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Civil Wars, Violence, and International Responses


The late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed the weakening and collapse of state-imposed order in countries ranging from North Africa to Central Asia. Some cases are largely the consequences of foreign military interventions, others due to internally driven and externally supported civil wars, and still others a continuation of strife dating back decades. Beyond the instances of manifest loss of state control over large parts of sovereign territory, there are also growing instances of state inability or unwillingness to contest control of parts of a country, thereby affording sanctuary to potentially lethal terrorist groups and expansionist ideological movements with aspirations threatening the stability of the surrounding region.

The causation of civil wars and the policy responses have been debated extensively since the end of the Cold War. Unsurprisingly, the major crises of particular periods of time have greatly influenced the questions and research interests of those in policy circles and the academy. In the 1990s, high profile cases of genocide and massive human suffering generated the doctrines of responsibility to protect (R2P) and humanitarian intervention, as well as a genre of literature advancing theories and policy prescriptions to bolster weak states and rebuild collapsed states.

In the first decade of the 21st century, an emphasis on counterinsurgency doctrine and state-building, mostly inspired by massive U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, dominated deliberations on restoring political order eroded by internal conflict. At the same time, there emerged a tendency by some both in government and academia to emphasize the potential threat of terrorist sanctuary in any so-called ungoverned space, an argument even advanced by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard when justifying his government’s robust 2003 intervention in the Solomon Islands.

In the current decade, disappointment over the limited returns on significant external investments made in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as increased skepticism about the actual threat posed by civil wars to U.S., regional, and global security, have led some to question whether emphasis on wars of internal disorder distracts the major powers from more important issues of geopolitical competition and cooperation.

Learn more about the project’s Dædalus volumes

Project contributors share the key findings of their contributions to the Civil Wars, Violence, and International Responses project.

Still, there remain important questions about threats to U.S. interests and world order posed by the breakdown of state control and civil wars, including terrorism (and the employment of WMD), the spread of conflicts fueled by the involvement of outside powers, destabilizing refugee flows, and pandemics. In the current political environment, these are issues of interest to a broad audience, both domestic and international. Drawing on the Academy’s convening power across disciplines, this project seeks not only to contribute to current policy-making but also to contextualize current trends by building a larger conceptual understanding of the threats posed by the collapse of state authority associated with civil wars.

This project will produce a two-volume Special Issue of the Academy’s journal Dædalus. The first volume, to be published in Fall 2017, will focus on empirical evidence, explanatory frameworks, and identifying the threats that emanate from civil wars and weak states. The second volume will focus on international responses and policy options and will be published in Winter 2018.

Project Activities

Civil Wars, Violence and International Responses Authors’ Workshop
On November 2-4, 2016, the Academy held an authors’ workshop at the House of the Academy in Cambridge to discuss the draft essays for a forthcoming special two-volume issue of Dædalus on Civil Wars, Violence and International Responses. The first Dædalus issue will focus on empirical evidence and explanatory frameworks; the second volume will focus on case studies and national, regional, and international responses and policy options. Participants at the authors’ workshop included scholars, military and government officials, media personnel, and representatives from nongovernmental organizations.

Project Leadership

Project Chairs

  • Karl Eikenberry
    Stanford University
  • Stephen Krasner
    Stanford University

Project Staff

  • Francesca Giovannini
  • Summers Hammel

Project Chairs

Karl Eikenberry, Stanford University

Stephen Krasner, Stanford University

What is a civil war?

Project contributors discuss what civil wars are, and what we need to know about them.

In the News

Stanford University, Center for International Security and C

Learn More About this Project