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.
Where belligerents cannot envision a common future of power sharing, incumbents have attempted to delegitimize their opponents by labeling them “terrorists,” “criminals,” or “ foreign agents.” This de-politicization of the opposition is a common feature of civil wars and serves as a serious impediment to their termination through civil means.
As long as insurgents are excluded from the political arena, violent force will remain their primary means of communication.
Where civil wars are driven by limited aims and objectives, the government can respond with the necessary reforms and negotiate with the aggrieved parties to stifle the conflict.
When the objective is to secede, to overthrow the government, or even to radically transform social structures, compromise is improbable if not impossible.
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.
Various cases of “enemies” colluding to prolong violence challenge the common assumption that the ultimate objective of war is victory.
Finally, the essay questions what an “end” to civil war implies.