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Article

Civil wars vary greatly in duration—some end within months; others last for decades. What explains this variation? Civil wars drag on when no combatant can win a military victory and the various actors involved are unable, or unwilling, to reach a compromise agreement that resolves the war. Military victory does happen in civil war, but it is rare, so understanding why civil wars last as long as they do requires examining the barriers to negotiated settlement. Wars last longer when the parties involved perceive the war as less costly relative to peace and when the combatants are overly optimistic about how they will do in the war. Even when key decision-makers see the war as costly and are realistic about their chances of prevailing, negotiated settlements prove elusive if the parties cannot accept a division of the issues at stake or if the government or rebels are unable to trust the commitments the other side makes in a negotiation. Additionally, bargaining is more complicated when there are more combatants that must accept the terms of any agreement, and conflicts with more combatants last much longer than those with fewer. Many factors affect the bargaining environment, and these barriers to bargaining can explain why civil wars are on average quite long. International actions can alleviate some of the barriers and help combatants reach comprehensive settlements, as happened in the conflicts in Mozambique, El Salvador, Guatemala. In particular, peacekeeping and mediation strategies are effective at resolving wars sooner. International action in general is more effective, however, when the parties involved are interested in peace but need some help overcoming commitment or informational problems. These actions are much less successful when that interest is lacking. The current civil war in Syria has many of the factors identified as prolonging wars. It is an extremely fractionalized conflict, and many external actors are involved. Syria has a large majority population that has been historically excluded from political power and economically marginalized, and a minority government that has been dominant. These factors make reaching a comprehensive settlement very challenging and mean the war is likely to be very long-lasting.

Article

Once a civil war ends, there is high probability that the nation will relapse into renewed war within a few years. For a nation where a civil war has recently ended to relapse into renewed conflict, some dynamic process of contention must emerge that makes a resumption of armed conflict one—but not the only—possible outcome of that contentious episode. We can conceive of the dynamics by which contentious politics can lead to civil war recurrence as a function of three conditions. First, one or more dissident groups must emerge with the organizational and military capacity to mount and sustain an armed challenge to the postwar state. Second, one or more of those groups must have the incentive to resort to armed conflict rather than abide by the post–civil war order. Third, conditions and events in the postwar environment must evolve in a manner such that one or more of these groups must determine that they have an opportunity to revolt. This framework can be used to analyze how, in existing research, the outcome and key attributes of the now-ended civil war and conditions in the postwar environment affect whether dissident groups will resume armed conflict or sustain the peace.

Article

A major challenge for countries that emerge from civil war is the stabilization of the post-conflict order in a way that fighting does not break out again. Recent empirical and theoretical work on the resolution of civil wars and on the duration of peace strongly rely on the bargaining framework of war emphasizing information asymmetries and commitment problems as main reasons for why in some states civil wars recur repeatedly, whereas in other societies a conflict ends and a transition to a peaceful society is successful. The length of peace spells depends partly on information about the distribution of power that became available during the conflict, captured by the duration and intensity of the fighting as well as the type of conflict ending. Information problems are more relevant at earlier stages and with regard to the initiation of negotiations. In finding bargaining deals and securing their implementation, the conflict parties have to overcome commitment problems. The literature has investigated in more detail third-party security guarantees and power-sharing arrangements as mechanisms to get conflict parties to credibly commit to and adhere to a negotiated agreement. Recently, empirical research moved beyond the conclusion of peace agreements to the study of their implementation. Particular challenges for a peaceful order are the demobilization of ex-combatants, which is aggravated by time-inconsistency problems, the timing of elections, and the redistribution of economic resources. Finally, solutions become more difficult in multiparty conflicts and if the armed groups are fragmented.