How Rebel Victories Stop Civil Wars While Foreign Intervention Prolongs Them | Monica Duffy Toft
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How Rebel Victories Stop Civil Wars While Foreign Intervention Prolongs Them | Monica Duffy Toft

So when one country intervenes in another
country’s civil war, one of the things that happens is: it extends the war. And if you think about it, what’s happening
is that you’re having more resources coming into that conflict; and it’s bringing in
new resources, bringing in new interests, basically complicating and complexifying that
war that was already a very complex war. There are ways in which intervention might
be good, which is you’re trying to pull the parties apart, not trying to pick sides—one
side picking the other side—and that can sort of stop the killing, but typically before
that happens if outside states are getting involved in a civil war it tends to extend
it. So history is mixed on how to best solve civil
wars. It turns out that the international community
has a strong proclivity towards negotiated settlements, so you want the parties to both
lay down their arms and negotiate an end to the civil war where each of them feels as
if they have a part to play in the configuration of the new state. That is the absolute preference that the international
community has, and it pushes for that. We are pushing for that today in Syria, Afghanistan—there’s
now a discussion about negotiating with the Taliban, because we understand we may not
be able to force an end to this war and that the Taliban are not going anywhere, and that
we might have to negotiate with them. The problem is in order for a negotiated settlement
to resolve a civil war it requires both sides to stay absolutely committed to that and to
remain committed to that for a long time. And that requires for both sides—or if it’s
more than one side, we can think about the former wars in Yugoslavia: more than one side—that
if they renege on the negotiated settlement that it’s going to be harmful to them and
to their interests. So you want to be thinking about how to ensure
that both sides or all sides feel compelled to stay aligned with what the negotiated settlement
brought in order to end the war. And one way to do that is to ensure that the
security service, the armed forces, are configured correctly and that they’re representative
of the broader nation. Another way is to have outside peacekeepers
there to keep the parties apart. So you can think about the former Yugoslavia
or even Cypress: there are peacekeepers there and they’ve been there now for decades in
both places. In Bosnia they were supposed to be there for
one year. President Bill Clinton said we were only going
to be there for a year and that was in 1995; it’s now 2017. And similarly in Cyprus in the 1970s peacekeepers
were supposed to be there temporarily and they’re there somewhat permanently. The good news is you haven’t had many deaths
as a result because the peacekeepers have kept them apart. So negotiated settlements are one way to sort
of end wars and to keep them ended, but actually they’re not the most common. An alternative is thinking about military
victories, which end today about half of civil wars. Before the end of the Cold War they ended
three quarters of all civil wars. So a military victory just means that one
side prevails on the battlefield. And it turns out, historically, that they’re
more robust, that when one side wins and prevails in civil war you’re more likely to have
a longer-lasting settlement. And the question is, why is that? So I’ve researched that and it turns out,
I believe the reason is—two reasons. It turns out that rebel victories are even
more robust. One is: that by defeating the other side you’ve
demonstrated that you have the capacity to beat the other side, that you actually have
the military might. So when you think about those negotiated settlements,
that’s what a third-party is providing: is the capacity to keep the players apart. And secondarily, particularly when it comes
to rebel victories and why they’re more robust, is they have legitimacy. So they defeated the government and they usually
can bring the population behind them to support the configuration and the running of the new
government. And in fact the rebels quite often bring opposition
into government in order to more effectively govern. So military victories are an option, they
have been an option historically. The issue is, the international community
sort of doesn’t support it because it sounds as if we’re advocating the use of force
or the continued use of force. I’m a pragmatist when it comes to these
kinds of things. I look at the international community and
where it wants to go and whether it wants to go into different corners of the world,
and it’s not willing to go into every corner of the world. The international community, particularly
large actors—the Soviet Union in the old days, now Russia, and the United States and
its allies—aren’t going to go everywhere, so they’re not going to commit to bringing
peace to every corner of the world. Think about Myanmar today and the Rohingya
being targeted. Myanmar has had a number of civil wars raging
for a number of years, but the international community does not have the will to go in
there and negotiate separate peaces to bring peace to that country. And therefore we have to acknowledge and recognize
that military victories are out there, they have concluded civil wars. Most recently they concluded two: one was
Sri Lanka, where the government prevailed over the Tamil Tigers after decades of fighting. And now—yes it was a horrific end to that
civil war, there’s no denying it, there were fears of genocide—but now the international
community can step in and say to the Sri Lankan government, “You need to treat the Tamil
population equitably, fairly, justly,” and perhaps work with the Sri Lankan government
to have them behave, to not sort of take out vengeance, revenge against the Tamil population. And then the other one is South Sudan. With South Sudan it was actually a rebel victory. And basically that was a rebel victory that
resulted in the partition and the creation of a new state, which again: partition is
quite rare. The international community doesn’t support
the idea of making new states, in part because most states in the international system are
multinational and multiethnic, and they don’t want to set that precedent of allowing one
state to allow for pieces of it to break off, because they fear that it will set off a set
of dominoes, not only within their own state but globally. So victory is a possibility, as well as negotiated
settlements. And when I look at these cases historically
and then also contemporaneously, what I’m looking at is: is there a will and the capacity
of the international community to get involved? If there’s not, then we might want to countenance
victory for one side or the other: “Who are the good guys, who are the bad guys?” Honestly, in most civil wars, there’s a
little bit of bad on both. In some cases there is a lot of bad on one
side, a little bit of bad on another—and so you want to look at the conditions about
whether a victory is even a possibility. And then negotiated settlement: is there a
commitment from one party the United Nations, coalition of states, to go in and to help
keep the peace or to make peace and then help keep the peace later? Because without that commitment it’s very
hard for the parties to not be susceptible to fighting down the road. It turns out if you have one civil war, your
chances—it’s the biggest indicator—if you have had a civil war in the past your
chances of having another civil war is much greater.


  • Abu Antar

    This presupposes that the "civil" war in Syria happened spontaneously. The fact is, outside states sent the militants into Syria.

  • blue_tetris

    The main point she's making: Civil wars are always wars of attrition. If the US doesn't understand this, they need simply look back to their own civil war.

    It eats up however many resources you feed into it. If you want to know what rises up from the ashes, you first have to stop throwing more logs into the fire. Even if an inhumane sovereign state maintains control, it ends up with fewer defensive resources to reinforce its tyranny; in that vacuum, a political movement can arise. That political movement, divorced from outside influences, has a better chance of having its views heard and understood. If either side of the conflict is associated with another interfering state power (say, the US), there's no way to resolve the new sovereignty of that state.

  • Braxant

    I'm from a former Yugoslav country, Croatia. I chiefly remember UN peacekeeping soldiers as reckless drivers who murdered countless pedestrians and never answered for it. Lol

    More importantly, had they actually done their job Srebrenica would not have happned. They're a joke.

  • Divergent Evolution

    And then you all wake up and realize you are a bunch of criminals.

    Intervening in another nations civil wars and or domestic disputes is illegal under UN charter. This is also how it is proven that the UN is corrupt and simply a tool for NATO to use to justify its acts of aggressions.

    What we need is to forcibly dissolve all of NATO and its member nations. That would lower the amount of war world wide by about 95%.

  • Orev

    Rebel victories end civil wars? Well, firstly, victory is a conclusion to a war, regardless of which side is victorious. But what exactly makes a rebel victory better than a loyalist victory? The American Civil War ended with a rebel defeat, and I highly doubt you'd say that a rebel victory would have been prefered in this case.There was also foreign intervention by the French on the side of the rebels. Whether or not the intervention prolonged the war in any way is debatable.
    Tell me again how a rebel victory is somehow better than a loyalist one, because you listed off a couple of rebel victories, said "see, it turned out pretty well", then failed to mention all the rebel victories that went horribly for the country (eg. Libya, Russia, Iran, etc.).

  • The God Emperor

    That is the point of US intervention… to prolong wars so that the military industrial complex and EVERYTHING related can make money.

  • Artemius

    She've got one thing wrong – there are, usually, no rebels without foreign intervention, to begin with. The civil wars for a past 50 years were a product of foreign influence.

  • Martin Bigger

    When u say, "the international community doesn't want countries to split up"

    Why not? Smaller /more decentralized states tend to the needs of people and are generally more egalitarian than massive countries with 100millions/ billions of people.

    Maybe that is the solution to civil war. Is let them go their own way, it is unrealistic to expect larger hierarchal governments to tend to the needs to the people ,since they are disconnected and much more prone to corruption.

  • manudeteruel

    Civil war in Spain was also prolonged (if not promoted) by foreign countries who “helped” us to kill ourselves and after that they “helped” again with the Marshall plan (US military forces in our country and total submission to the NATO). And this hasn't stopped…. We shouldn't forget it

  • RealOrbit - Australia

    Seriously being a Cypriot you have misunderstood the whole peacekeeper thing. Cyprus was divided by the UK. Cypriots during WW2 at the time were under British rule. Britain promised independence once the war was over if they joined the fight. They did. Christians and Muslims fought together in Greece against Italy. Once it was all said and done Britain said you have a choice. Be annexed to Greece or be annexed to Turkey. They did this knowing full well that the island being 75-80 Christian and Greek speaking they'd choose Greece. Turkish cypriots had no say. The fighting started. Half of the Greek speakers wanted to join Greece and the other half didn't. Turksih Cypriots did not want to join Greece. Add some fascist groups from Greece and you have a shit storm. England was there all along including the time when Turkey invaded as a "peace keeper" and did fuck all. Turkey took what they wanted. the north is not recognised. Not part of the EU not part of anything but it is controlled by Turkey. The UN has a presence, UK has its bases, Turkey has an army and Greece has an army. Its a mess and all because it needed to be due to its proximity to the middle east. The Brits want to have bases there. Thats it plain and simple. They screwed us just like they screwed everywhere they ever set foot. Also there's tonnes of gas…..

  • SketchyHippopotamus

    I am deeply disappointed in big think for accepting a sponsorship from the Koch Foundation. They're anti-academic and frankly dangerous influence in american politics makes me wonder what sort of strings this money came with. 

    This comes from a student who's university was given Koch money, but only if all new hires were personally signed off on by the Kochs. I live in the shadow of their attacks on Academic. If I see that again, I think it'll be time for me and "big think" to part ways.

  • hobo doc

    duffy should focus on topics commensurate with her common core pseudo-intellect——halloween costumes, groin fungus, osteoporosis and twerking, scraping toejam, colonic sludge, 50-60 year olds with tongue and nose piercings, timing of beano dosing, how to hoist up yer girdle, puddle creatures like hydras, squonks……..low level functionals should be filtered, not endorsed

  • google+exgreecian

    Disliked, due to conservative billionaire foundation sponsorship.

    When intellectual discussion is sponsored by an entity that pours billions into framing ideas on a mass scale, it corrupts the ideas through perverse incentive. I didn't realize Big Think was a tentacle of Charles Koch. I at least give credit for PBS-style labeling. Jesus. It's not all about the benjamins.

    I may unsubscribe. At the very least, I will be watching less now that the ideas and messaging are brought to us by Koch industries and watching with a critical view. I guess watching with a more critical eye isn't all bad. Maybe that is what Charles wanted.

    I'm not one of those d00ds who are on an anti-Koch crusade, but this is a case where I'm concerned as with the underwriting at PBS. Accepting this money has a broader effect than the scope of one episode.

  • Phaedrus G

    The US decision to negate the 1954 Geneva Accords that ended French colonial occupation in Vietnam extended that anti-colonial civil war for another twenty years killing millions and maiming more millions. All that blood and treasure for nothing.

  • Dahi Lammoth

    You see, I am Syrian, even though currently abroad. And I am wondering when the Americans will learn one thing. This revolt in Syria was artificial, financed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, drived by the US and it errupted for one reason – oil, oil pipes, gas. Syria was by far the most secular country in the region, and me, being from the Christian minority, can firmly say we had far more freedom than anyone in the Gulf states or Turkey. Since the beginning of the war Syrian poulation realized that the revolt is not for freedom, for f*ck sake, Saudi is financing and arming the rebels, and in their country there is not even one drop of "free speech"or democracy. The rebels are not only far worse, they have the same ideology like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, they are all salafi-wahhabi groups, and this ideology, no surprise, originates from Saudi. This is why no Christian towns left in territories under rebel control. Not even one. USA are committing crimes after crimes in Syria, and no, we see it, my relatives see it, we are not stupid to find out which product ISIS is.

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