CSCW: Transnational and International Facets of Civil War (2006-2010)

This working group was active until 2010.

Led by Jeffrey T. Checkel


Major sources of civil war are located beyond the boundaries of the nation-state. Sources can be international, having to do either with the direct actions of other states, or they may be located in more complex interactions within the system of states. Sources can also be of the transnational sort, related to various forms of non-state organizations or networks that span state boundaries. There is often an intricate interplay between state and non-state factors, which also poses challenges to the very definition of civil war.

International factors frame the setting of civil conflict. The nature of the international system, particularly the emergence of the US as the world’s only superpower serves as one supranational factor. As important are regional state systems, with civil wars such as those in Afghanistan or the Democratic Republic of Congo being a firm reflection of the basic tensions within a larger neighborhood of states (this latter thematic is also addressed in the project State Failure and Regional Insecurity, a collaborative SIP between the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and PRIO).

Transnational non-state actors are only in part constrained by international frameworks. Their impact, however, seems to be the greatest when they operate in close symbiosis with nation-states. ‘Refugee Warriors’ – the existence of military organizations operating in their country of origin from settlements in exile – exemplify this. The effectiveness of refugee warriors depends both on the protection of the international refugee regime, on the support of the host state, and on existing forms of organization and leadership within the exile population. Terrorist networks constitute a different type of non-state actor that we will also study. Terrorism, as a tactic, is not just a substitute for other forms of armed struggle in situations when groups are unable to build armed forces, but also thrives in the context of civil war. Terrorist networks, once established, may contribute significantly to the duration of civil wars.

Theoretically, the group’s ambition is to generate empirically driven, yet analytically challenging, insights into how changing patterns of civil war are reflective of changes in a supranational context of states and non-state entities. Its main questions can be pursued from an interactional perspective, mapping relations between regimes, between various non-state entities, as well as between those entities and states.  In a more constructivist vein, one may emphasize the diffusion of norms, values and political practices across borders. The working group is not tied exclusively to one theoretical position, but will explore both the contrasts between various theoretical angles, and the potential for synthesis.

Methodologically, this Working Group leans heavily towards case studies and small-N comparative research, in close interaction with the quantitative studies pursued by several other CSCW working groups. Findings from case-based and comparative analysis may inspire problem formulation in quantitative research, and puzzling correlations in quantitative research may inspire qualitative exploration. An example of the latter is the recent tendency for an increase in the number of wars and battle deaths, and our interest in examining whether local conflicts are fuelled by the war on terror.

On July 1 2009, Jeffrey T. Checkel succeeded Kristian Berg Harpviken as leader of this Working Group.  Checkel has been an associate of the Working Group since 2003, and played an instrumental role in developing its research focus on transnational dimensions. He is Professor of International Studies and Simons Chair in International Law and Human Security at Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, BC).  His reviews and articles have appeared in numerous leading American and European journals. In addition, he is the author of Ideas and International Political Change: Soviet/Russian Behavior and the End of the Cold War (Yale University Press, 1997), editor of International Institutions and Socialization in Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2007), and co-editor (with Peter J. Katzenstein) of European Identity (Cambridge University Press, 2009).  Within the CSCW working group, his initial focus will be an international collaboration on 'Mobilizing Across Borders: Transnational Mechanisms of Civil War'.

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