Disaggregating Civil Wars

Disaggregating Civil Wars

A European Collaborative Research Project (ECRP) funded by the European Science Foundation (download ESF proposal description)

Project duration: August 2007 - July 2010

Project leader: Prof. Lars-Erik Cederman


This is a collaborative project of the Center for Comparative and International Studies (CIS) at ETH Zurich and University of Zurich, the Center for the Study of Civil Wars at PRIO in Oslo, and the Department of Government at the University of Essex.

The project investigates disaggregated conflict processes in order to uncover the causal mechanisms that generate civil violence. The current quantitative literature focuses mainly on national-level attributes while neglecting historical and geographical contexts. We challenge key assumptions and findings of this literature, in particular (A) the putative irrelevance of ethnicity as a cause of conflict, (B) the emphasis of opportunity structures at the expense of motivations, and (C) the downplaying of transnational mechanisms. These are the main research areas that will be addressed by each individual project:

Project A: Contextualizing the Institutional Mechanisms of Ethno-Nationalist Insurgencies, CIS Zürich
Project B: The Strategic Use of Violence for Political Goals, CSCW Oslo & NTNU Trondheim
Project C: Civil War in Transnational Perspective, University of Essex

All these research efforts rely on a centre-periphery model pitting a state against one or more peripheral groups. We adopt three guiding principles: First, both theoretically and empirically, we move below the national level and focus on regions and groups. Second, we analyze cross-border linkages, i.e. refugee flows and external support for peripheral groups. Third, we explore how institutions and identities depend on conflict processes.

Main aims

Our project has four main aims relating to theory, methods, data and policy:
First, we aspire to offer an integrative theoretical perspective that focuses explicitly on actor constellations and motivations within their spatiotemporal context.
Second, we intend to apply and further develop a set of innovative methods that have so far not been frequently used in civil war studies, including spatial statistics, geographic information systems and computational modelling.
Third, we aim at creating a new web-based “open source” environment that integrates a variety of existing and new data sources in a coherent and convenient manner.
Fourth, our project is meant to serve not only academics, but also policy-makers by providing more versatile assessments of political risks and other security problems.

Potential impacts

Our project has both scientific and policy impacts. At the scientific level we advance current knowledge on civil wars by focusing on micro-level mechanisms embedded in their historical and geographic context. This is important because many claims in the contemporary conflict literature depend on aggregation effects rather than on substantive processes. By identifying real actors with real motives in their actual social context we are able to go beyond macro correlations. In doing so, we advance the research frontier in terms of research methodology by developing tools that highlight explicit actor constellations and spatiotemporal context. Drawing on the expertise of our partners, we thus create a research network that realizes the potential for scientific collaboration in Europe.
At the policy level our scientific advances will provide more reliable and comprehensive tools to analyze complex conflict regions. Our project generates and integrates new data while relying on state-of-the-art methodology to present decision-makers with spatially disaggregated and historically contextualized patterns. In contrast, contemporary risk analysis relies either on country-level analysis, using static and non-spatial statistical tools, or qualitative “country studies”. Our integrated approach will facilitate detecting problematic regions and theoretically guide future policy scenarios.



  • Buhaug, Halvard, 2006. "Relative Capability and Rebel Objective in Civil War." Journal of Peace Research 43(6): 691–708.
  • Buhaug, Halvard, 2007. "The Future Is More than Scale: A Reply to Diehl and O'Lear". Geopolitics 12(1): 192–199.
  • Buhaug, Halvard, 2009. "Konflikter i bevegelser" [Conflicts in Transition], Forsvarets Forum, Juli/August.
  • Buhaug, Halvard, 2010. 'Dude, Where's My Conflict? LSG, Relative Strength, and the Location of Civil War', Conflict Management and Peace Science 27(2): 107–128.
  • Buhaug, Halvard, Kristen Ringdal, Albert Simkus & Ola Listhaug 2008. "Ethnic Polarization and Post-Conflict Animosity: The Case of Macedonia." Presented at American Political Science Association, Boston, MA, 28–31 August.
  • Buhaug, Halvard, Lars-Erik Cederman & Jan Ketil Rød, 2008. "Disaggregating Ethno-Nationalist Civil Wars: A Dyadic Test of Exclusion Theory." International Organization 62(3): 531–551.
  • Buhaug, Halvard; Scott Gates, Håvard Hegre & Håvard Strand, 2007. "Global Trends in Armed Conflict". Report to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • Buhaug, Halvard; Scott Gates & Päivi Lujala, 2009. "Geography, Rebel Capability, and the Duration of Civil Conflict", Journal of Conflict Resolution 53(4): 544–569.
  • Buhaug, Halvard, and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch. 2008. "Contagion or Confusion? Why Conflicts Cluster in Space." International Studies Quarterly 52 (2):215-233.
  • Butler, Christopher K. & Scott Gates, 2009. "Asymmetry, Parity, and (Civil) War: Can International Theories of Power Help Us Understand Civil War?", International Interactions 35(3): 330 – 340.
  • Cederman, Lars-Erik; Halvard Buhaug & Jan Ketil Rød, 2009. "Ethno-Nationalist Dyads and Civil War: A GIS-Based Analysis", Journal of Conflict Resolution 53(4): 496–525.
  • Cederman, Lars-Erik, Luc Girardin and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch. 2009. "Ethno-Nationalist Triads: Assessing the Influence of Kin Groups on Civil Wars". World Politics 61: 403-437
  • Cederman, Lars-Erik and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch. 2009. "Introduction to Special Issue on 'Disaggregating Civil War'". Journal of Conflict Resolution 53: 487-495.
  • Cederman, Lars-Erik and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch 2009. "Disaggregating Civil War". Special Journal Issue. Journal of Conflict Resolution.
  • Cederman, Lars-Erik, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and Luc Girardin. 2007. "Ethnic Triads: Assessing the Influence of Kin Groups on Civil Wars." Typescript, ETH Zurich and University of Essex.
  • Cederman, Lars-Erik, Jan Ketil Rød & Nils Weidmann 2006. "Geo-Referencing of Ethnic Groups: Creating a New Dataset." Presented at the Oslo GROW-net Workshop, Oslo, 10–11 February.
  • Cederman, Lars-Erik, Wimmer, Andreas, and Min, Brian, 2010. "Why Do Ethnic Groups Rebel? New Data and Analysis". World Politics 62(1): 87-119.
  • Dorussen, Han. Forthcoming. "Economic and Political Coercion in Ethno-Political Conflict." Politische Vierteljahresschrift.
  • Dorussen, Han. 2007. "Introducing PKOLED: Peacekeeping Operations Locations and Event Dataset." Typescript, University of Essex.
  • Dorussen, Han & Ismene Gizelis. 2008. "Into the Lion's Den: Local Responses to UN Peacekeeping." Typescript, University of Essex.
  • Dorussen, Han & Hugh Ward 2006. "Inter Governmental Organizations and the Kantian Peace - A Network Perspective." Presented at the Oslo GROW-net Workshop, Oslo, 10–11 February.
  • Gates, Scott, 2010. "Recruiting Children for Armed Conflict" in Scott Gates & Simon Reich, eds, Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press (77–92).
  • Gates, Scott, Päivi Lujala & Halvard Buhaug 2005. "Geography, Strategic Ambition, and the Duration of Civil Conflict". Presented at International Conference on 'Mapping the Complexity of Civil Wars', Zürich, 15–17 September.
  • Gates, Scott & Simon Reich, 2010. "Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States. Introduction" in Scott Gates & Simon Reich, eds, Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press (3–13).
  • Gates, Scott & Simon Reich, 2010. "Conclusion: Children and Human Security" in Scott Gates & Simon Reich, eds, Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press (247–254).
  • Gates, Scott & Simon Reich, 2009. "Think Again: Child Soldiers", Foreign Policy, May.
  • Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. Forthcoming. "Civil War and its Spread." In Handbook on Conflict Resolution, edited by J. Bercovitch, V. Kremenyuk and I. W. Zartman. London: Sage.
  • Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. 2007. "Transnational Dimensions of Civil War." Journal of Peace Research 44 (3):293-309.
  • Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede & Kyle C. Beardsley. ND. "Core Issues in International Data Collection." In International Studies Association Compendium of International Studies, Volume on Scientific Study of International Processes (SSIP), edited by P. F. Diehl and J. Morrow. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, David Cunningham, and Idean Salehyan. 2008. "It Takes Two: Dyadic Interactions and Civil War Duration." Manuscript, University of Essex, Iowa State and University of North Texas.
  • Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Andrea Ruggeri. 2007. "Political Opportunity Structures, Democracy, and Civil War." Typescript, University of Essex.
  • Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, Idean Salehyan, and Kenneth Schultz. 2008. "Fighting at Home, Fighting Abroad: How Civil Wars Lead to Interstate Disputes." Journal of Conflict Resolution 52 (4):479-506.
  • Goemans, Henk (Hein) E., Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and Giacomo Chiozza. Forthcoming. "Introducing Archigos: A Dataset of Political Leaders." Journal of Peace Research.
  • Hegre, Håvard; Gudrun Østby & Clionadh Raleigh, 2009. "Poverty and Civil War Events: A Disaggregated Study of Liberia", Journal of Conflict Resolution 53(4): 298–623.
  • Hegre, Håvard & Clionadh Raleigh 2005. "Population Size, Concentration, and Civil War. A Geographically Disaggregated Analysis." Presented at the Summer Meeting of the Polarization and Conflict Project, Konstanz, Germany, 2–5 June.
  • Jensen, Peter Sandholt, and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch. 2008. "Rain, Growth, and Civil War: The Importance of Location." Typescript, University of Southern Denmark and University of Essex.
  • Mehlum, Halvor; Edward Miguel & Ragnar Torvik 2006. "Poverty and Crime in 19th Century Germany." Presented at the Oslo GROW-net Workshop, Oslo, 10–11 February.
  • Murshed, S. Mansoob & Scott Gates, 2006. "Spatial Horizontal Inequality and the Maoist Insurgency in Nepal" in Ravi Kanbur, Anthony Venables & Guanghua Wan, eds, Spatial Disparities in Human Development. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.
  • Ormhaug, Christin Mørup 2006. "Health Consequences of Civil War." Presented at the Oslo GROW-net Workshop, Oslo, 10–11 February.
  • Østby, Gudrun; Ragnhild Nordås & Jan Ketil Rød. 2009. "Regional Inequalities and Civil Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa", International Studies Quarterly 53(2):301-324.
  • Pugel, James, 2010. "Disaggregating the Causal Factors Unique to Child Soldiering" in Scott Gates & Simon Reich, eds, Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburg Press (160–182).
  • Raleigh, Clionadh & Håvard Hegre 2005. "Introducing ACLED: An Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset". Presented at a conference on 'Disaggregating the Study of Civil War and Transnational Violence', San Diego, 7–8 March.
  • Raleigh, Clionadh & Håvard Hegre, 2009. "Population Size, Concentration, and Civil War: A Geographically Disaggregated Analysis", Political Geography 28(4): 224–238.
  • Rød, Jan Ketil & Halvard Buhaug 2007. "Civil Wars: Prospects and Problems with the Use of Local Indicators." Presented at Jan Tinbergen Peace Science Conference, Tinbergen Institute, Amsterdam, 25–27 June.
  • Ruggeri, Andrea, Ismene Gizelis, and Han Dorussen. 2008. "If you Don't Succeed the First Time, Try and Try Again: Event Data and Inter-coder Reliability." Manuscript, University of Essex.
  • Ruggeri, Andrea. 2008. "Catch Me If You Can: Transnational Patterns, State Capacity and Duration of Civil War." Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Italian Association of Political Science (SISP), Pavia, Italy, 3 September- 4 September.
  • Ruggeri, Andrea. 2008. "Take Your Time, Take Your Space: Spatial Dimensions, Conflict History and the Onset of Civil War." Paper presented at the ISA conference, San Francisco, USA, 26-30 March.
  • Rustad, Siri Camilla Aas; Åshild Falch, Scott Gates & Halvard Buhaug, 2009. "Risk Assessment and Mitigation Measures for Natural and Conflict-Related Hazards in Asia-Pacific". Oslo: Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI).
  • Salehyan, Idean, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and David Cunningham. 2008. "Transnational Linkages and Civil War Interactions." Typescript, University of Essex.
  • Schultz, Kenneth, Idean Salehyan, and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch. 2008. "Two Sides of the Same Coin? Exploring the Endogeneity between Civil War and Interstate Disputes." Typescript, Stanford University, University of North Texas, and University of Essex.
  • Weidmann, Nils B.; Jan Ketil Rød & Lars-Erik Cederman, 2010. "Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset". Journal of Peace Research 47(4), in press.
  • Wimmer, Andreas, Cederman, Lars-Erik, and Min, Brian. 2009. "Ethnic Politics and Armed Conflict: A Configurational Analysis". American Sociological Review 74(2): 316-337
  • Ziemke, Jennifer 2006. "How Violence in Civil War Can Sputter and then Surge: Understanding the Logic of Escalation in the Angolan War." Presented at the Oslo GROW-net Workshop, Oslo, 10–11 February.