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How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them Paperback – 12 April 2022
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Most of us don't know it, but we are living in the world's greatest era of civil wars. While violence has declined worldwide, civil wars have increased.
This has changed. Since 1946, over 250 armed conflicts have broken out around the world, a number that continues to rise. Major civil wars are now being fought in countries including Iraq, Syria and Libya. Smaller civil wars are being fought in Ukraine, India, and Malaysia. Even countries we thought could never experience another civil war - such as the USA, Sweden and Ireland - are showing signs of unrest.
In How Civil Wars Start, acclaimed expert Barbara F. Walter, who has advised on political violence everywhere from the CIA to the U.S. Senate to the United Nations, explains the rise of civil war and the conditions that create it. As democracies across the world backslide and citizens become more polarised, civil wars will become even more widespread and last longer than they have in the past. This urgent and important book shows us a path back toward peace.
'When one of the world's leading scholars of civil war tells us that a country is on the brink of violent conflict, we should pay attention. Drawing on her deep understanding of the causes of intra-state violence in places like Myanmar, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Syria, and Yugoslavia, Barbara Walter argues, chillingly, that many of the conditions that commonly precede civil wars are present today in places we would least expect it. This is an important book'-- Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die
'An absorbing guide ... this book performs a valuable service' ― Sunday Times
'How Civil Wars Start is a stop sign for us. What an imperative book for our time. Read and act'-- Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist
'We have all now witnessed the death of the idea of American Exceptionalism. We are in the same boat as everyone else. What do we do? Barbara Walter shows the way. Polemical and essential'-- James A. Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail
'A vivid, compelling book on a globally vital issue. Timely, important and original'-- Professor Richard English, author of Does Terrorism Work? A History
'Barbara F. Walter has drawn on decades of experience and unparalleled expertise to write a powerful and indispensable book.How Civil Wars Start brilliantly illuminates the history of civil wars and the profound dangers to our union today, serving as both a warning about the stakes in our politics and a call to action for those who want to preserve multiethnic democracy and the values that America is supposed to stand for' -- Ben Rhodes, author of After the Fall
About the Author
- Publisher : Viking; 1st edition (12 April 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0241429765
- ISBN-13 : 978-0241429761
- Dimensions : 15.5 x 2.5 x 23.5 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 53,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Research into conflicts and civil wars has been systematised, often based on large data sets of information (3). One group, the Polity Project at the Center for Systemic Peace is prominent in this book. One of its measurements, the Polity Score, is mentioned throughout. This value ranges from -10 for the most autocratic country to +10 for the most democratic. The term anocracy is used to describe the middle zone, from -5 to +5, and it is in this zone that civil wars tend to occur. However, a country can be an anocracy and still be stable. Various other factors have also to be considered. Are there factions within the country and are any of these large superfactions? Is the country transitioning from autocracy to democracy too quickly? Is it slipping from democracy to anocracy? Has one group lost status or lost hope of gaining respect? Is the country being destroyed by social media?
THE BOOK (4) has an Introduction followed by eight chapters spread across 230 pages, Acknowledgments, Notes and an Index. There is only one illustration, a chart in the first chapter (5). The writing style is accessible and not academic. The author is a professor of International Relations at the University of California, San Diego and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. (6)
(1) At the other end of the book in Acknowledgments, the author says “When I started to write this book in 2018, I didn’t tell many people it was about a possible second civil war in America. Those I did tell tended to look at me with concern. In their minds, another civil war was never going to happen in the United States, and thinking otherwise was an exercise in fearmongering – perhaps even irresponsible.”
(2) Examples of conflict cited are Bosnia, Ukraine, Iraq, Syria and Northern Ireland, but many others are also mentioned.
(3) The organisations involved include: PRIO (Peace Research Institute Oslo), PITF (Political Instability Task Force), V-Dem Institute and the Center for Systemic Peace. The data sets include: Polity V, Freedom House and V-Dem.
(4) The book’s contents:
Introduction (11 pages)
Chapter 1: The Danger of Anocracy (25 pages)
Chapter 2: The Rise of Factions (30 pages)
Chapter 3: The Dark Consequences of Losing Status (20 pages)
Chapter 4: When Hope Dies (24 pages)
Chapter 5: The Accelerant (27 pages)
Chapter 6: How Close Are We? (32 pages)
Chapter 7: What a War Would Look Like (33 pages)
Chapter 8: Preventing a Civil War (33 pages)
Acknowledgments (4 pages)
Notes (47 pages)
Index (16 pages)
Chapter 1: “The Danger of Anocracy” begins with the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent attempt to rapidly democratise the country, which led to destabilisation and factionalism, and then civil war. The Polity Score is introduced, followed by the concept of anocracy, mid-way between autocracy and democracy.
Chapter 2: “The Rise of Factions” begins with the death of Tito, the collapse of Yugoslavia and the resulting civil war. Other examples of factional fighting in the 20th century were the Mexican, Russian and Chinese Revolutions and the Greek civil war. Donald Horowitz wrote the influential book Ethnic Groups in Conflict , but later work, particularly the collection of datasets by organisations such as the Political Instability Task Force, have shown that open conflict requires much more than just factionalism.
Chapter 3: “The Dark Consequences of Losing Status” begins with Mindanao in the southern Philippines. This was a sparsely populated Muslim area to where many Catholics from other parts of the country moved. “The Moro people of Mindanao had been gradually disempowered over the course of colonial rule and then again after they were incorporated into the Philippines. They had once governed their home region; their datus, sultans, and rajahs had made and enforced the laws, determined how land would be allocated, and decided which cultural practices would be honoured. It was only after the Philippine government began to encourage the much larger Catholic population to migrate to Mindanao – displacing the Muslim locals - that the violence began.” (page 63/64) Other examples of downgrading of status and political power discussed include the Abkhazia region of Georgia and Assam in India, where the Hindus saw an influx of Muslim Bengalis.
Chapter 4: “When Hope Dies” begins with Northern Ireland. The Catholics had been peacefully protesting for years without results. “Before British soldiers arrived, Catholics had hoped that London’s more democratic government would rein in the worst tendencies of Northern Ireland’s Protestants. . . The counterinsurgency tactics of the British soldiers revealed the truth, and it was at this point that the Catholics lost hope.” (page 83) Other examples cited include Syria.
Chapter 5: “The Accelerant”. The accelerant is social media. The chapter begins with Myanmar, where the Buddhist majority confronted a Muslim minority. In this country Facebook was widespread and used by the Buddhist ultranationalists to post hate speech. “The problem is social media’s business model. To make money, technology companies like Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Twitter need to keep people on their platforms – or as they call it ‘engaged’ – for as long as possible. . . . It turns out that what people like the most is fear over calm, falsehood over truth, outrage over empathy.” (page 110). Further examples show how presidents Duterte of the Philippines and Bolsonaro of Brazil both used social media to gain political power and to decrease democracy.
Chapter 6: “How Close Are We?” Talking about the events at the Capitol on 6th January 2021, the author says: “That day led to America’s polity score dropping from +7 to +5, the lowest score since 1800. The United States is an anocracy for the first time in more than 200 years.” (page 138) “We do not yet know whether the attack on the Capitol will be replicated or become part of a pattern. If it does, Americans will begin to feel unsafe, unprotected by their government. They will question who is in charge.” (page 160)
Chapter 7: “What a War Would Look Like” begins with a fictional look into the future of the United States in 2028, suffering from a bombing campaign on government institutions and fighting from both left and right, plus uncertainty whether any of the news feeds can be believed.
Chapter 8: “Preventing a Civil War” begins with South Africa and how it avoided the civil war that everyone expected. This was due to political will at the top with the decisions made by de Klerk on one side and Mandela on the other. This is followed by a general discussion of the “conflict trap”. Civil wars are rare, but once a civil war has occurred, it often repeats if the underlying problems are not repaired. The main part of the chapter discusses the United States and what needs to be done there, including better governance, social justice and regulation of social media. Alarmingly, the author also states that after the election she actively planned an option to leave the United States. “Joe Biden had won, but Trump and many Republicans were doing everything they could to overturn the results. When the attack on the Capitol took place, on January 6th, it seemed that America might be at a turning point. I knew from my research what happened to people who waited too long to leave combat zones.”
(5) The chart is half a page and titled “Polity and the Onset of Civil Wars, 1955 – 2018” (Chapter 1, page 22). I found it strange that there was only one chart or table in the book considering the emphasis on the use of data sets.
(6) “As a scholar and expert on civil wars, I have interviewed members of Hamas in the West Bank, ex-Sinn Féin members in Northern Ireland, and former members of FARC in Colombia. I have stood on top of the Golan Heights and stared into Syria during the height of the Syria civil war. I have driven across Zimbabwe as the military was planning its coup against Robert Mugabe. I have been followed and interrogated by members of Myanmar’s junta. I’ve been at the wrong end of an Israeli soldier’s gun.” (Introduction, page xii)
The book is very engaging and interesting to read. However, it falls short when it comes to White extremism in America.
The author admits that “increasingly open global trade had hollowed out U.S. manufacturing (p. 149).” And “White Americans were seeing young people from countries like India and China get lucrative jobs and live an American dream no longer existed for them (p. 150).” Immigration continued and allowances were made for illegal immigrants (p. 150).”
Indeed, in the last two decades, the United States has seen a massive shrink in manufacturing and the associated better-paying jobs due to the industries mainly moving to China. While this development is considered part of a free-market economy, it may be appropriately called “selling America on the cheap” due to the transfer of hard-earned knowledge of sophisticated industrial processes. To add to the insult, a large number of foreign transplants have taken up jobs in the emerging economy associated with information technology.
The author fails to acknowledge that successive governments have done little to address these developments’ impact on working-class families, including Blacks and Hispanics. This ought to be deemed misgovernance and thus constitutes a genuine grievance. Most working-class Whites may not understand these reasons, but they sure are resentful of the economic impact and the unfair marginalization. There is also another avenue of misgovernance in the form of ongoing massive immigrant settlement programs. As a democratic nation, Americans have a say in determining how the character of their nation should evolve. Allowing a large number of immigrants can be positive in many ways. Still, it also comes with one possible risk many Americans fear to be existential: changes to the national character that is not to the majority's liking. This legitimate grievance is sometimes called the “Great Replacement Fear.”
The author fails to grasp that the threat to the American democracy and potential escalation in political violence stem from poor governance that has led to the ongoing White marginalization and the fear of a future one. Her prescriptions are that we should strengthen democracy and regulate social media so that extremists do not use it to radicalize or mobilize may only address the secondary causes but do little to address the root cause of White marginalization. So, the author is unconvincing on “preventing a civil war.”
How then would one address White extremism and strengthen democracy? An answer might be by addressing the sense of marginalization that has taken root in the majority White population. Bringing manufacturing back home and creating an education system optimal for manufacturing and information technology has to be paramount, and so is an immigration policy with a much smaller intake. Tariffs may be needed on foreign-manufactured goods for economically viable local manufacturing. Although this will increase the cost of goods, a better-earning working-class with manufacturing jobs will be able to afford them. Reducing consumption should be good for the environment too. Moreover, America can be at the forefront of next-generation innovation and wealth creation through in-house manufacturing. This could be a win-win for all American working-class families and reinstate their faith in the political establishment.
At the very least, this book has initiated an important conversation. Although it addresses a timely topic, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this book for the above reasons.
El riesgo de guerra civil no depende de factores económicos como la desigualdad sino de emocionales como el miedo y el agravio, la velocidad del deterioro institucional y la presencia de “emprendedores” étnicos, de la violencia, i.e., de demagogos que aprovechan y agravan la situación. La mayor parte del libro se dedica a testar el modelo en otros países ( Croacia, Bosnia o Irlanda del Norte, etc) y luego lo aplica a USA. Tienen y tenemos motivos para la preocupación porque el faccionalismo (no uso “sectarismo” que tiene otras connotaciones) es el principal factor de riesgo y USA está en un pozo del que, opino, no puede salir.
Los remedios contra una guerra civil en ciernes son el imperio de la ley, un sistema electoral fiable y homógeneo y la eficacia gubernamental en satifacer las necesidades de su población. El trumpismo, y el partido republicano detrás en bloque, se han dedicado a socavar la independencia de los tribunales colocando acólitos en los puestos claves. Veremos este 2022 sus sentencias, empezando por el aborto, que será ilegalizado en numerosos estados. Los republicanos se han esforzado por todos los medios posibles en restringir y dificultar el acceso al voto de la población, especialmente las minorías. Mientras otros países, como Canadá (2018) han hecho más fácil la participación política, el P. republicano ha desarrollado toda una tecnología para perpetuar el gobierno de la minoría y se niega a reformar el vetusto sistema de colegio electoral presidencial a pesar de que saben que en próximas elecciones su candidato tendrá muchos menos millones de votos que el demócrata. Han divinizado la constitución americana, un documento contingente, tal y como lo hace hoy en día el P. Popular en España para impedir cualquier reforma que asegure la subsistencia del estado. Y por último, el gobierno americano no puede satisfacer las necesidades de su población, tiene una economía ineficaz (víctima de la financiarización inventada por su élite) y una clase media ( YA no es un país de clase media, vid The Meritocracy Trap de Markovits) con terror pánico al desclasamiento, “ a un paso de la catástrofe"): la mitad de la población no dispone de 500 dólares ahorrados. Estados Unidos, sí, a mi juicio, está en declive terminal irreparable y es solo cuestión de tiempo la explosión. El mejor predictor del voto en el país es la raza. El 60% de los blancos votan republicano y su electorado es un 90% blanco; las minorías votan en 2/3 partes a demócratas. En 2040, USA dejará de ser un país mayoritariamente blanco.
La autora dedica un capítulo especial a la perversidad de los grandes propietarios de redes sociales y su papel, consciente, en alimentar campañas de intoxicación y de extremización (sus algoritmos recomiendan cada vez posiciones y comunidades más extremas) Es su modelo de negocio y así seguirá porque el estado americano no tiene la fuerza ni la voluntad política de imponer una regulación. Después de todo, el Tribunal Supremo permitió las donaciones ilimitadas de cualquier millonario y sean los aristócratas tecnológicos o los de hidrocarburos, no se va a poder imponer ninguna regulación, por más imprescindible que sea. Hoy el país, que ha sufrido un cambio drástico en la última década, no pasa de ser una oligarquía de libro.
Disiento de la forma en la que la autora ve cómo podría iniciarse la guerra civil. Desde luego, no va a ser una repetición de la de 1861, no habrá ejércitos. Ella considera que serán incidentes terroristas de milicias (una plaga terrorífica en USA donde solo en 2020 se vendieron más de 20 millones de armas) pero considero más factible que sea derivada de la insurrección de las clases urbanas frente a medios rurales fascistizados y racistas que se sienten desposeídos. Los habitantes y las élites contemporáneas urbanas difícilmente soportarán su infrarrepresentación y despojamiento político. Tiempos interesantes.