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How Rebel Victories Stop Civil Wars While Foreign Intervention Prolongs Them | Monica Duffy Toft

Should America stay out of other civil wars in other countries? This expert argues for rebel forces winning on their own terms.

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Monica Duffy Toft: So when one country intervenes in another country’s civil war, one of the things that happens is: it extends the war.

And if you think about it, what’s happening is that you’re having more resources coming into that conflict; and it’s bringing in new resources, bringing in new interests, basically complicating and complexifying that war that was already a very complex war.

There are ways in which intervention might be good, which is you’re trying to pull the parties apart, not trying to pick sides—one side picking the other side—and that can sort of stop the killing, but typically before that happens if outside states are getting involved in a civil war it tends to extend it.

So history is mixed on how to best solve civil wars. It turns out that the international community has a strong proclivity towards negotiated settlements, so you want the parties to both lay down their arms and negotiate an end to the civil war where each of them feels as if they have a part to play in the configuration of the new state. That is the absolute preference that the international community has, and it pushes for that. We are pushing for that today in Syria, Afghanistan—there’s now a discussion about negotiating with the Taliban, because we understand we may not be able to force an end to this war and that the Taliban are not going anywhere, and that we might have to negotiate with them.

The problem is in order for a negotiated settlement to resolve a civil war it requires both sides to stay absolutely committed to that and to remain committed to that for a long time. And that requires for both sides—or if it’s more than one side, we can think about the former wars in Yugoslavia: more than one side—that if they renege on the negotiated settlement that it’s going to be harmful to them and to their interests.

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