NSF Project: Gleditsch & Walter (International Dimensions of Civil War)

Led by Kristian Skrede Gleditsch
Jan 2004 – Jan 2006

This project is an important part of the cooperation between the Department of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the Centre for the Study of Civil War (CSCW) at PRIO.

Although conflict researchers have tended to regard interstate and civil wars as separate phenomena, many internal conflicts display clear international dimensions. The study of civil war has traditionally considered these conflicts domestic phenomena to be explained by the attributes of the country in which the conflict is taking place. However, if civil wars display international dimensions, then attributes of the individual nation state alone may not be sufficient to account for why civil wars break out and how conflicts evolve. Thus, studying civil war without consideration of transnational dimensions may overlook key factors driving behavior.

This research project seeks to go beyond what we believe is an overstated distinction between civil and interstate wars, and treat both types of conflict as similar phenomena, where the same causal mechanisms drive behavior, and decisions regarding the use of force are directly influenced by both international and domestic factors. Our project will reorient the study of civil war away from an emphasis on the characteristics of the nation state and national aggregate measures toward measures at the level of individual actors and their interactions. We will treat third parties as an important and distinct strategic actor in the outbreak, duration, and termination of civil wars, and theorize about the ways in which these actors may influence decisions at each stage of the conflict. We will expand existing data on civil war with additional information on the attributes of non-state actors, linkages between various types of actors, and linkages to other conflicts or contentious relations.

The new information about non-state actors and linkages will allow us to empirically test many hypotheses about transnational dimensions of civil war that cannot be assessed directly with existing data sources, such as whether linkages to a mobilized group or groups wielding political power in another state increase the risk of conflict and escalation. With regards to the broader impact resulting from the proposed activity, our research project promises to impact the larger community in several important ways.

  • First, we expect that the collected data will prove useful to many other researchers studying civil wars. For example, the lack of information about non-state actors in existing data sources has made it difficult to test hypotheses about interaction between governments and rebels, and our expanded data can facilitate tests of whether civil wars display arms race dynamics.
  • Second, we expect the project to contribute to the development of new methodologies for conflict analysis, in particular spatial statistical approaches and event data analysis, which also may prove useful tools for political science researchers outside the field of conflict research.
  • Third, we will seek to disseminate the results of the project through publication of articles in peer-reviewed journals as well as at least one academic book.
  • Finally, the project will have important policy implications as a better understanding of the full range of causes driving civil conflict can help policymakers design more effective policies for the settlement and prevention of civil wars.

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