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The Economist: How to Stop the Fighting, Sometimes

November 9, 2013


"[T]he number of medium-to-large civil wars under way—there are six in which more than 1,000 people died last year—is low by the standards of the period. This is because they are coming to an end a little sooner. The average length of civil wars dropped from 4.6 to 3.7 years after 1991, according to Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, a professor at the University of Essex.

Mr. Gleditsch is one of a growing number of political scientists studying civil wars. The field, long overshadowed by studies of superpower conflict, is coming into its own. Its participants do not claim that all civil wars are the same—the range of causes and types of conflict is obvious. But the sheer number of civil wars allows scholars to attempt, at least, a quantitative approach to the factors that affect the wars' outcomes."

When Hussein el-Husseini moved into a modest flat with a sea view in Beirut in 1983, the surrounding streets were littered with the detritus of an eight-year-old civil war. When Mr. Husseini became Speaker of the Lebanese parliament the following year, the war still had six years to run. By the time it ended it had claimed 150,000 lives.

Yet the solution, says Mr. Husseini, was clear more or less from the beginning. The country's various religious groups, each with its own militias, had to share power. Lebanon could not be conquered by one side, nor divided among all. Its people are too mixed; Mr Husseini's prominent Shia Muslim family includes Christians and Sunnis, and that is par for the course. "But the militias were against it," he says.

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