New Grant to Study Restraint in Civil War

Why do some civil wars become so much more deadly than others? With a new grant from the Swedish Research Council, two colleagues and I will explore this question.

Corinne Bara, February 2021

In recent times, more than half of all people killed in civil wars died in Afghanistan or Syria. This raises a question to which we have surprisingly few answers so far: Why do some civil wars become so much more severe than others?

In a three-year project funded by the Swedish Research Council as part of its contribution to research on development (U-forsk), Johan Brosché, Sebastian van Baalen and myself set out to find answers to this question. We will put a particular effort into finding the sources of restraint in civil war – factors that induce armed actors to limit their use of violence in war.

The project is titled Crossing the Rubicon? The Dynamics of Restraint in Civil War. The phrase “crossing the rubicon” is generally used to refer to risky actions that put actors on a path from which there is no turning back, in reminiscence of Julius Caesar’s decision to lead his troops across the Rubicon river, precipitating the Roman Civil War.

It is our vision to help identify factors that could prevent the escalation of conflicts so that they exactly do not “cross the Rubicon” – the point of no return.