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Walter: The critical barrier to civil war settlement

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Walter. 1997. The critical barrier to civil war settlement. International Organization 51 (summer): 335-364.

Y: Civil war settlement

X1: Credible commitment problems

X2: Inclusive institutions, checks/balances, etc.

X3: International intervention

MAIN IDEA: Although 55% of interstate wars end with a bargain, fewer than 20% of civil wars do (most end with annihilation of the other side). Many theorists have advanced explanations of this well-documented trend; Walter argues that they are all wrong, and that it is credible commitment problems that matter. Arms are the only thing that can make an agreement credible, yet a peace bargain requires laying down arms. Unless a third party steps in to enforce the initial bargain (and stays while the groups disarm), fighting will continue.

X1: FOR A PEACE SETTLEMENT TO OCCUR: A third party must supply the short-term security necessary to implement the agreement.

X2: FOR A PEACE SETTLEMENT TO LAST: It must establish the kind of inclusive institutions that enables the majority to credibly commit not to abuse the minority.

FOR A THIRD PARTY TO BE A CREDIBLE ENFORCER: (1) It should have some self-interest in enforcing the peace (e.g. former colonial ties, trade, shared border. (2) It should have enough military power, and it must be willing to use it. (3) It should send a costly signal of resolve (e.g. stationing enough troops in the country to deter violence).

EVIDENCE: An analysis of several dozen cases between 1940 and 1990 supports the hypothesis that warring parties almost never conclude a peace agreement unless a third party steps in to enforce it.



She ends with several interesting policy implications, of which three strike me as most significant:

  1. Non-military intervention by a third party doesn't help. Sending unarmed observers or peacekeepers doesn't make a bargain credible. You must actually send a military force that will stay in the country long enough for domestic institutions to be created, and a national army to be developed.
  2. Multilateral interventions are less likely to work as well as unilateral intervention since states gain an incentive to freeride if the going gets tough. There must be political will.
  3. It isn't necessary good to immediately disarm both sides. Allowing both sides to keep observable military equipment for a little while can help maintain cooperation.

Research on similar subjects


Walter, Barbara (author)International RelationsCivil WarBargainingWarCredible CommitmentEthnic ConflictConsociationalism

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