Conflicts, Connections, Complexities: Towards a Multi-layered Understanding of Civil War

Project Leader

Desirée Nilsson, Associate Professor

Project Period

2016-2019

Project Participants

Johan Brosché, Assistant Professor

Ralph Sundberg, Assistant Professor

Project Description

Currently, a few extremely violent civil wars – such as those in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Sudan – are so devastating that together they represent the vast majority of all people killed in armed conflict each year. Although these civil wars are distributed across several continents and have their roots in a diverse set of grievances they all share one important attribute: these civil wars do not only consist of a struggle between a government and rebels, but tend to comprise an interlocking patchwork of conflicts between rivalling political actors on several different levels. However, the literature on peace and conflict research has largely failed to examine why some civil wars become complex interlinked patchworks of different conflict types while others do not. The purpose of the project is to contribute to filling this gap by exploring the following research question: why and how do some state-based armed conflicts become inter-linked with other types of conflicts, and how does this influence the resolution of these conflicts? In particular, this project will provide key insights into the inter-linkages between state-based armed conflict and three forms of organized violence that commonly plague civil wars: 1) communal conflicts between ethno-linguistic groups; 2) conflicts between rebel actors, and 3) cross-border conflicts.

The project seeks to develop a theoretical framework that focuses on conflict inter-linkages, paying attention to both actor characteristics, such as ethnic ties between actors, and structural factors, including political institutions. We will use quantitative and qualitative methods combined to address this pivotal research question. The qualitative analyses will consist of in-depth case studies (within and between case comparisons) of Syria and Lebanon, and Sudan and South Sudan, respectively, which will be instrumental to tease out the causal mechanisms and help us validate and develop our theoretical framework. The quantitative analyses will utilize unique disaggregated civil war data, which will allow us to map out and explore patterns of inter-linkages between these different types of conflicts across cases and over time.

Related Publications

Brosché, Johan. 2014. Masters of war: The role of elite's in Sudan's communal conflicts. Uppsala Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University.

Brosché, Johan & Daniel Rothbart. 2013. Violent conflict and peacebuilding: The continuing crises in Darfur. London and New York: Routledge.

Brosché, Johan and Emma Elfversson. 2011. Communal conflict, civil war, and the state: Complexities, connections, and the case of Sudan" African Journal on Conflict Resolution, 12(1): 33-60

Fjelde, Hanne and Desirée Nilsson. 2012. Rebels against rebels:Explaining violence between rebel groups. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 56(4), 604-628.

Sundberg, Ralph, Kristine Eck and Joakim Kreutz. 2012. Introducing the UCDP non-state conflict dataset. Journal of Peace Research, 49(2), 351-362.

Sundberg, Ralph and Erik Melander. 2013. Introducing the UCDP georeferenced event dataset. Journal of Peace Research, 50(4), 523-532.

Main Financial Support

The Swedish Research Council