Does Conflict Beget Conflict? Explaining Recurring Civil War
Literature focuses on civil war recurrence less than other dimensions of civil wars. In this article, Walter argues that in addition to outcome of the initial civil war, scholars should focus on rebel recruitment as well. She suggests that once the initial conflict ends, rebels blend into the community, find jobs and work as shopkeepers, farmers etc. What makes these former rebels return to rebel organization is vital in understanding civil war recurrence.
It is important to note in this article that the author does not totally reject some major findings of previous research. She agrees with the arguments that characteristics and attributes of previous wars are related to the subsequent wars. How the initial civil war ended, she argues, may have some effect on the recurring civil wars.
However, Walter argues that “none of these factors will lead to a second or third war in the absence of strong economic and political incentives for the average citizen to fight”. In other words, Walter wants us to focus more on the micro-level motives that make former rebels quit their current jobs and make enlistment in rebel movements attractive. Her analysis suggests that two essential facts have a significant effect on the likelihood of a civil war recurrence: “basic living conditions and the average person’s access to political participation”. In an ideal post-conflict environment the expected utility of sustaining peace outweighs the expected utility of rebellion because individuals will need to quit their jobs, risk their lives and properties. But if individuals are not satisfied with their current situation in the post-conflict environment and there is no non-violent means available to change the status quo, then individuals will see rebellion as the only available tool to transform the status quo.
To test her argument, she created a dataset including countries that experienced a civil war that ended between 1946 and 1996. Her dependent variable is whether a subsequent war occurred or not. Because a subsequent civil war may be a continuation of the previous war as well as a new war by different actors for a different objective. Therefore she introduces two more variables. First, she introduces a variable called repeat war, whether the war was fought by the same actors for the same objective. Second, she introduces new war, whether the war was fought by new actors for a new objective. To measure her first main independent variable, (i.e. living conditions) she uses infant mortality rate (deaths per 1,000) in each country in each year. For the purpose of robustness, she substitutes this measure with life expectancy, adult illiteracy, and real GDP per capita. Since all these variables are highly correlated, she includes them in alternate analyses. For the second main independent variable (i.e. access to political participation) she uses three different measures: democracy/autocracy score from Polity III dataset, a measure of executive constraints on a government’s executive branch, and a measure of political openness published by freedom house.
In her analysis, she finds that two characteristics (duration and partition) of a previous civil war are related to recurring civil war. She finds that longer and more costly civil wars are less likely to recur. She also finds that a government that agreed to a partition plan is more likely to face a renewed civil war. Interestingly, she finds that civil wars after which grievances are not resolved are no more likely to recur. Therefore, redressing grievances after conflicts end do not increase or decrease the likelihood of a subsequent war significantly. All other factors about the initial civil war seem unrelated in her analysis.
Living conditions in the post-conflict environment have a significant effect on the likelihood of a subsequent civil war. She finds that “higher infant mortality rates in the years after the end of the first civil war are positively and significantly related to renewed war”. But results do not support her hypothesis about political openness and democracy. Suspicious of a more complex and non-linear relationship between democracy and civil war recurrence, the author runs more tests. She finds that an ended civil war is less likely to recur in true democracies than semi-democracies. She does not find any support to the argument that former actors are unlikely to resume their fight in democratic environment. However, she finds that the level democracy can predict the initiation of new wars. This is to say that in democracies, belligerents of the former civil war are not likely to resume their fight but new actors may initiate another civil war.
In short, the author argues that civil war recurrence can be avoided if two conditions are met in post-conflict environment so that former rebels will not prefer fighting: higher living standards and political freedoms. Although her findings support the first part of her argument, results about the relationship between political openness and avoiding subsequent civil war are not robust.