Why Civil Wars are So Tough to Solve

The headlines reveal (and will continue to show) the failures and stumbles with Geneva II. Careful and insightful reporting by Somini Sengupta this week shows exactly how “time, words, and ultimately, trust” shaped the invitation process that included the ultimate exclusion of Iran.

Research in 2010 by Monica Duffy Toft shows that civil wars ending with rebel victors lead to a greater stability. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards in Syria. And a “failed peace implementation can lead to more deaths than the conflict the agreement was meant to end.”

Even so, there are serious diplomatic efforts to end the killing–even if they fail.  Behind the scenes there is an enormous amount of effort among key states such as the U.S. and Russia and the UN to find a solution to the Syrian civil war. There are many sad precedents:

What are the lessons? If there is a general one from Bosnia for the parties meeting in Switzerland, it is the need for humility. As determined as the international community may be to resolve conflict, civil war is extraordinarily resistant to outside intervention. This has three important implications.

via Bosnia’s Lessons for Syria – NYTimes.com.

As Philippe Leroux-Martin further notes, “The Dayton agreement was far from perfect…but Mr. Holbrooke’s strategy did succeed in creating the conditions required to enforce a settlement.”

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