Newman, Edward (2014) Understanding Civil Wars: Continuity and Change in Intrastate Conflict. London: Routledge. 205 pp.

ISBN (pbk): 978-0-415-85517-4.

Meredith Reid Sarkees

Correlates of War Project (COW)

In this thought-provoking volume, Newman evaluates major strains in the often contradictory scholarship on civil wars. Concerning the divide between quantitative and historical scholarship, he clearly favors the latter, while identifying some contributions of the former. Though sympathetic to the liberal-democratic peace model, he notes the difficulties that arise when liberal assumptions are inappropriately applied (11–12). Regarding research positing the ‘newness’ of contemporary civil wars, Newman appreciates the focus on varying types of war, yet argues that they have historical precedents. Consequences of these diversified approaches include the fact that the concept of civil war is still problematic and ill-defined and the significant gaps remaining in our knowledge about civil wars. To ameliorate this situation, Newman proposes a more integrative model that focuses upon civil wars as agents of societal change and state-building. His framework for studying civil wars has eight groups of components, including social and political factors; types of protagonists; motives; and the impact of the conflict (66–69). He applies his framework in case studies of five civil wars, ranging in time from the American Civil War of 1861–65 to the conflict in Sri Lanka in 1983–2009. This approach leads Newman to propose alternatives to the ways in which scholars view civil wars: for instance, the statebuilding approach might be a way to examine similarities among inter-state, extra-state and intra-state wars. Equally important, Newman concludes that if policymakers want to develop effective strategies to deal with civil wars, they must understand the diversity of state-formation processes (12), because evidence suggests that statebuilding has not been understood nor tamed as much as liberal peacebuilders have believed (195).​​​