorporation of elements of centripetalism and power dividing. A theory of complex power sharing would need to explain why there is empirical support for a greater mix of institutions than existing theories recommend.
Clayton L. Thyne and Jonathan Powell
With 28 coup attempts from 2008 through 2017, the previous decade saw the fewest coup attempts in any ten-year period since at least as far back as 1960. Though coups may well be on the decline, research on coups has burgeoned since the early 2000s. The increased scholarly interest in coups can likely be attributed to a number of factors. First, high-profile coups like the 2011 ouster of President Mubarak in Egypt during the Arab Spring uprisings and the more recent autocratic deepening after the 2016 failed coup in Turkey highlight the importance of coups in shaping global politics. Increased attention from the media and policymakers has been coupled with the rise in studies that examine the causes and consequences of coups. Second, while past research largely focused on particular cases, the introduction of new datasets has allowed scholars to examine coups across time and space to reveal more generalizable patterns. Finally, unlike topics like war, democratization, and voting behavior, coup researchers have only begun to tackle even the most basic research questions when it comes to coups. The bulk of coup literature attempts to explain why coups come about. Studies focused on predicting coups often focus on factors like coup-proofing, domestic protests and instability, and how international actors can either foment or stymie coup attempts. A smaller and growing literature considers how coups influence other processes, often focusing on outcomes like democracy, economic development, and interstate disputes.
Janice Gross Stein
A relatively recent phenomenon in international politics is the study of crisis, which began in the twentieth century, when scholars looked back at two world wars and the interwar period that was shaped by the Great Depression. Today, the challenges to effective crisis prevention and management have become broader and deeper. During the Cold War, leaders were prone to escalate to force in crises over the classic currency of international politics—territory. In the contemporary global system, territorial disputes continue to matter and are most likely to escalate when the land is highly valued for its strategic importance, economic potential, or symbolic significance. An important part of the explanation of crisis escalation, and of an inadvertent slide into wars or violent confrontations, are theories emphasizing “miscalculation” and “misperception.” These theories have been used as a mediating variable between external and domestic attributes, and the way leaders perceive and process information about these factors, and then make choices. However, arguments on “misperception” and “miscalculation” are built on the assumption that accurate perception and calculation are possible. That leaders are “rational” and capable of “accurate” perception and utility-maximizing choices. The challenge lies in the understanding of error and the model of human reason. Research in the last several decades has revolutionized that understanding.
Cultural homogenization is understood as a state-led policy aimed at cultural standardization and the overlap between state and culture. Homogeneity, however, is an ideological construct, presupposing the existence of a unified, organic community. It does not describe an actual phenomenon. Genocide and ethnic cleansing, meanwhile, can be described as a form of “social engineering” and radical homogenization. Together, these concepts can be seen as part of a continuum when considered as part of the process of state-building, where the goal has often been to forge cohesive, unified communities of citizens under governmental control. Homogenizing attempts can be traced as far back as ancient and medieval times, depending on how historians choose to approach the subject. Ideally, however, the history of systematic cultural homogenization begins at the French Revolution. With the French Revolution, the physical elimination of ideological-cultural opponents was pursued, together with a broader drive to “nationalize” the masses. This mobilizing-homogenizing thrust was widely shared by the usually fractious French revolutionary elites. Homogenization later peaked during the twentieth century, when state nationalism and its attendant politics emerged, resulting in a more coordinated, systematic approach toward cultural standardization. Nowadays, there are numerous methods to achieving homogenization, from interstate wars to forced migration and even to the more subtle shifts in the socio-political climate brought about by neoliberal globalization.
Religion and culture have historically been neglected in international relations (IR) theories and in political science more generally. It was only recently that IR began to consider the role of culture and religion in war and peace. Several main scholarly trends in the study of culture, religion, conflict, and peace can be identified, starting with the definitional problems that IR scholars had to deal with as they tried to incorporate culture and religion. The first major attempt in the IR field to understand war almost exclusively through the religious prism was that of Samuel Huntington, who in his Clash of Civilization (1993, 1996) identifies two main reasons why religion can cause war: first, religion can be considered as a primordial and immutable identity; and second, religion is a form of ideology rather than identity. The scholarly literature has also addressed themes such as religious fundamentalism and violence, the role of religious actors in international conflict, the practical use of religion and culture to promote peace via diplomacy, and engagement of religion and culture in existing peace theories such as democratic peace theory. Avenues for future research may include the relational and constantly changing aspects of religion; what, when, and how various religious interpretations receive political prominence in promoting conflict or peace; how religion can be used as an independent variable across cases; and the hidden set of assumptions that are embedded in the cultural and religion labels.
Robert Weiner and Paul Sharp
Scholars acknowledge that there is a close connection between diplomacy and war, but they disagree with regard to the character of this connection—what it is and what it ought to be. In general, diplomacy and war are assumed to be antagonistic and polar opposites. In contrast, the present diplomatic system is founded on the view that state interests may be pursued, international order maintained, and changes effected in it by both diplomacy and war as two faces of a single statecraft. To understand the relationships between diplomacy and war, we must look at the development of the contemporary state system and the evolution of warfare and diplomacy within it. In this context, one important claim is that the foundations of international organizations in general, and the League of Nations in particular, rest on a critique of modern (or “old”) diplomacy. For much of the Cold War, the intellectual currents favored the idea of avoiding nuclear war to gain advantage. In the post-Cold War era, the relationship between diplomacy and war remained essentially the same, with concepts such as “humanitarian intervention” and “military diplomacy” capturing the idea of a new international order. The shocks to the international system caused by events between the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 have intensified the paradoxes of the relationship between diplomacy and war.