Empirical research on civil war onset has been largely dominated by two approaches: a correlational or “correlates of civil war” approach which seeks to identify country-level characteristics associated with a higher likelihood of civil war outbreak, and a bargaining approach which starts from the assumption that warfare is costly and which views civil conflict as a by-product of bargaining failures. Correlational and bargaining studies of internal conflict onset have reached an analytical plateau because they fail to specify the precise mechanisms that yield civil warfare instead of a different type of violent or nonviolent outcome. An alternative, contentious framework is advanced for studying civil war onset. This framework situates the conflict event within a larger cycle of contention and specifies the mechanisms through which civil conflict is most likely to occur. According to this contentious perspective, civil wars are commonly produced by the combination of one structural condition—a state crisis of authority and/or legitimacy—and the interdependent effect of two mechanisms—radicalization and militarization. Through theory development and vignettes from a handful of civil war cases, the article makes the case that the contentious approach holds promise for elucidating how exactly civil conflicts break out. Despite holding initial explanatory power, the contentious theory of civil war onset advanced herein awaits more systematic empirical testing.
Paul R. Hensel
Territorial issues have been prominent causes of armed conflict and war in the modern era. This observation has led to a rapidly growing body of academic literature on the sources, management, and consequences of such issues. Although territory has gotten most of the scholarly attention, this literature has its roots in research on contentious issues that began in the 1960s. Academic research on contentious issues began with studies on issue areas in foreign policy analysis, focusing on such questions as how the foreign policy process differs from more traditional domestic policy processes. This line of research struggled to find mainstream acceptance until scholars began adopting a more substantive conception of issues, focusing on the nature of the values at stake. General patterns of foreign policy conflict and cooperation have been found to differ substantially across different issues. Importantly, territorial issues are the most frequent and most dangerous issues in armed conflict and war, leading scholars to focus much of their issue-related research on the dynamics of territorial contention.
Research on territory has stemmed from the main elements of issues theory that were developed earlier: issue salience, or the importance of the issue under contention; issue context, or recent interactions over the same issue; and institutional context, or the extent to which other actors and institutions are able to influence contention over this type of issue. Armed conflict is much more likely when the issue at stake is more salient, particularly when this salience involves intangible dimensions such as the presence of a state’s ethnic kin in the claimed territory. Greater issue salience also increases the likelihood of peaceful negotiations and nonbinding conflict management techniques like mediation. A recent history of armed conflict or failed negotiations over an issue increases the likelihood of armed conflict, bilateral negotiations, and nonbinding management. The normative and institutional context also appears to affect the likelihood of conflict and peaceful management over issues, although more remains to be done in this area.
The issues literature is beginning to make important strides beyond this initial work on territorial claim management. Scholars are beginning to geocode data on international borders, raising important potential benefits for the study of territory and perhaps other issues. International legal arguments appear to affect the management of territorial claims in systematic ways, and ending territorial claims seems to produce substantial improvements in relations between the former adversaries. The same general patterns seem to hold for river and maritime issues, as well as territorial issues, and these other issue types have more promising institutional contexts. Future research could benefit from considering additional issue types (including a recent effort to collect data on identity claims), as well as studying domestic and interstate issues.
The understanding of the differences in what a state and nonstate actors are and do in the Global South is augmented if we historicize these categories. In particular, the category of the nonstate actor is best understood when contextualized in the project of the state in which such actors operate. Building on established critical approaches, it is necessary to interrogate the a priori assumption that distinctions that frame as exclusively distinct categories of state and nonstate actors hold blanket validity for understanding politics in the Global South.
A meaningful understanding of how an actor’s influence—regardless of category—is enhanced when placed in a context, and where analysis addresses strategies and actions and their effects. To this end, an actor is defined as an entity with two characteristics: it is able to develop preferences and goals, and it is able to mobilize individuals and material resources in their pursuit. Presenting the benefits of contextual analysis shows how a focus on actors’ “sovereign potentialities” (i.e., attributes such as control over territory, service provision, generation of markers of identity, and the international recognition that an actor has and through which it can impose change on its context and environment) allows for a clearer understanding of what constrains or enables actors qua actors.
One way to explain the analytical purchase of this argument is via a novel reading of Hezbollah and of Lebanon’s politics, which is the party’s anchoring context. This makes it possible to analyze the profound effects of Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon and regionally through its alliance with Syria (and Iran), its appeal to a wider Arab audience, and its confrontation with Israel. Special attention is given to Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon, its involvement in the 2012–2013 Qusayr battle in support of the Syrian government, and its decision-making during the 2006 Israel War. This discussion will highlight Hezbollah’s state-like and non-state-like sovereign potentialities, and the factors that limit or enable its strategies in different contexts.
Philip G. Roeder
National secession seeks to create a new sovereign state for a nation residing on its homeland that is currently located inside another sovereign state. This goal distinguishes national secession from regional secession, autonomy, and decolonization and shapes the strategies, operational objectives, and tactical choices of the leaders of national-secession campaigns. Explanations for the success of some campaigns—particularly, success at getting on the global agenda—have focused on the identities, grievances, or greed of their members. Explanations for why some campaigns have turned to protracted intense violence have focused on these motivations and on tactical-logistical opportunities.
The existing literature suffers from its failure to agree on theoretical and conceptual fundamentals. As a consequence, empirical studies focus on very different universes of cases and operationalize key variables in diverging ways. The existing literature frequently does not consider how the goal of national secession constrains the strategies, operations, and tactics of such campaigns. And so, it often fails to consider whether studies with another dependent variable can be extended to the study of national secession. Explanations stress indeterminate or substitutable causes and remote constraints on most national-secession campaigns—causes and constraints taken “off the shelf” from theories about conflicts operating under very different strategic and operational constraints. Missing from these explanations is the authenticity and realism of the programs for national secession in the assessments of the populations that each program presents as a nation with a right to a sovereign state of its own. Explanations and recommendations for responses by common-state governments, their allies, and the international community often fail to understand the centrality of the war of programs between national secessionists and common-state governments and the ways this constrains what compromises are possible and what responses are most likely to lead to domestic and international peace in such conflicts.
Zachary C. Shirkey
Military intervention into interstate and civil wars is both common and important. It lengthens wars, makes them more severe, and shapes how they are fought. Even the mere possibility of intervention can alter the course of a war as belligerent powers alter their strategies to either encourage or dissuade potential interveners. These effects of military intervention are found in both civil and interstate wars. Yet, is state intervention into interstate and civil wars essentially one phenomenon or are they distinct phenomena? By looking at which states are likely to intervene, why and when they intervene, and which wars are most likely to experience intervention, it becomes clear the similarities between state military intervention into civil and interstate wars are more significant than are the differences. In other words, despite some important differences, they are subsets of the same phenomenon. In both types of wars, allies, geographically proximate states, and great powers are more likely to intervene. Also, information revealed by events within both types of wars prompts intervention and explains its timing. Last, wars in which international organizations become involved, both civil and interstate, are more likely to experience intervention. There are, however, important differences notably in the areas of cross-border ethnic ties, the presence of great powers in the war, the use of non-state proxies, and wars caused by commitment problems.
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.
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.
Cyanne E. Loyle
Armed conflict is ultimately about the violent confrontation between two or more groups; however, there is a range of behaviors, both violent and nonviolent, pursued by governments and rebel groups while conflict is ongoing that impacts the course and outcomes of that violence. The use of judicial or quasi-judicial institutions during armed conflict is one such behavior. While there is a well-developed body of literature that examines the conditions under which governments engage with the legacies of violence following armed conflict, we know comparatively little about these same institutions used while conflict is ongoing.
Similar to the use of transitional justice following armed conflict or post-conflict justice, during-conflict transitional justice (DCJ) refers to “a judicial or quasi-judicial process initiated during an armed conflict that attempts to address wrongdoings that have taken or are taking place as part of that conflict” (according to Loyle and Binningsbø). DCJ includes a variety of institutional forms pursued by both governments and rebel groups such as human rights trials, truth commissions or commissions of inquiry, amnesty offers, reparations, purges, or exiles.
As our current understanding of transitional justice has focused exclusively on these processes following a political transition or the termination of an armed conflict, we have a limited understanding of how and why these processes are used during conflict. Extant work has assumed, either implicitly or explicitly, that transitional justice is offered and put in place once violence has ended, but this is not the case. New data on this topic from the During-Conflict Justice dataset by Loyle and Binningsbø suggests that the use of transitional justice during conflict is a widespread and systematic policy across multiple actor groups. In 2017, Loyle and Binningsbø found that DCJ processes were used during over 60% of armed conflicts from 1946 through 2011; and of these processes 10% were put in place by rebel groups (i.e., the group challenging the government rather than the government in power).
Three main questions arise from this new finding: Under what conditions are justice processes implemented during conflict, why are these processes put in place, and what is the likely effect of their implementation on the conflict itself? Answering these questions has important implications for understanding patterns of government and rebel behavior while conflict is ongoing and the impacts of those behaviors. Furthermore, this work helps us to broaden our understanding of the use of judicial and quasi-judicial processes to those periods where no power shift has taken place.
Knowledge about mass political attitudes and behavior derives mainly from studies of established Western democracies. But do populations under autocracy engage in the political process and, if so, do they support or challenge the status quo? Much depends on the nature of political regimes. To the extent that spaces for political expression are closed under autocracy, citizens face an unpalatable choice between political acquiescence and violent protest, with all the risks that such options impose.
A key question for researchers is whether participants in authoritarian politics are active citizens or mobilized subjects. Survey evidence suggests that some people may be willing to grant legitimacy to strong leaders and to trust the institutions of a dominant state. Others nevertheless find ways to engage in conventional political behaviors such as discussing public affairs, taking collective action, and turning out to vote in elections, especially under hybrid competitive authoritarian regimes.
Under what conditions do citizens sometimes rebel against entrenched authority? Regime type again seems to matter, with popular protest more common under open than closed systems. With reference to prodemocracy social movements, like the Arab Spring of 2011, analysts debate whether people take to the streets principally for reasons of rational self-interest or propelled by emotions like anger. And scholars explore the effects of new information and communications technologies, finding mixed results for political mobilization. As emphasized in the literature on contentious politics, the displacement of autocratic regimes from below is likely only if social movements build strong and sustained political organizations.
Risa A. Brooks
The protests that began in Tunisia in December 2010, and quickly spread across the Arab world, have drawn significant attention to the impact of militaries and coercive institutions on protests and revolutionary movements. The actions of the militaries were a central determinant of the outcomes of the uprisings of 2010–2011. In Tunisia and Egypt the decision by military leaders to abstain from using force on mass protests to suppress them led to the downfall of the countries’ autocrats. In Syria and Bahrain, militaries defended political leaders with brutal force. In Yemen and Libya, militaries fractured, with some units remaining allied to the leader and using force on his behalf and others defecting. In still other states, leaders and militaries were able to forestall the emergence of large, regime-threatening protests.
To explain these divergent outcomes, scholars and analysts have looked to a variety of explanatory factors. These focus on the attributes of the militaries involved, their civil-military relations, the size and social composition of the protests, the nature of the regime’s institutions, and the impact of monarchical traditions. These explanations offer many useful insights, but several issues remain under-studied. These include the impact of authoritarian learning and diffusion on protest trajectory. They also include the endogeneity of the protests to the nature of a country’s civil-military relations (i.e., how preexisting patterns of civil-military relations affected the possibility that incipient demonstrations would escalate to mass protests). Scholars also have been understandably captivated by the aforementioned pattern of military defection-loyalty, focusing on explaining that observed difference at the expense of studying other dependent variables. The next generation of scholarship on the uprisings therefore would benefit from efforts to conceptualize and investigate different aspects of variation in military behavior.
Overall, the first-generation literature has proved enormously useful and laid the foundation for a much richer understanding of military behavior and reactions to popular uprisings in the Arab world and beyond.