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Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War | Study Guide

David D. Laitin, James D. Fearon

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Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War | Context


State of the World

The American Political Science Review published "Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War" in 2003, just three years after the end of the 1990s, a decade with the highest number of civil wars from 1945–99. "Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War" was published only slightly over a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which ended the Cold War (1947–91). At the time, the Soviet Union was one of the two world superpowers, and the world was still reeling from this shocking event. In addition to the end of the startling fall of the Soviet Union, the bloody Yugoslav Wars (1991–2001) started in 1991. Yugoslavia experienced an economic collapse in 1991 that further destabilized an already struggling country. In 1992, Yugoslavia broke up into different countries. Many of the combatants were from different ethnic and religious groups.

Assumptions about Civil Wars

The events of 1991 and 1992 highly influenced how the international community viewed civil war. Laitin and Fearon wrote this article in 2003, over a decade after the end of the Cold War. The end of the Cold War, the Yugoslav Wars (1991–2001), the Rwandan Civil War (1999–94), and other conflicts influenced scholars. Some of these civil wars of the 1990s resulted in high profile genocides. According to Laitin and Fearon, these campaigns which resulted in the death of large groups of people led to the common assumption that the civil wars of the 1990s were caused directly by the end of the Cold War or ethnic and religious differences.

Research on Civil War Risk

Laitin and Fearon reviewed extensive data from 127 civil wars during the years of 1945–99.They note that the build-up of crises that started during the 1950s and 1960s was responsible for most civil wars of the 1990s. In their statistical analysis, they controlled for different factors such as ethnicity, language, level of democracy, and per capita income or income per person. This allowed Laitin and Fearon to look at the impact of these factors individually. In their analysis they prove that poverty is one of the highest risk factors for civil war. Poverty also creates conditions where insurgencies thrive. Factors that give rebels advantages are local knowledge, difficult terrain, large populations, ineffective and corrupt police, and a weak central government.

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