Does Conflict Beget Conflict? Explaining Recurrent Civil War

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Walter, Barbara (2004) Does Conflict Beget Conflict? Explaining Recurrent Civil War, Journal of Peace Research 41(3): 371–388.

This article attempts to explain why some countries experience civil wars while others do not. It argues that renewed war is likely to have less to do with the attributes of a previous war, as many people have argued, than with current incentives individual citizens have to rejoin a rebel group. Civil wars will have little chance to get off the ground unless individual farmers, shopkeepers, and potential workers choose to enlist in the rebel armies that are necessary to pursue a war, and enlistment is only likely to be attractive when two conditions hold. The first is a situation of individual hardship or severe dissatisfaction with one’s current situation. The second is the absence of any nonviolent means for change. An analysis of all civil wars ending between 1945 and 1996 suggests that a higher quality of life and greater access to political participation have a significant negative effect on the likelihood of renewed war. Countries that provide higher levels of economic well-being to their citizenry and create an open political system are less likely to experience multiple civil wars regardless of what happened in a previous conflict.


Barbara Walter

Barbara Walter

Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego