Civil wars: how conflict in one nation can change the world

Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.

Featuring Karl Eikenberry, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and the Oksenberg-Rohlen fellow at Shorenstein APARC, and Stephen D. Krasner, a senior fellow at FSI. Written by Sam Wolfe.

The days when civil wars affected a single country are over. For the past 20 years, civil wars have been getting longer and consequences have started to leak across borders in the form of refugees and terrorist attacks. But intervening is complicated. A nation’s political, cultural and geographic idiosyncrasies can be difficult to understand, making them resistant to outside help, according to Stephen Krasner. With thirty civil wars raging today, scholars at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) united to explain the origins of civil wars and how outside actors like the United Nations can help end them.

On October 23, seven FSI scholars kicked off a series of events featuring their work in the Fall 2017 and Winter 2018 issues of Daedalus. “Civil Wars, Global Disorder, and the Future of the International System” featured a discussion on the complexities of civil conflicts. Karl Eikenberry, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Shorenstein APARC’s Oksenberg-Rohlen fellow, and Stephen Krasner, a senior fellow at FSI, co-edited the volumes. Authors included FSI senior fellows Francis Fukuyama (also the Mosbacher Director of CDDRL), Michele Barry, Paul Wise, Stephen Stedman, James Fearon and Martha Crenshaw.

Listen to the full panel:

Before honing in on each scholar’s individual contribution to the journal, Eikenberry and Krasner outlined the rationale behind the papers and how they hoped they would impact policy.

The scholars aimed to explore three fundamental questions: What is the current state of civil wars, what threats do they pose to the United States and what policy options are available to our country and others? Eikenberry reflected on his time in Afghanistan, as both a military commander and as the U.S. ambassador, emphasizing the unique challenges that the country posed to American military and political leaders. The frustrations that they faced, he said, inspired him to think more deeply about how to shepherd ideas formulated in the academy into the policy world.

FSI plays a key role in this mission.

“I think that it says something about FSI,” Eikenberry said, “that of 35 authors and co-authors [in this issue], eight come from FSI.”

Karl Eikenberry (left) and Stephen Krasner (right) lead a panel of FSI scholars discussing civil wars. Photo by Rod Searcey.

Because of the institute’s multidisciplinary reach, the authors’ analyses ventured beyond traditional political or historical thinking. For example, Barry and Wise of Stanford Health Policy offered a technical view of the role that pandemics play in exacerbating civil wars. Krasner called this kind of fusion between scientists and political theorists the “sweet spot” that FSI occupies.

Ultimately, the scholars aim for tangible policy change. Stedman, Krasner and Fearon addressed the United Nations in September, and Crenshaw will address them this Friday, November 17. Over the next few months, scholars will travel to Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Colombia, the Balkans and Ethiopia to workshop in countries that have experienced civil wars. This kind of international engagement, the scholars hope, is just the beginning of a global effort to address the array of ongoing civil wars and prevent future conflicts.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.