How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them - book cover
Politics & Government
  • Publisher : Crown
  • Published : 11 Jan 2022
  • Pages : 320
  • ISBN-10 : 0593137787
  • ISBN-13 : 9780593137789
  • Language : English

How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A leading political scientist examines the dramatic rise in violent extremism around the globe and sounds the alarm on the increasing likelihood of a second civil war in the United States

"Like those who spoke up clearly about the dangers of global warming decades ago, Walter delivers a grave message that we ignore at our peril."-David Remnick, The New Yorker

Political violence rips apart several towns in southwest Texas. A far-right militia plots to kidnap the governor of Michigan and try her for treason. An armed mob of Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists storms the U.S. Capitol. Are these isolated incidents? Or is this the start of something bigger? Barbara F. Walter has spent her career studying civil conflict in places like Iraq and Sri Lanka, but now she has become increasingly worried about her own country.

Perhaps surprisingly, both autocracies and healthy democracies are largely immune from civil war; it's the countries in the middle ground that are most vulnerable. And this is where more and more countries, including the United States, are finding themselves today.

Over the last two decades, the number of active civil wars around the world has almost doubled. Walter reveals the warning signs-where wars tend to start, who initiates them, what triggers them-and why some countries tip over into conflict while others remain stable. Drawing on the latest international research and lessons from over twenty countries, Walter identifies the crucial risk factors, from democratic backsliding to factionalization and the politics of resentment. A civil war today won't look like America in the 1860s, Russia in the 1920s, or Spain in the 1930s. It will begin with sporadic acts of violence and terror, accelerated by social media. It will sneak up on us and leave us wondering how we could have been so blind.

In this urgent and insightful book, Walter redefines civil war for a new age, providing the framework we need to confront the danger we now face-and the knowledge to stop it before it's too late.

Praise for How Civil Wars Start

"It turns out that there is a discipline that you might call ‘civilwarology'-the study of the factors that lead to civil war. . . . Barbara F. Walter became a civilwarologist nearly a quarter of a century ago and her entry is evidently well-thumbed in the Rolodexes of the CIA and the U.S. State Department. In other words, she knows what she's talking about-which makes this book rather scary."-The Times (U.K.)

Editorial Reviews

"Rigorously researched and lucidly argued, How Civil Wars Start is an arresting wake-up call."-Esquire

"One of the most-discussed titles of the moment."-Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post

"As a political scientist who has spent her career studying conflicts in other countries, [Walter] approaches her work methodically, patiently gathering her evidence before laying out her case."-Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

"[Barbara F.] Walter's How Civil Wars Start is the civil-conflict equivalent of How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt-a much-needed warning that uses cross-national research to examine the United States. Given how prescient Levitsky and Ziblatt were, and how expert Walters is (she is a leading scholar of civil wars), it is a warning to heed. I've been skeptical of the notion that the United States is on the verge of another civil war. Walter has made me reconsider. . . . This is a book that everyone in power should read immediately."-Jacob S. Hacker, The Washington Post

"Barbara F. Walter, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, has interviewed many people who've lived through civil wars, and she told me they all say they didn't see it coming. . . . This is worth keeping in mind if your impulse is to dismiss the idea that America could fall into civil war again."-Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times

"Drawing on her deep understanding of the causes of intra-state violence . . . Barbara F. Walter argues, chillingly, that many of the conditions that commonly precede civil wars are present today in the United States."-Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die

"How Civil Wars Start is a stop sign for us-and an imperative book for our time. The evidence-based preventative measures could not be more urgent. Read and act."-Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist

"How Civil Wars Start is a sobering but engrossing book. It is so tempting to ignore or deny Walter's carefully researched and reasoned conclusions, which is precisely the response she is warning us against. . . . Highly recommended for anyone interested in preserving American democracy."-Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO, New America

"This engaging book from one of the country's most authoritative scholars of civil wars is a dire warning. Governing amid diversity is an incredible challenge, and this book is an important guide to preserving our democracy."-Kori Schake, Director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute

"How Civil Wars Start brilliantly illuminat...

Readers Top Reviews

La autora es una académica especializada en el análisis de cómo surgen las guerras civiles. Ella y su marido sopesaron abandonar Estados Unidos en 2021, porque saben que los conflictos escalan imperceptiblemente. También creo que el país se encuentra en esa zona de riesgo. Trabaja a partir de un modelo cuantitativo que mide el riego de guerra civil, a partir de un puntaje (polity score) que va desde +10 (democracia plena) a -10 ( autoritario extremo, como Corea del Norte). La zona gris, entre -5 hasta +5, lo que llaman la organizaciones internacionales que confeccionan el índice, "anocracia", es la verdadera zona de riesgo: USA estuvo en +5 en 2020 ( la mayor caída en 200 años) aunque ahora el puntaje le concede +8 (opino, como la autora, que fue una crisis cerrada en falso que volverá con una venganza). Como todo los modelos cuantitativos ( o el chiste de que los modelos de los economistas han predicho siete de las últimas tres crisis), requiere a mi juicio importantes complementos cualitativos. El riesgo de guerra civil no depende de factores económicos como la desigualdad sino de emocionales como el miedo y el agravio, la velocidad del deterioro institucional y la presencia de “emprendedores” étnicos, de la violencia, i.e., de demagogos que aprovechan y agravan la situación. La mayor parte del libro se dedica a testar el modelo en otros países ( Croacia, Bosnia o Irlanda del Norte, etc) y luego lo aplica a USA. Tienen y tenemos motivos para la preocupación porque el faccionalismo (no uso “sectarismo” que tiene otras connotaciones) es el principal factor de riesgo y USA está en un pozo del que, opino, no puede salir. Los remedios contra una guerra civil en ciernes son el imperio de la ley, un sistema electoral fiable y homógeneo y la eficacia gubernamental en satifacer las necesidades de su población. El trumpismo, y el partido republicano detrás en bloque, se han dedicado a socavar la independencia de los tribunales colocando acólitos en los puestos claves. Veremos este 2022 sus sentencias, empezando por el aborto, que será ilegalizado en numerosos estados. Los republicanos se han esforzado por todos los medios posibles en restringir y dificultar el acceso al voto de la población, especialmente las minorías. Mientras otros países, como Canadá (2018) han hecho más fácil la participación política, el P. republicano ha desarrollado toda una tecnología para perpetuar el gobierno de la minoría y se niega a reformar el vetusto sistema de colegio electoral presidencial a pesar de que saben que en próximas elecciones su candidato tendrá muchos menos millones de votos que el demócrata. Han divinizado la constitución americana, un documento contingente, tal y como lo hace hoy en día el P. Popular en España para impedir cualquier reforma que asegure la subsistencia del estado. Y por último, el gobierno americano no puede satisfacer las n...
Moorthy MuthuswamyPa
Will the United States get embroiled in a civil war? Subjective as this characterization is, it is hard to predict. But one thing is clear, for the first time in one hundred years: the White community is angry at the government and has resorted to attacking its institutions. My credentials are that I have published several scholarships on the topic of political violence. In particular, I am familiar with the author’s scholarship on civil wars that involve jihadist groups. The book is very engaging and interesting to read. However, it falls short when it comes to White extremism in America. The author admits that “increasingly open global trade had hollowed out U.S. manufacturing (p. 149).” And “White Americans were seeing young people from countries like India and China get lucrative jobs and live an American dream no longer existed for them (p. 150).” Immigration continued and allowances were made for illegal immigrants (p. 150).” Indeed, in the last two decades, the United States has seen a massive shrink in manufacturing and the associated better-paying jobs due to the industries mainly moving to China. While this development is considered part of a free-market economy, it may be appropriately called “selling America on the cheap” due to the transfer of hard-earned knowledge of sophisticated industrial processes. To add to the insult, a large number of foreign transplants have taken up jobs in the emerging economy associated with information technology. The author fails to acknowledge that successive governments have done little to address these developments’ impact on working-class families, including Blacks and Hispanics. This ought to be deemed misgovernance and thus constitutes a genuine grievance. Most working-class Whites may not understand these reasons, but they sure are resentful of the economic impact and the unfair marginalization. There is also another avenue of misgovernance in the form of ongoing massive immigrant settlement programs. As a democratic nation, Americans have a say in determining how the character of their nation should evolve. Allowing a large number of immigrants can be positive in many ways. Still, it also comes with one possible risk many Americans fear to be existential: changes to the national character that is not to the majority's liking. This legitimate grievance is sometimes called the “Great Replacement Fear.” The author fails to grasp that the threat to the American democracy and potential escalation in political violence stem from poor governance that has led to the ongoing White marginalization and the fear of a future one. Her prescriptions are that we should strengthen democracy and regulate social media so that extremists do not use it to radicalize or mobilize may only address the secondary causes but do little to address the root cause of White marginalization. ...

Short Excerpt Teaser

Chapter 1

The Danger of Anocracy

Noor was a high school sophomore in Baghdad when U.S. forces first attacked Iraq on March 19, 2003. At age thirteen, she had seen her country's leader, Saddam Hussein, condemn U.S. president George W. Bush on TV for threatening war and had heard her family talking around the dinner table about a possible American invasion. Noor was a typical teenager. She loved Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera. She would watch Oprah and Dr. Phil in her free time, and one of her favorite films was The Matrix. She couldn't imagine U.S. soldiers in Baghdad-where life, though sometimes hard, had mainly been about hanging out with friends, walking to the park, and visiting her favorite animals at the zoo. To her, it just felt unreal.

But two weeks later, American soldiers arrived in her part of the city. The first sounds she heard were airplanes and then explosions late in the afternoon. She rushed up to the roof of their house, following her mother and sisters, not knowing what they would find. When she looked up at the sky, she saw armored vehicles floating under parachutes. "It was like a movie," she said. A few days later, American soldiers walked down the street in front of her house, and Noor ran to the front door to watch them. She saw her neighbors also standing in their doorways, smiles on their faces. The soldiers smiled back, eager to talk to anyone who was willing. "Everybody was so happy," Noor recalled. "There was suddenly freedom." Less than a week later, on April 9, her fellow Iraqis descended on Firdos Square in central Baghdad, where they threw a rope over the enormous statue of Saddam Hussein, and, with the help of American soldiers, tore it down. Noor thought to herself, You know, we can have a new life. A better life.

Life under Saddam had been challenging. Noor's father had been a government employee, yet like many other Iraqis, the family had little money. Saddam's failed war against Iran in the 1980s had left Iraq poor and in debt, and things had gotten only worse in 1990 after he invaded Kuwait and economic sanctions were imposed. Noor's family, like most Iraqi families, struggled with rampant inflation, a crumbling healthcare system, and shortages of food and medicine. They also lived in fear. Iraqis were forbidden to talk politics or to criticize their government. They came to believe that the walls had ears, and that Saddam's security services were constantly watching. Saddam had been brutal to his enemies and rivals during his twenty-four-year reign. Iraqis who criticized the president, his entourage, or his Baath Party could be put to death. Journalists were executed or forced into exile. Some dissidents were imprisoned; others simply disappeared. People heard stories of how prisoners were tortured-their eyes gouged out, their genitals electrocuted-then killed via hanging, decapitation, or by firing squad.

But now the Americans had come, and eight months after Iraqi citizens dragged Saddam's statue to the ground, U.S. soldiers found the fearsome dictator hiding in an eight-foot-deep hole near his hometown of Tikrit. He looked dirty and dazed. With Americans in charge, most Iraqis believed that their country would be reborn and that they would experience the freedom and opportunities available in Western countries. Families dreamed of experiencing true democracy. The military, and perhaps the judiciary, would be reformed. Corruption would end. Wealth, including oil profits, would be distributed more equally. Noor and her family were excited for independent newspapers and satellite TV. "We thought we would breathe freedom, we would become like Europe," said Najm al-Jabouri, a former general in Saddam's army. They were wrong.

When Saddam Hussein was captured, researchers who study democratization didn't celebrate. We knew that democratization, especially rapid democratization in a deeply divided country, could be highly destabilizing. In fact, the more radical and rapid the change, the more destabilizing it was likely to be. The United States and the United Kingdom thought they were delivering freedom to a welcoming population. Instead, they were about to deliver the perfect conditions for civil war.

Iraq was a country plagued by political rivalries, both ethnic and religious. The Kurds, a large ethnic minority in the north, had long fought Saddam for autonomy; they wanted to be left alone to rule themselves. The Shia, who made up more than 60 percent of Iraq's population, resented being ruled by Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, and his mostly Sunni Baath Party. Over decades, Saddam had been able to consolidate power for his minority group by stacking government positions with Sunnis, requiring everyone to join the Baath Party to quali...