CAMBRIDGE, MA | October 4, 2017 — Civil wars continue to be a frequent and debilitating phenomenon in international politics. Of the approximately 200 countries in the world, there are currently 30 civil wars underway, including several in which the U.S. military is directly and deeply enmeshed.
Many of these wars are unfolding in states with limited capacities to respond to and mitigate the security consequences that emanate from internal violence and state disorder. Almost all of these consequences, in one form or another, are the sources of immense human suffering and regional instability. And when combined with other global threats, such as pandemics and transnational terrorism, civil wars might ultimately claim a staggering number of lives.
Responding to these circumstances, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences launched an 18-month project on Civil Wars, Violence, and International Responses. The initiative brings together experts across disciplines and around the world to examine why states break down, what the impact of state disorder and failure is within and beyond national borders, whether there are universal qualities or regional characteristics of violent conflicts, and how and when external actors can effectively intervene in civil wars.
The Fall 2017 issue of Dædalus, “Civil Wars & Global Disorder: Threats & Opportunities”, is the first publication of the American Academy project. The second volume, “Ending Civil Wars: Constraints & Possibilities,” will be published in January 2018. The project will host a series of discussions in the United States and around the world, including in places directly impacted by civil war, with government leaders, heads of nongovernmental organizations, practitioners, academics, and journalists, among others, that will inform a subsequent publication incorporating policy recommendations for national and international engagement.
In their introduction to this issue, guest editors Karl W. Eikenberry (Stanford University; Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, retired; former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; Member of the American Academy) and Stephen D. Krasner (Stanford University; Member of the American Academy) draw on their personal experiences in government and military service, which were deeply influenced by Al Qaeda’s attack on the United States, to recognize the profound difficulties of effectively “treating” civil wars as a third party. Yet as they state, “the complexity of the problem, however, should not lead policymakers to ignore and dismiss the potential threats.” Instead, they propose that we grapple with the scope and impact of intrastate warfare, factor in the effects of globalization and the current shifting of global power, recognize the roles of national elites, and recalibrate goals for stability and security.
In the twelve essays in this issue, the authors explore causative factors of civil war, the connection of intrastate strife and transnational terrorism, the limited successes and failed ambitions of intervening powers in the recent past, and the many direct and indirect consequences associated with weak states and civil wars, including the dangers posed by pandemics, mass migrations of people, and great-power proxy warfare. The volume offers specific examples from Central Asia, the Middle East, South America, and sub-Saharan Africa.
The Fall 2017 issue of Dædalus on “Civil Wars & Global Disorder: Threats & Opportunities” features the following essays, all of which are available online at www.amacad.org/daedalus:
Karl Eikenberry (Stanford University) and Stephen D. Krasner (Stanford University)
- Civil War & the Current International System
James D. Fearon (Stanford University)
- Civil Wars & the Post–Cold War International Order
Bruce D. Jones (The Brookings Institution) and Stephen John Stedman (Stanford University)
- Civil Wars & Transnational Threats: Mapping the Terrain, Assessing the Links
Stewart Patrick (Council on Foreign Relations)
- Transnational Jihadism & Civil Wars
Martha Crenshaw (Stanford University)
- Civil War & the Global Threat of Pandemics
Paul H. Wise (Stanford University) and Michele Barry (Stanford University)
- The Global Refugee Crisis: Regional Destabilization & Humanitarian Protection
Sarah Kenyon Lischer (Wake Forest University)
- Organized Crime, Illicit Economies, Civil Violence & International Order: More Complex Than You Think
Vanda Felbab-Brown (The Brookings Institution)
- Civil Wars as Challenges to the Modern International System
Hendrik Spruyt (Northwestern University)
- Building Security Forces & Stabilizing Nations: The Problem of Agency
Stephen Biddle (George Washington University)
- Fictional States & Atomized Public Spheres: A Non-Western Approach to Fragility
William Reno (Northwestern University)
- The Colombian Paradox: Peace Processes, Elite Divisions & Popular Plebiscites
Aila M. Matanock (University of California, Berkeley) and Miguel García-Sánchez (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia)
- Civil Wars & the Structure of World Power
Barry R. Posen (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)