David F. Mitchell and Jeffrey Pickering
The empirical literature on arms buildups and the use of interstate military force has advanced considerably over the last half century. Research has largely confirmed that a relationship exists between arms buildups and the subsequent use of force, although it is historically contingent. The relationship seems to have existed in some earlier historical periods but has not been a feature of international politics since 1945. Broader work such as the steps-to-war model brings understanding to such variation by demonstrating how arms races are interrelated with other causes of conflict, such as territorial disputes and alliances. Still, many important dimensions of the arms race–conflict connection remain to be explored. Differences between qualitative and quantitative arms races, for example, have not received sufficient empirical scrutiny. Precise theory also needs to be developed on direct and indirect relationships between arms races and conflict, and such theory requires empirical investigation.
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.
Capitalist peace theory (CPT) has gained considerable attention in international relations theory and the conflict literature. Its proponents maintain that a capitalist organization of an economy pacifies states internally and externally. They portray CPT either as a complement or as a substitute to other liberal explanations such as the democratic peace thesis. They, however, disagree about the facet of capitalism that is supposed to reduce the risk of political violence. Key contributions have identified three main drivers of the capitalist peace phenomenon: the fiscal constraints that a laissez-faire regimen puts on potentially aggressive governments, the mollifying norms that a capitalist organization creates; and the increased ability of capitalist governments to signal their intentions effectively in a confrontation with an adversary. Defining capitalism narrowly through the freedom entrepreneurs enjoy domestically, this article evaluates the key causal mechanisms and empirical evidence that have been advanced in support of these competing claims. The article argues that CPT needs to be based on a narrow definition of capitalism and that it should scrutinize motives and constraints of the main actors more deeply. Future contributions to the CPT literature should also pay close attention to classic theories of capitalism, which all considered individual risk taking and the dramatic changes between booms and busts to be key constitutive features of this form of economic governance. Finally, empirical tests of the proposed causal mechanism should rely on data sets in which capitalists appear as actors and not as “structures.” If the literature takes these objections seriously, CPT could establish itself as central theory of peace and war in two respects. First, it could serve as an antidote to the theory of imperialism and other “critical” approaches that see in capitalism a source of conflict rather than of peace. Second, it could become an important complement to commercial liberalism that stresses the external openness rather than the internal freedoms as an economic cause of peace and that particularly sees trade and foreign direct investment as pacifying forces.
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, terrorism has gained increased prominence in both scholarship and the media. While international terrorist acts are quite visible and highly publicized, such attacks represent only one type of terrorism within the international system. In fact, a very large number of acts of terrorism take place within the context of civil wars. Given the great disparity in power in most civil wars, it is not surprising that terrorism might be seen as a tactic that is often used by insurgent groups, who may have few resources at their disposal to fight a much stronger opponent.
There is a clear linkage between the concepts of terrorism and civil war, yet until recently scholars have largely approached civil war and terrorism separately. Recent literature has attempted to specifically map the intersection of terrorism and civil war, recognizing the extent to which the two overlap. As expected, the findings suggest that civil war and terrorism are highly linked. Other scholars have endeavoured to explain why rebel groups in some civil wars use terrorism, while others do not. Further research focuses on how governments respond to terrorism during civil war or on how the decisions of external actors to intervene in civil wars are affected by the use of terrorism by insurgent groups.
These studies show that there is too little theorizing on the relationship between civil war and terrorism; while scholars are finally considering these concepts collectively, the full nature of their relationship remains unexplored. Additional research is needed to better understand the various ways that terrorism and civil war overlap, interact, and mutually affect other important international and domestic political processes.
Kristian Skrede Gleditsch
Civil war is the dominant form of armed conflict in the contemporary international system, and most severe lethal armed conflicts in the post-Cold War era have been civil/intrastate rather than interstate. Still, it would be misleading to see these conflicts as purely domestic, as many contemporary civil wars such as Syria display clear transnational characteristics, including inspirations from events in other countries, links to actors in other countries, as well as international interventions. Moreover, civil wars often have important implications for other states, including security concerns and economic impacts. There is a need to focus on the growth and core findings in the literature on transnational dimensions of civil war, in particular on how factors outside a particular state can influence the risk of conflict within states as well as some of the central consequences of domestic conflict for other states or relations between states. This line of research has helped expand our understanding of both civil conflict and interstate war, and that a comparative focus on varieties conflict and attention to the possible transnational dimensions of civil war deserve a prominent role in future research.
Caroline A. Hartzell
Civil wars typically have been terminated by a variety of means, including military victories, negotiated settlements and ceasefires, and “draws.” Three very different historical trends in the means by which civil wars have ended can be identified for the post–World War II period. A number of explanations have been developed to account for those trends, some of which focus on international factors and others on national or actor-level variables. Efforts to explain why civil wars end as they do are considered important because one of the most contested issues among political scientists who study civil wars is how “best” to end a civil war if the goal is to achieve a stable peace. Several factors have contributed to this debate, among them conflicting results produced by various studies on this topic as well as different understandings of the concepts war termination, civil war resolution, peace-building, and stable peace.
Krista E. Wiegand
Despite the decline in interstate wars, there remain dozens of interstate disputes that could erupt into diplomatic crises and evolve into military escalation. By far the most difficult interstate dispute that exists are territorial disputes, followed by maritime and river boundary disputes. These disputes are not only costly for the states involved, but also potentially dangerous for states in the region and allies of disputant states who could become entrapped in armed conflicts. Fortunately, though many disputes remain unresolved and some disputes endure for decades or more than a century, many other disputes are peacefully resolved through conflict management tools.
Understanding the factors that influence conflict management—the means by which governments decide their foreign policy strategies relating to interstate disputes and civil conflicts—is critical to policy makers and scholars interested in the peaceful resolution of such disputes. Though conflict management of territorial and maritime disputes can include a spectrum of management tools, including use of force, most conflict management tools are peaceful, involving direct bilateral negotiations between the disputant states, non-binding third party mediation, or binding legal dispute resolution. Governments most often attempt the most direct dispute resolution method, which is bilateral negotiations, but often, such negotiations break down due to uncompromising positions of the disputing states, leading governments to turn to other resolution methods. There are pros and cons of each of the dispute resolution methods and certain factors will influence the decisions that governments make about the management of their territorial and maritime disputes. Overall, the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes is an important but complicated issue for states both directly involved and indirectly affected by the persistence of such disputes.
Karen A. Rasler
There is an argument that nonviolent civil resistance or protest campaigns should be studied as dynamic and complex phenomenon, rather than a single case comprised of various attributes, such as size, scale, and scope, which are then compared with other cases. As protest campaigns have increased all over the world during the last few years, international relations scholars have begun to devote more time and resources to studying them systematically with new data projects and analytical tools and methods. In light of this emerging research program, one needs to understand that protest campaigns contain large-scale processes of political contention that evolve across time and space. Such evolutionary processes are the result of the interactive relationships among multiple governmental and nongovernmental actors. These interactions reflect “highly interdependent sets of actions and reactions” that generate causal mechanisms and intersect with other large-scale processes which can produce similar and dissimilar outcomes across different political contexts. An argument will be advanced that a “relational mechanisms-process” approach articulated by McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly provides analytical leverage over such complexity. Most, international relations scholars, unlike social movement scholars, are not familiar with this approach. So, the effort herein is to not only make the case for a relational mechanisms-process approach but also to illustrate it with a partial analysis of the Egyptian uprising on January 25, 2011, which led to Mubarak’s resignation. The end result is a call for theoretical and empirical research that bridges two communities of scholars, one that is dominated by sociologists (social movement scholars) and the other that is dominated by political science (international relations political violence scholars).
Jessica Di Salvatore and Andrea Ruggeri
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Peacekeeping has been one of the main conflict management tools used by the international community to restore or safeguard peace and security. Since 1948, UN peacekeeping has substantially evolved and adopted a more comprehensive approach to peace that goes beyond purely military concerns. Indeed, the promises of peacekeeping as an effective instrument of conflict reduction, as outlined in the 2000 Brahimi report, might explain to some extent the evolution toward multidimensional missions and the unprecedented number of blue helmets deployed in the last decade. As a consequence, these growing expectations of peacekeeping effectiveness have ushered in a new strand of research that empirically investigates whether and under what conditions UN peacekeeping works. The main goals of this article are (a) to discuss how the concept of “effectiveness” in empirical studies on peacekeeping has been conceptualized and operationalized; (b) to review and summarize the major theoretical contributions and empirical findings on the effectiveness of peacekeeping missions; (c) to provide descriptive and graphical representation of cumulative empirical knowledge on peacekeeping operation; and (d) to elaborate necessary and future empirical challenges for the study of effectiveness of peacekeeping operations.
Peacekeepers are mostly deployed in conflict or post-conflict environments where violence is either ongoing or lingering; violence is thus a priority for peace missions. Consequently, peacekeeping is deemed successful or effective according to whether it curbs conflict on several dimensions. Effective missions are responsible for decreasing the intensity of battle violence, protecting civilians, and containing conflict diffusion and recurrence in the post-war phase. Each mission, however, is deployed to different contexts and operates under different conditions that affect its ability to avoid conflict. Concerning mission features, peacekeeping success is more likely when large contingents are deployed under robust mandates—that is, they have the authorization to pro-actively tackle violence. The type of mission is also a predictor of success, with multidimensional peacekeeping ensuring more durable peace in the aftermath of civil wars. A mission’s type, size, and composition signal credible commitment and enable peacekeepers to halt violence while also guaranteeing the implementation of peace agreements. These advancements in our understanding of peacekeeping stem from the availability of new data on both conflict and peace operations at the national and sub-national level of analysis. Empirical results from observational studies have prompted a consensus on the conflict avoidance capacity of peacekeeping. This approach has been flanked recently by simulation-based forecasting, and by field experiments and surveys investigating local-level outcomes of peace missions.
Unsurprisingly, the focus on violence and conflict outcomes as indicators of success is debated. First, in dealing with violence, peacekeeping produces spill-over effect on other conflict-related outcomes that are largely neglected, such as refugee flows and resort to terrorist violence. Second, given the wide range of functions performed by UN peacekeepers, including electoral assistance, economic reconstruction, and state building, it is reasonable to expect that these aspects enter the definition of effectiveness. Third, and relatedly, we lack an assessment of short versus long-term implications of peacekeeping for the political, social, and economic development of host countries. While reducing infant mortality, inequality, and crime are not necessarily tasks for peacekeepers, it is no less important to study whether and how UN missions may have shaped the quality of peace in host countries.
Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham
Civil wars have becoming increasingly complex in the last 50 years, the role of fragmentation in contemporary civil wars needs to be addressed. Two primary dimensions of fractionalization are: (1) fragmented conflict (i.e., those with many different actor) and (2) fragmented actors (i.e., internally divided “sides” of a conflict).
In addition to the two types of fragmentation, there are also various causes of fragmentation. The primary causes of fractionalized conflicts are rooted in the interplay between opposition actors and the government, and among opposition actors. Peace negotiations, accommodation, and the process of war all put stress on opposition actors (and to perhaps a more limited extent, on governments). Lastly, there is a set of conflict-related outcomes and processes that have been linked empirically to fractionalization. These include accommodation of opposition demands, higher rates of violence (against the state and civilians), infighting, duration of conflict, and side-switching.