July 24: where international relations and comparative politics intersect

Ideally, any research project should find a “gap” in the literature where your project will contribute genuinely “new” knowledge. My research on Spain and Syria has made it clear to me that despite falling under the broad umbrella of political science, international involvement in civil wars is a fairly under-researched phenomenon. Most civil war research falls under comparative politics, which tends to analyze country-specific characteristics such as geography, demographics like youth bulges or ethnicities, or GDP (for example, Fearon and Laitin’s insurgency argument).

On the other hand, research into the international side of civil wars is sparse and often idealistic or overly general. Regan’s “Third-Party Interventions and the Duration of Intrastate Conflicts” operates on the naive assumption that states always intervene in civil wars to bring about peace more quickly. Balch-Lindsay and Enterline reveal that both domestic and international factors contribute to civil war length. In particular, they (predictably) find that equally distributed interventions for both sides of a conflict lead to a stalemate and prolonged conflict.

International organizations and individual states play an important role in civil wars through economic and/or military aid, diplomatic support, and even supposed neutrality. Most modern conflicts are some form of intra-state conflict. Therefore, understanding how intervention shapes outcomes will help develop more effective policy. Political scientists should produce more research at this nexus of comparative and international politics.