As interstate war has become less common, academic attention has shifted to the plethora of armed conflicts occurring within the boundaries of states.
These civil wars have proven to be more protracted and difficult to terminate for numerous reasons that vary according to their unique socio-economic, political and cultural contexts.
Hence, providing a perfect general theory is problematic.
Nevertheless, a number of critical factors that affect the duration of civil wars and their inability to be resolved relative to interstate wars can be distinguished.
The role of external intervention in influencing the balance of power between parties and therefore the trajectory of civil wars is critical.
When external intervention is balanced between the opposing sides it can increase the duration of war. This was most evident when the Cold War superpowers played out their ideological struggle in the conflict theater of the global South.If not fully addressed, along with the underlying grievances that originally inspire violence, peace will remain at best fragile, and violence may continue in other forms.In this light, even the success stories of post-accord societies in Latin America and Lebanon appear to be “unfinished” civil wars. The Asymmetric Nature of Civil Wars: Given that interstate wars are generally fought in a series of direct confrontations between professional armies and across defined frontlines, they are relatively quick and decisive.Even when one side claims total victory or in the rare cases where peace accords are signed and the war is formally concluded, the transition from large-scale civil violence to peace is not so clear.Collective memories of mutual violence persist into the post-conflict period, and cultures of violence are sustained.Secession is unfeasible for there can only be one government.Such wars are existential struggles with each side framing the conflict in terms of “victory or death.” Unsurprisingly, they take an intensely violent nature.Third, peace is difficult to achieve when, for many actors, war is preferable.Often ignored is the capacity of war to endow belligerents with profits and power.To overcome its military weakness, the insurgent force gradually wears down the enemy through hit-and-run tactics. What adds complexity to these wars is that they are almost never wholly internal.In an age of interconnectivity and interdependency, their outcome is often of strategic interest not only to neighboring powers but also to the international community at-large.