Date: February 17, 2022 05:11PM
HOW CIVIL WARS START
And How to Stop Them
By Barbara F. Walter
THE NEXT CIVIL WAR
Dispatches From the American Future
By Stephen Marche
Last month, three retired generals warned that the U.S. military needs to start preparing for the possibility of internal breakdown over the 2024 election. “In a contested election,” they wrote, “some might follow orders from the rightful commander in chief, while others might follow the Trumpian loser. … Under such a scenario, it is not outlandish to say a military breakdown could lead to civil war.” Two new books suggest their concern is not misplaced.
The generals are likely familiar with the Political Instability Task Force (P.I.T.F.), a group of analysts that has been crunching enormous amounts of data in order to predict where conflict might erupt. Barbara F. Walter is a member of the task force who has spent 30 years studying civil wars around the world. Her new book, “How Civil Wars Start,” explains that studies have identified three factors that predict which countries are most likely to descend into civil conflict.
The first is whether a country is in transition toward or away from democracy. A data set known as the “polity score” rates every country on a scale from +10 (most democratic) to -10 (most authoritarian). Those countries in the middle — between +5 and -5 and therefore neither full democracies nor full autocracies, or what the experts call “anocracies” — are twice as likely as autocracies to experience political instability or civil war and three times as likely as democracies.
The second factor is what the P.I.T.F. calls “factionalism,” which in Walter’s definition arises when a political party is based on ethnicity, religion or race instead of ideology. According to a study of hundreds of countries over 70 years, the presence of anocracy and factionalism was the best predictor of where civil wars were likely to erupt. It’s in this zone, Walter writes, that “politics goes from being a system in which citizens care about the good of the country as a whole, to one in which they care only about members of their group.” These factions tend not to harden on their own. Frequently, what the researchers call an “ethnic entrepreneur” — for example, Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia or Omar al-Bashir in Sudan — stirs up fears within one group that they are under threat from another group and must band together.
Finally, Walter details a third factor: a dominant group’s loss of status. Called “downgrading,” this predicts which groups are most likely to initiate conflict: those experiencing not just political defeat, but “status reversal.”
The power of Walter’s model is that she does not need to reference the United States. One plots our nation automatically as one reads. (Before last year’s inauguration, the United States had a polity score of +5, within the anocracy zone for the first time since 1800.) Her conclusion: “We are a factionalized anocracy that is quickly approaching the open insurgency stage, which means we are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.”
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/17/2022 05:12PM by anybody.