NY TIMES article on Civil Wars, how long they last and why

I thought this article was interesting. I present it here for your viewing pleasure (or displeasure as the case may be). The article did not seem to have comments enabled when I looked at it. Someone please let me know if this is not the case. Graham Bowley who wrote it, seemed to have done a good job of getting different viewpoints on the definitions of civil war and different examples. I suppose if the print version had had more space, he could have really gone more into depth on the topic. Given that this is an op ed piece in the “Week In Review” section, it probably had a shorter word length.

Some quotes from the article:

But if you accept the general definition of a civil war as one fought within internationally recognized borders, then throughout history civil conflicts have tended to outlast international wars by a factor of about 20, according to Paul Collier, a professor at Oxford University and author of “Wars, Guns and Votes.”

“Typically,” he said, “they last 7 to 15 years on average, while the average for international wars is about six months.” On the face of it, such persistence must be a function of deep grievance felt by the warring parties, right? Implacable foes, brothers even, divided over ideology or religion or the thirst for justice or ethnic representation, fight to the bitter end.

According to Mr. Collier, however, the true reasons for longevity in civil conflicts are more prosaic, at least in modern times. While they may begin by professing noble sentiments, insurgents sooner or later become self-interested fighting organizations, which want mainly to preserve themselves and the resources they command.

Another reason civil wars drag on is what economists call the time consistency problem: a government has no credibility in negotiating an end to a civil war because the rebels know that even if they lay down their arms, the state will keep its military. So the fight goes on, as long as neither side can crush the other.

I am not sure I’d call that last one a “time consistency problem”. I’d term it the “the other side has weapons so how can we defend ourselves if we don’t have the latest stuff problem” where each side pretty much thinks that about each other and gets into an arms race.

It is interesting to watch the reactions to the war being over and to find out what everyone else thinks though.

So many things are true for a given value of truth.If only we knew what that given value was in each case.

Cheers, Marisa.

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