How to Prevent Civil War? Part II
A school class can serve as an example. Imagine that a small group in the class has been awarded benefits by the teacher. They have longer free time, get free school meals and get to take part in important decisions. Another group in the class receives the opposite treatment. They have to do more homework, do not get free school meals and are not allowed to take part in decisions. Also imagine that these benefits are awarded based on family background or what the students believe in. The group that has all the benefits, wants to preserve these and maintain the system that gives them the benefits. The group that is discriminated against is working to change the system. This also happens between different population groups in some countries, and can be an underlying cause of conflict. The civil wars in Sierra Leone, Syria and the Philippines are all examples of this.
Inequality between groups will not automatically lead to violent conflict. Professionals point to several factors that must be present. A common identity among the group that is oppressed and a collective perception that one is being kept out of the community is crucial. If another group or the authorities are also considered responsible for the unfair treatment, inequality has a conflict-creating effect. How the state handles demands for change is also of great importance for the outcome. If the state responds to protests and demonstrations with political reforms, rather than with violence, the chances of civil war are reduced.
It is important to emphasize that these main explanations are not either-or, nor the only possible causes: One and the same conflict can be explained by both theories and by other conditions. An example is the Lebanese civil war that took place between 1975 and 1990. Different rights and economic prospects between Christian and Muslim groups were one of the underlying reasons for the outbreak of the civil war, while economic motives meant that various militias benefited from the civil war lasting in fifteen years.
3: Consequences of civil war
The main task of the UN is to promote peaceful and inclusive societies. It is not without reason. Civil wars have a number of horrific direct and indirect consequences. The direct consequences are those we most often associate with war, such as the loss of human life and large refugee flows. About 70 million people are on the run today , either in their own country or as refugees and asylum seekers in other countries. The number of people fleeing has not been higher than since the end of World War II.
Civil war also leads to humanitarian crises , which involve widespread hunger, disease and a shortage of medicines. The current situation in Yemen is described as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The UN estimates that as many as 24 million people , or 80 percent of Yemen’s population, need humanitarian aid and protection.
Sexual abuse of women, children and men can also be a result of war and conflict. The abuses are often used as a deliberate war strategy to destroy families, exterminate peoples and drive people into exile. During the civil war in Syria and Iraq, IS used sexual violence as a weapon, and kept women from the Yezidi people as slaves. Sexual violence has also been used as a weapon of war in the Balkans, Congo and South Sudan, to name a few on historyaah.com.
Civil wars also lead to a number of indirect consequences , which are less visible, but also very serious. Malnutrition and infant mortality increase, life expectancy decreases. War is development in reverse, and the connection between war and underdevelopment can persist long after the parties have signed a peace agreement. This is also one of the reasons why civil wars often flare up again.
Since the 2000s, the majority of civil wars have been repeated wars . Civil wars have been shown to have a self-reinforcing effect: The reasons why war flares up in the first place are also intensified during the conflict. Land can thus end up in a so-called «conflict trap», where civil war leads to new civil war.
The connection between economic growth and conflict is one example of this. Another is the connection between human rights violations and civil war. Lack of legal certainty and human rights violations create distrust of the authorities and anger among those who are oppressed. During and after a civil war, the incidence of human rights violations increases and the rule of law is further weakened. This creates fertile ground for new conflict.
Preventing civil war is therefore about changing the conditions that lead to war breaking out at all, as well as working against recidivism in the wake of conflict. Now we will take a closer look at some possible measures.
- Read also: Challenges after war
- For more on recurring conflicts and developmental consequences of civil war, see the PRIO articles Conflict Recurrence and War is Development in Reverse .