Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘civil war’ Category

The Risk of Civil War in Ukraine

The government and the opposition in Ukraine have begun to shoot each other, leading to 26 deaths overnight. The Ukrainian army is being mobilized, and protestors have started to storm police stations and arm themselves. Could Ukraine be facing civil war?

Several factors point to a high likelihood of civil war. The first is the existing violence. Most civil wars are preceded by low-level internal violence. On the other hand, only a minority of armed conflicts with at least 25 battle deaths eventually escalate to civil war intensity (at least 1000 battle deaths). Still, the Libyan and Syrian civil wars provide recent examples of mass protests that escalated to armed conflict and then to civil war.

The second factor suggesting high violence risk is that rebels have a geographic base in the west of Ukraine. Some reports hold forth that the Lviv region has “declared independence” from Ukraine, but this is misleading. The Lviv regional council has declared sovereignty over its territory to the exclusion of the Ukrainian central government, but it is apparently open to reconciliation if a negotiated solution can be found. Still, when rebels have support of local political authorities, they are far more capable of inflicting large-scale damages on the government, because they have access to police weapons and, even more importantly, tax revenues.

The third factor suggesting high risk of escalation is external involvement. Russian support of the Ukrainian government will diminish rebel capability, but the European Union is preparing sanctions against the Ukrainian government. It is easy to imagine that Russia would send troops to assist the Ukrainian government if necessary; it is inconceivable that NATO or individual European governments would send troops to assist the rebels. Thus, the likelihood of external involvement tells more in favor of Ukrainian government capability than rebel capability. Still, what matters for conflict escalation is not necessarily preponderance of capabilities as such, but asymmetric information about capabilities. If the Ukrainian government is wrong (or the opposition thinks they are wrong) to think that Russia will send troops, it may take a harder line than necessary to reach an agreement that the opposition could countenance – and so far this indeed seems to be happening, as from all reports Yanukovych is not taking negotiations very seriously.

Nevertheless, several factors diminish the likelihood of civil war. One of the factors diminishing the likelihood of civil war is that ideological and ethnic divisions in Ukraine, while serious, are not truly deep as in multiethnic or multireligious societies like Burma, Lebanon, and Syria or highly unequal, sharply ideologically polarized societies like Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia. It is extremely unlikely that any region of Ukraine will actually try to secede (save perhaps Crimea’s ethnic Russians), and no Marxist-Leninist insurgency is on the cards either.

Ukraine is a relatively well-off country, and GDP per capita is one of the strongest factors associated with civil peace. That association likely reflects something about institutional quality, rather than affluence as such. Ukraine’s institutions are fragile and contested, but not collapsed as in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Finally, (more…)

Read Full Post »

Sympathy for the Rebel

I was pleased to read these statements in the textbook I’m using for intro IR (p. 241):

[I]deally, we would like to reduce the likelihood that bloody and destructive civil wars will break out in the first place. There are several challenges to this aspiration. . . [T]here are truly repressive regimes that deserve the opposition of their people. In these cases, reducing the risk of armed rebellion can have the unintended effect of diminishing the government’s incentives to liberalize.

When discussing civil wars in class, I found my students took a typically “statist” perspective on the problem. For them, the most important thing was strengthening security services and the government’s surveillance capabilities to make armed opposition unthinkable. Most of them seemed shocked when I said that higher civil war risk was probably a good thing in many places. Do we want to strengthen the North Korean state’s surveillance capabilities? Would North Koreans be better or worse off if there were an armed opposition and the government knew it?

You don’t have to be a right-wing gun nut to answer “no” and “better off,” respectively.

Read Full Post »

Secessionism

My first book, Secessionism: Identity, Interest, and Strategy, has been released by McGill-Queen’s University Press. Secessionism is the first comprehensive, empirical study of the causes and consequences of contemporary secessionist movements worldwide. It also has a normative component, as I interpret from the empirical results a case for “legalizing secession” in order to reduce the incidence of violence.

Anyone who orders the book before August 31, 2012 should do so at the press’ website and use the coupon code “SORENS12″ at checkout for 20% off.

Read Full Post »

Will global climate change increase resource-based conflicts around the world? Journal of Peace Research has a special issue on the topic, looking at how weather variability has already influenced the rate of conflict. The issue is free to the public until the end of February. Most of the studies find that weather variability does not cause conflict. Indeed, the horrific Indian Ocean tsunami of 2005 actually led to a quick, apparently durable peace agreement between secessionist rebels in Aceh and the Indonesian government. Here’s the abstract from the introductory essay by editor Nils Petter Gleditsch:

Until recently, most writings on the relationship between climate change and security were highly speculative. The IPCC assessment reports to date offer little if any guidance on this issue and occasionally pay excessive attention to questionable sources. The articles published in this special issue form the largest collection of peer-reviewed writings on the topic to date. The number of such studies remains small compared to those that make up the natural science base of the climate issue, and there is some confusion whether it is the effect of ‘climate’ or ‘weather’ that is being tested. The results of the studies vary, and firm conclusions cannot always be drawn. Nevertheless, research in this area has made considerable progress. More attention is being paid to the specific causal mechanisms linking climate change to conflict, such as changes in rainfall and temperature, natural disasters, and economic growth. Systematic climate data are used in most of the articles and climate projections in some. Several studies are going beyond state-based conflict to look at possible implications for other kinds of violence, such as intercommunal conflict. Overall, the research reported here offers only limited support for viewing climate change as an important influence on armed conflict. However, framing the climate issue as a security problem could possibly influence the perceptions of the actors and contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Erik Gartzke notes that if knee-capping development in middle- or low-income countries is the price of preventing climate change, it is those policies to address climate change that will produce conflict, since development is associated with peace:

The analysis here also suggests that efforts to curb climate change should pay particular attention to encouraging clean development among middle-income states, as these countries are the most conflict prone. Ironically, stagnating economic development in middle-income states caused by efforts to combat climate change could actually realize fears of climate-induced warfare.

If curbing carbon emissions is indeed the only way to stop drastic climate change (natural forcings don’t continue to counteract the human effect, and geoengineering doesn’t work), this argument suggests a possible rationale for having high-income countries pay the biggest initial price.

Read Full Post »

The South Sudan Liberation Army, apparently armed by the Sudanese government, has been attacking the government of the newly independent South Sudan. Some observations about these stories:

  • No one thought it would be rainbows and leprechauns for South Sudan after independence. It’s extremely poor, highly oil-dependent, ethnically diverse, adjacent to countries that are all in the grip of significant internal violence, and likely headed for autocratic rule. You couldn’t imagine a better set of conditions for insurgency.
  • Still, the violence in South Sudan is to date several orders of magnitude lower than that experienced before the 2005 peace agreement that ultimately allowed the country to secede from Sudan.
  • Perils of generalizing from a single case: what’s really causing the insurgency in South Sudan? The Sudanese government blames “rigged elections” – but civil war research on global datasets shows little or no relationship between democracy and insurgency. The weakness of the South Sudan state and the availability of external funding are probably the dominant factors.

*The phrase comes from a Carcass song. Never mind that the “archaic nescience” theory of ethnic conflict is completely wrong; it’s still a nifty turn of phrase!

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 990 other followers

%d bloggers like this: