In the Spring 2010 issue of International Security, Monica Duffy Toft offered up a rather ‘untimely meditation.’ Civil wars, she suggests here, are, on average, better left to reach their own conclusions — i.e., the victory of one side over the other — rather than frozen in negotiated settlements of the kind that became more common in the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War.
According to Toft’s statistical analysis of 118 civil wars over the period 1940 – 2002, “victory [by either side] reduces the likelihood of civil war recurrence by 24 percent, relative to all other types of termination,” and “negotiated settlements increase the likelihood of recurrence by 27 percent.” Moreover, the statistical relationship between victory and non-recurrence seemed to be driven principally by rebel victories, rather than victories by government forces. What should we make of this?
Toft takes care to distinguish civil wars from other forms of political violence. Excluded are other types of intra-state conflict, such as small-scale or low-intensity insurgencies, which involved fewer than 1,000 casualties per year; conflicts in which control over the central political apparatus was not at stake; enormously one-sided conflicts which may be better described as massacres or genocides; and conflicts between sets of non-state actors. The analysis also covers only completed civil wars, which Toft defines as those that in 2007 had experienced ‘no violence for at least 5 years.’
Nevertheless, Toft’s findings are striking. They fly in the face of conventional wisdom that tends to err on the side of ending the violence first and asking questions later.
Toft is suggesting that, in the right circumstances, we should ‘give war a chance.’
Consider Uganda, the case Toft uses for illustration (click on the names for more information):
And some of the places where civil war re-occurred after a negotiated settlement (note: this map is slightly dated, as it does not reflect the recent independence of the Republic of South Sudan):
And Toft’s argument of course begs the question for the world’s ongoing and recently completed civil wars — for example, in Libya and Chad: