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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


Civil Wars, Insecurity, and Intervention
Barbara F. Walter & Jack Snyder (eds.)

New York: Columbia University Press, 1999
331pp. Index. Hb.: 32.00; ISBN 0-231-11626-8. Pb.: 13.00; ISBN 0-231-11627-6



Most of the wars of the last decade and half have been complex and bloody internal conflicts driven to a significant degree by nationalism and ethnic animosity. Greater understandings of these civil wars are important for three main reasons: First, they cause tremendous amounts of suffering because they often involve direct, deliberate attacks on civilian populations. The number of people displaced or killed in such wars is frequently counted in tens and hundreds of thousands, and sometimes even millions. Second, civil wars almost always involve neighboring states, thereby undermining regional security. Finally, policymakers at the national level and in regional and international organisations are currently in the process of reassessing their efforts to deal with such conflicts. In this context, Barbara Walter and Jack Snyder's edited piece is a very time addition to the growing literature on the subject.

The book explores not only the underlying sources, but also the proximate factors that trigger violent civil wars. Rightly eschewing uni-causal explanations, the essays focus on elite as well as mass, and on transnational as well as domestic explanations. In substantive terms, the book attempts to examine more closely how different settings on the 'ground' might affect decisions to fight, to negotiate, or to remain at peace. In this sense, the book is an effort in theory building rather than testing. Thus, it is only the first step on a much longer and wider road towards comprehensive understanding of civil wars, their causes and their solutions. A major omission, however, is an explicit engagement with the growing literature on critical security studies. This notwithstanding, the book is highly engaging, clearly written and well presented. It should be recommended to undergraduate students of Security Studies as a valuable addition to the growing literature.


Nana Poku, Southampton University



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