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Sustaining the Peace After Civil War

Authored by Dr. T. David Mason. | December 2007

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Without exception, every widely used data set on civil wars indicates that once a civil war ends in a nation, that nation is at risk of experiencing another one at a later date. I will present a conceptual framework that allows us to identify the factors that make the post-civil war peace more likely to break down into a resumption of civil war.

Alternatively, this framework will allow us to point to those factors that make the post-civil war peace more durable. Many of these factors are policy-manipulable variables: there are policy tools at the disposal of the international community that can inoculate a post-civil war nation against the prospects of a relapse into renewed civil war. The analytical framework that informs the analysis suggests that the outcome of the previous civil war?whether it ended in a government victory, a rebel victory, or a negotiated settlement?as well as the duration and deadliness of the civil war affect the durability of the peace after civil war. In addition, characteristics of the post-civil war environment?the extent of democracy, the level of economic development, and the degree of ethnic fractionalization?also affect the durability of the peace.

Finally, there is a set of policy interventions at the disposal of the international community that can be deployed to enhance the prospects of sustaining the peace. These include the introduction of peacekeeping forces, modest levels of investment in economic development and reconstruction, and supporting the establishment of a set of democratic political institutions that are tailored appropriately for the particular configuration of ethnic and religious cleavages in the society. One critical finding from several recent studies is that the longer the peace lasts, the less likely it is to break down into renewed conflict, regardless of the characteristics of the society, its economy, or its political system. Therefore, the critical task is to bring the conflict to an end and take the steps necessary to sustain it past the first few years, after which the peace becomes increasingly self-sustaining.

This analysis will not only review the evidence on what factors account for the duration of the peace (or, conversely, the prospects for renewed war), it will also offer theoretically grounded explanations of why we would expect each factor to have the effect that it does have on the durability of peace following civil war. These propositions will be illustrated with examples from specific cases. The analysis will conclude with a discussion of policy implications: what can be done to bring civil wars to an earlier and less destructive conclusion and prevent them from recurring, and how cost effective these policy interventions are compared to the cost of continued or renewed conflict.