November 13, 2013


How to stop the fighting, sometimes (The Economist, Nov 9th 2013)

Of 150 large intrastate wars since 1945 fewer than ten are ongoing. Angola, Chad, Sri Lanka and other places long known for bloodletting are now at peace, though hardly democratic.

And recently civil wars have been ending sooner. The rate at which they start is the same today as it has been for 60 years; they kick off every year in 1-2% of countries. But the number of medium-to-large civil wars under way--there are six in which more than 1,000 people died last year--is low by the standards of the period. This is because they are coming to an end a little sooner. The average length of civil wars dropped from 4.6 to 3.7 years after 1991, according to Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, a professor at the University of Essex.

So far, nothing has done more to end the world's hot little wars than winding up its big cold one. From 1945 to 1989 the number of civil wars rose by leaps and bounds, as America and the Soviet Union fuelled internecine fighting in weak young states, either to gain advantage or to stop the other doing so. By the end of the period, civil war afflicted 18% of the world's nations, according to the tally kept by the Centre for the Study of Civil War, established at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, a decade ago. When the cold war ended, the two enemies stopped most of their sponsorship of foreign proxies, and without it, the combatants folded. More conflicts ended in the 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall than in the preceding half-century (see chart 1). The proportion of countries fighting civil wars had declined to about 12% by 1995. [...]

Sometimes the dispute is so intractable that no agreed solution short of the break-up of the state seems possible. Wars of identity--those in which populations are mobilised by grievances that have ripened over decades or centuries--are the most likely to belong to this category.

The drawbacks to partitions in such cases, especially where they require large-scale population movements, are well rehearsed. Sects and tribes are rarely neatly divided, waiting for a line to be drawn between them. Separating them, if need be by force, will make some safer, but it will cause others great misery and may well spark new conflicts. When Pakistan split from India, it was saddled with a coup-prone state and a war in Kashmir. And many nations with fissiparous tensions at home recoil from the idea of any partition anywhere, lest it be seen as a precedent.

Still, some break-ups do make sense. South Sudan's government is lousy, and fighting continues along the border set up with the rest of Sudan two years ago. But most independent observers agree that the south made the right choice in negotiating to split off. The Arab elite in the north was never going to change its murderous attitude toward black southerners that brought about decades of miserable war and the death of 2m people. And there is little worry that South Sudan will look so attractive as to encourage secession elsewhere. Few minorities would accept such pain to win a seat at the UN.

Posted by at November 13, 2013 1:40 PM

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