Theoretical Developments in Understanding the Origins of Civil War

Authored by: Peter Wallensteen

Routledge Handbook of Civil Wars

Print publication date:  February  2014
Online publication date:  February  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415622585
eBook ISBN: 9780203105962
Adobe ISBN: 9781136255786


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The past decades have seen a remarkable shift in the study of international relations and peace. During the Cold War attention was almost entirely focused on the dangers of wars between states. In particular the concern was, of course, the prospect of a war between the major powers, with their nuclear arsenals and global reach. The end of the Cold War dramatically changed the center of concern. Attention to inter-state wars declined and became seen largely as regional or local affairs, and they also became notably infrequent. At the same time the world faced a series of challenges that involved both large-scale human suffering and also an intellectual test. They were traumatic experiences for the local populations exposed to threats, violence, atrocities and death, but also for the policy community that did not know how to act, as well as for a scholarly community that was not prepared. 1 The record included the wars in former Yugoslavia, the civil war and genocide in Rwanda, and territorial disputes in the Caucasus. These events took place at the same time as there were peaceful conclusions to conflicts in Central America, Indochina and southern Africa and military defeats for dictatorships, notably in the Horn of Africa. As always, the global picture was inconsistent, but the phenomenon of new civil wars was the challenge, not the settlement of older ones. 2 Thus, the concern turned to what appeared as an unpreventable rise in major civil wars. Undoubtedly, they posed new challenges to the international community, to international peace and security and to scholars concerned about political violence. The study of civil war confronted a series of methodological challenges as well. How many such conflicts are occurring, are they comparable or are there special categories, and which are the key aspects that researchers should look at in understanding their causes?

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