The Determinants of the Continuation of Civil War

Authored by: Isabelle Duyvesteyn

Routledge Handbook of Civil Wars

Print publication date:  February  2014
Online publication date:  February  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415622585
eBook ISBN: 9780203105962
Adobe ISBN: 9781136255786


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The study of civil war has received a great impetus since the end of the Cold War. We seem to be able to grasp the diverse character of these wars much better now than two decades ago. However, there remain serious challenges. One of these challenges is the subject of this contribution. Carl von Clausewitz wrote in his seminal book that war is an instrument of politics. However, “the original political objects can greatly alter during the course of war and may finally change entirely since they are influenced by events and their probable consequences” (Clausewitz 1993, 104, italics in original). Scholars of civil war often mistake the causes of the onset of armed conflict with the factors which explain the continuation of war. Many studies seem to implicitly argue that when understanding its causes, we understand the continuation of war. The validity of political, ethnic, economic, demographic, and psychological factors, among others, to explain the outbreak of violence have been thoroughly explored and are dealt with in other chapters in this volume. Not only has the debate heavily focused on the causes of civil war, the explanations that have been brought forward rest heavily upon mono-causality. For example, the proponents of the so-called greed thesis have solely emphasized economic explanations based on quantified research on a highly aggregate level, from which they were subsequently forced to retract when detailed case studies were undertaken (Collier and Sambanis 2005).

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