Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War


Research Project
Principal Investigators:
James D. Fearon
David D. Laitin
Department of Political Science
Stanford University

This research project seeks to account for cross-national and cross-group variation in the outbreak, magnitude and duration of civil wars in the period from the end of World War II to 2000. Using a definition of civil war that requires a certain threshold of casualties in fighting between governments and organized groups seeking either to control the state or separate from it, we find that civil and ethnic wars should not be viewed as a problem that begins or even is greatly increased with the end of the Cold War. Rather, there has been a steady, almost linear accumulation of civil wars in the period we are examining; civil wars have broken out at a rate if about 2.3 per year, but ended at a rate of only 1.7 per year, making for a steady growth in the number of festering conflicts. By the high water mark of 1992, more than a quarter of the states in the world were experiencing a civil war. About two-thirds of these wars can be considered, as conventionally understood, ethnic wars. Somewhat less than half of them have been secessionist, and in the remainder, rebels have sought control over the central state apparatus.

Against this background, the project asks more specifically:

1. Why have some countries experienced civil wars in this period while most others have not?

2. What distinguishes ethnic wars from those that have no ethnic component?

3. Why have civil wars been fought in the name of some ethnic and communal groups, but not in the vast majority of such groups?

4. Why are civil wars so difficult to end? And what explains variation in the duration of civil wars in this period?

Data for the Project

1. The Minorities at Risk Dataset -- With the assistance of grants from the National Science Foundation [NSF PROPOSAL] and the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace [CARNEGIE PROPOSAL], we have worked with the Maryland-based team that developed the Minorities at Risk Dataset under the direction of Ted R. Gurr [MAR SITE]. The unit of observation in this data set is "Group/Country/Year" or "Group/Country/5-Year-Period".  The dataset allows us to ask what differentiates groups that have been involved in civil wars from those that have not. The Stanford team has worked to improve variables now included in the MAR dataset. We plan to make public our own working version of the MAR (with added cases to address selection bias problems) by September 2003.

2. The State/Year Dataset - With the support of the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavior Sciences (thanks to a grant from William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and its William R. Hewlett Fellows Program), we have also developed a list of all civil wars since 1945 that meet our definition, and a data set incorporating information about these conflicts in which the unit of analysis is the country-year.  A small version of this data set is now available in the "Replication Data" section.


research lab (restricted)