Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil ...
American Political Science Review Vol. 97, No. 1 February 2003 Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War JAMES D. FEARON and DAVID D. LAITIN Stanford University A n influential conventional wisdom holds that civil wars proliferated rapidly with the end of the Cold War and that the root cause of many or most of these has been ethnic and religious antagonisms. We show that the current prevalence of internal war is mainly the result of a steady accumulation of protracted conflicts since the 1950s and 1960s rather than a sudden change associated with a new, post-Cold War international system. We also find that after controlling for per capita income, more ethnically or religiously diverse countries have been no more likely to experience significant civil violence in this period. We argue for understanding civil war in this period in terms of insurgency or rural guerrilla warfare, a particular form of military practice that can be harnessed to diverse political agendas. The factors that explain which countries have been at risk for civil war are not their ethnic or religious characteristics but rather the conditions that favor insurgency. These include poverty���which marks financially and bureaucratically weak states and also favors rebel recruitment���political instability, rough terrain, and large populations. Bkilled etween 1945 and 1999, about 3.33 million battle deaths occurred in the 25 interstate wars that at least 1,000 and had at least 100 dead on each side. These wars involved just 25 states that suffered casualties of at least 1,000 and had a median duration of not quite 3 months. In contrast, in the same period there were roughly 127 civil wars that killed at least 1,000, 25 of which were ongoing in 1999. A con- servative estimate of the total dead as a direct result of these conflicts is 16.2 million, five times the interstate toll. These civil wars occurred in 73 states���more than a third of the United Nations system���and had a median duration of roughly six years.1 The civil conflicts in this period surely produced refugee flows far greater than their death toll and far greater than the refugee flows associated with interstate wars since 1945. Cases such as Afghanistan, Somalia, and Lebanon testify to the economic devastation that civil wars can produce. By these crude measures, civil war has been a far greater scourge than interstate war in this period, though it has been studied far less. What explains the recent prevalence of violent civil conflict around the world? Is it due to the end of the Cold War and associated changes in the international system, or is it the result of longer-term trends? Why have some countries had civil wars while others have not? and Why did the wars break out when they did? We address these questions using data for the period 1945 to 1999 on the 161 countries that had a population of at least half a million in 1990. James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin are Professors, Department of Political Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6044 (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com). We wish to thank the many people who provided comments on earlier versions of this paper in a series of seminar presentations. The authors also gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation (Grants SES-9876477 and SES-9876530) sup- port from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences with funds from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation valu- able research assistance from Ebru Erdem, Nikolay Marinov, Quinn Mecham, David Patel, and TQ Shang sharing of data by Paul Collier. 1 The interstate war data derive from Singer and Small 1994, updated to include the Kargil and Eritrean wars. The bases for the civil war estimates are discussed below. The data cast doubt on three influential conventional wisdoms concerning political conflict before and after the Cold War. First, contrary to common opinion, the prevalence of civil war in the 1990s was not due to the end of the Cold War and associated changes in the inter- national system. The current level of about one in six countries had already been reached prior to the breakupoftheSovietUnionandresultedfromasteady, gradual accumulation of civil conflicts that began im- mediately after World War II. Second, it appears not to be true that a greater degree of ethnic or religious diversity���or indeed any partic- ular cultural demography���by itself makes a country more prone to civil war. This finding runs contrary to a common view among journalists, policy makers, and academics, which holds ���plural��� societies to be espe- cially conflict-prone due to ethnic or religious tensions and antagonisms. Third, we find little evidence that one can predict where a civil war will break out by looking for where ethnic or other broad political grievances are strongest. Were this so, one would expect political democracies and states that observe civil liberties to be less civil war-prone than dictatorships. One would further antici- pate that state discrimination against minority religions or languages would imply higher risks of civil war. We show that when comparing states at similar levels of per capita income, these expectations are not borne out. The main factors determining both the secular trend and the cross-sectional variation in civil violence in this period are not ethnic or religious differences or broadly held grievances but, rather, conditions that favor insur- gency. Insurgency is a technology of military conflict characterized by small, lightly armed bands practicing guerrilla warfare from rural base areas. As a form of warfare insurgency can be harnessed to diverse politi- cal agendas, motivations, and grievances. The concept is most closely associated with communist insurgency, but the methods have equally served Islamic fundamental- ists, ethnic nationalists, or ���rebels��� who focus mainly on traffic in coca or diamonds. Wehypothesizethatfinancially,organizationally,and politically weak central governments render insur- gency more feasible and attractive due to weak local 75
Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War February 2003 policing or inept and corrupt counterinsurgency prac- tices. These often include a propensity for brutal and indiscriminate retaliation that helps drive noncombat- ant locals into rebel forces. Police and counterinsurgent weakness, we argue, is proxied by a low per capita in- come. Shocks to counterinsurgent capabilities can arise from political instability at the center or the sudden loss of a foreign patron. On the rebel side, insurgency is favored by rough terrain, rebels with local knowl- edge of the population superior to the government���s, and a large population. All three aid rebels in hiding from superior government forces. Foreign base camps, financial support, and training also favor insurgency. Our data show that measures of cultural diversity and grievances fail to postdict civil war onset, while mea- sures of conditions that favor insurgency do fairly well. Surely ethnic antagonisms, nationalist sentiments, and grievances often motivate rebels and their supporters. But such broad factors are too common to distinguish the cases where civil war breaks out. Also, because in- surgency can be successfully practiced by small num- bers of rebels under the right conditions, civil war may require only a small number with intense grievances to get going. Using data on about 45 civil wars since 1960, Collier and Hoeffler (1999, 2001) find similarly that measures of ���objective grievance��� fare worse as predictors than economic variables, which they initially interpreted as measures of rebel ���greed��� (i.e., economic motivation).2 More recently, they argue that rebellion is better explained by ���opportunity��� than by grievance (cf. Eisinger 1973 and Tilly 1978) and that the main de- terminant of opportunity is the availability of finance and recruits for rebels. They proxy these with measures of primary commodity exports and rates of secondary- school enrollment for males. We agree that financing is one determinant of the viability of insurgency. We argue, however, that economic variables such as per capita income matter primarily because they proxy for state administrative, military, and police capabil- ities. We find no impact for primary commodity ex- ports, and none for secondary schooling rates distinct from income. Our theoretical interpretation is more Hobbesian than economic. Where states are relatively weak and capricious, both fears and opportunities en- courage the rise of would-be rulers who supply a rough local justice while arrogating the power to ���tax��� for themselves and, often, for a larger cause. CIVIL WAR SINCE 1945 Building on similar efforts by other civil war resear- chers,3 we constructed a list of violent civil conflicts 2 There are 79 wars in their sample, but they lose about 34 due to missing values on explanatory variables, which are mainly economic. Standard economic data tend to be missing for countries that are poor and civil war-torn. This highly nonrandom listwise deletion may account for some of the differences between our results. 3 In particular, Doyle and Sambanis (2000), Esty et al. (1998), Gleditsch et al. (2002), the Institute for International and Strate- gic Studies (2000), Licklider (1995), Singer and Small (1994), Sivard (1996), and Valentino (2002). that we presently believe to meet the following primary criteria. (1) They involved fighting between agents of (or claimants to) a state and organized, nonstate groups who sought either to take control of a government, to take power in a region, or to use violence to change gov- ernment policies. (2) The conflict killed at least 1,000 over its course, with a yearly average of at least 100. (3) At least 100 were killed on both sides (including civilians attacked by rebels). The last condition is in- tended to rule out massacres where there is no orga- nized or effective opposition.4 These criteria are broadly similar to those stated by the Correlates of War (COW) project, Doyle and Sambanis (2000), and several others. We developed our own list (working from these and other sources) mainly because we wanted data for the whole 1945���99 period and because of doubts about particular inclusions and exclusions in each list.5 In one respect our data differ significantly from most others: We see no reason in principle to exclude anti- colonial wars, such as the French versus the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria. We count these as occuring within the colonial empire. Thus, the French state/empire looks highly civil war-prone by our list, with six colonial wars occuring in the 1950s. But to drop such cases would be like dropping the cur- rent conflict in Chechnya as a civil war in Russia if the Chechens succeed in gaining independence. Al- ternatively, it would make even less sense to include them as wars within ���states��� that did not exist (such as ���Algeria��� in 1954). There are both practical and theoretical consider- ations pointing the other way, however. In practical terms, to include the anticolonial wars in the analysis requires that we form estimates of possible explana- tory factors for whole empires, such as gross domes- tic product (GDP) per capita, ethnic fractionalization, and democracy scores. Further, these estimates must change almost by year, as the colonial empires gradu- ally diminished in size. We are able to use country-level data to produce such estimates for ethnic fractionaliza- tion, but our estimates for per capita income are more 4 We used the following secondary criteria to deal with several other coding issues. (4) The start year is the first year in which 100 were killed or in which a violent event occurred that was followed by a sequence of actions that came to satisfy the primary criteria. (5) If a main party to the conflict drops out, we code a new war start if the fighting continues (e.g., Somalia gets a new civil war after Siad Barre is defeated in 1991). (6) War ends are coded by observation of a victory, wholesale demobilization, truce, or peace agreement followed by at least two years of peace. (7) Involvement by foreign troops does not disqualify a case as a civil war for us, provided the other criteria are satisfied. (8) We code multiple wars in a country when distinct rebel groups with distinct objectives are fighting a coherent central state on distinct fronts with little or no explicit coordination. (9) If a state seeks to incorporate and govern territory that is not a recognized state, we consider it a ���civil war��� only if the fighting continues after the state begins to govern the territory (thus, Indonesia/East Timor 1975, yes, and India/Hyderabad 1947, no). 5 Sambanis (2002) discusses a number of conceptual and operational ambiguities and problems with the COW civil war data. Collier and Hoeffler (2001) base their list on COW data, breaking a number of COW civil wars into multiple wars according to unspecified criteria and including some colonial wars (coded in nonexistent ���states,��� such as Angola 1961) but not others. 76
American Political Science Review Vol. 97, No. 1 FIGURE 1. Number and Percentage of Countries with Ongoing Civil Wars by Year from 1945 to 1999 problematic and the question of how to code the em- pires on a democracy index is vexed. Regarding theory, the colonial empires differed so radically from other independent states, and faced such an inhospitable in- ternational environment after the war (with pressure from the United States and the new United Nations system), that we need to be cautious about any empir- ical results that depend wholly on these cases. Thus we analyze the data both with and without the anticolonial wars. Descriptive Statistics We identified 127 conflicts that meet the above criteria, of which 13 were anticolonial wars.6 This makes for 127 civil war starts in a sample of 6,610 country years, a rate of 1.92 per 100. The periods following major interna- tional systemic change had the highest onset rates. Civil wars broke out in the late 1940s and the 1950s at 4.6 and 2.2 per 100 country-years, respectively, followed by the 1990s, at 2.0. In absolute terms, the largest number of civil wars began in the 1990s (31), followed by the 1960s and 1970s (19 and 25, respectively). Omitting the anticolonial conflicts, most civil wars occurred in sub-Saharan Africa (34) and Asia (33), followed by North Africa/the Middle East (17), Latin America (15), Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (13), and ���the West��� (2). The rate of outbreak was highest in Asia, at three per 100 country-years Africa, North Africa/the Middle East, and Latin America all had rates of about two per 100 country- years. ���France,��� Indonesia, and the Soviet Union/ 6 See Fearon and Laitin 2003 for a list of the conflicts. Russia are the most civil war-prone countries in the sample, with six onsets each.7 Trends over Time Figure 1 shows the number of countries with ongoing civil wars by year from 1945 to 1999. Since the number of independent states grew sharply in this period, it also shows the proportion of countries with at least one ongoing war in each year. The graph indicates that, contrary to popular belief, the prevalence of civil wars in the 1990s is not due to effects of the end of the Cold War. The 1999 level of 25 ongoing wars had already been reached by the mid 1980s. Conflicts associated with the Soviet collapse were partly responsible for the sharp increase in the early 1990s, but a marked decline has followed.8 One might conjecture that more and more civil wars are breaking out over time, thus producing the secu- lar increase. This is incorrect. The rate of outbreak is 2.31 per year since 1945, highly variable but showing no significant trend up or down. The secular increase stems from the fact that civil wars have ended at a rate of only about 1.85 per year. The result has been a steady, almost-linear accumulation of unresolved con- flicts since 1945. Put differently, states in the international system have been subject to a more or less constant risk 7 Four outbreaks are coded in the Soviet Union in 1946, in the Baltics and Ukraine, plus Russia���s two Chechen wars in the 1990s. 8 Gurr (2000) notes the late-1990s decline in ethnic war and argues that the trend reflects improved management strategies by states and international organizations. The basic pattern in Figure 1 is not an artifact of the way we have coded ���civil war��� it is observed in a broad range of other data sets on violent domestic conflict for this period (e.g., Gleditsch et al. 2002). 77