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Is Partition Really the Only Hope? Reconciling Contradictory Findings About Ethnic Civil Wars
Unformatted Document Text:  1 After decades of statistical studies on inter-state wars, 1 political scientists more recently have turned to the question of civil wars. A spate of high-profile internal conflicts during the 1990s – including those in Bosnia and Rwanda – led some scholars to narrow their focus still further to ethnic civil wars. 2 In this context, a sharp debate has arisen over the prospects for resolving violent ethnic conflicts through negotiated, power-sharing settlements. In particular, two prominent articles reach opposing conclusions. Chaim Kaufmann adduces statistics to support his contention that ethnic (in contrast to ideological) civil wars are virtually impossible to resolve through such power-sharing settlements and can be resolved only by physical separation of the opposing ethnic groups into politically autonomous, ethnically homogenous zones. 3 A subsequent statistical study by David Mason and Patrick Fett, however, finds that ethnic conflicts are no more difficult to resolve through negotiated settlements than other civil wars. 4 As in the earlier literature on inter-state conflicts, such divergent conclusions may result in part from the authors' methodological choices. 5 For example, differing operational definitions of "ethnic civil war" cause these authors to rely on two very different universes of cases. Although both studies claim to base their conclusions on all ethnic civil wars resolved since World War II, and rely on databases with an almost identical number of cases (27 and 28, respectively), remarkably few cases (six) overlap in the two databases. (See Table 1.) Other differences in operational definitions – most fundamentally, whether negotiated agreements that provide for some degree of regional autonomy should be categorized as "power-sharing" or "ethnic separation" – further contribute to the divergent conclusions. Finally, some of the apparent discrepancy between the two studies may result from the authors rhetorically exaggerating the significance of their statistical findings. One means of resolving such discrepancies – indeed, the most common response in political science – would be to construct a “better” database and set of operational definitions that would yield more robust conclusions. In many cases, however, such additional research is conducted without a firm understanding of the shortcomings of existing research, or the reasons for past discrepant findings. To lay the proper groundwork for such future research, this article instead attempts to explain how and why these two prominent studies reached such incompatible findings and to explore whether their findings may in fact be reconcilable based on a more nuanced analysis. Resolving these discrepancies has great practical significance for international efforts to reduce ethnic civil war, because it will determine whether such efforts are most usefully directed towards power-sharing settlements or ethnic partitions. This article first summarizes the methodology, findings, and conclusions of the two previous studies, drawing attention to their possible shortcomings and speculating about possible reasons for their discrepant conclusions. Second, it examines the degree to which the discrepant conclusions result from divergent operational definitions of two terms – that of "civil war," which leads to different databases, and that of "negotiated agreement," which leads to different categorization of outcomes. It explores this question, in part, by applying each study’s methodology to the other’s database. Third, a hypothesis is proposed to reconcile the two studies' findings, and preliminary tests of this hypothesis are conducted. Fourth, the article explores in greater depth those cases of ethnic civil war resolved by negotiated agreement to determine if they are reconcilable with Kaufmann’s theory. Fifth, it summarizes these findings

Authors: Kuperman, Alan.
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1
After decades of statistical studies on inter-state wars,
1
political scientists more recently
have turned to the question of civil wars. A spate of high-profile internal conflicts during the
1990s – including those in Bosnia and Rwanda – led some scholars to narrow their focus still
further to ethnic civil wars.
2
In this context, a sharp debate has arisen over the prospects for
resolving violent ethnic conflicts through negotiated, power-sharing settlements. In particular,
two prominent articles reach opposing conclusions. Chaim Kaufmann adduces statistics to
support his contention that ethnic (in contrast to ideological) civil wars are virtually impossible to
resolve through such power-sharing settlements and can be resolved only by physical separation
of the opposing ethnic groups into politically autonomous, ethnically homogenous zones.
3
A
subsequent statistical study by David Mason and Patrick Fett, however, finds that ethnic conflicts
are no more difficult to resolve through negotiated settlements than other civil wars.
4
As in the earlier literature on inter-state conflicts, such divergent conclusions may result
in part from the authors' methodological choices.
5
For example, differing operational definitions
of "ethnic civil war" cause these authors to rely on two very different universes of cases.
Although both studies claim to base their conclusions on all ethnic civil wars resolved since
World War II, and rely on databases with an almost identical number of cases (27 and 28,
respectively), remarkably few cases (six) overlap in the two databases. (See Table 1.) Other
differences in operational definitions – most fundamentally, whether negotiated agreements that
provide for some degree of regional autonomy should be categorized as "power-sharing" or
"ethnic separation" – further contribute to the divergent conclusions. Finally, some of the
apparent discrepancy between the two studies may result from the authors rhetorically
exaggerating the significance of their statistical findings.
One means of resolving such discrepancies – indeed, the most common response in
political science – would be to construct a “better” database and set of operational definitions
that would yield more robust conclusions. In many cases, however, such additional research is
conducted without a firm understanding of the shortcomings of existing research, or the reasons
for past discrepant findings. To lay the proper groundwork for such future research, this article
instead attempts to explain how and why these two prominent studies reached such incompatible
findings and to explore whether their findings may in fact be reconcilable based on a more
nuanced analysis. Resolving these discrepancies has great practical significance for international
efforts to reduce ethnic civil war, because it will determine whether such efforts are most usefully
directed towards power-sharing settlements or ethnic partitions.
This article first summarizes the methodology, findings, and conclusions of the two
previous studies, drawing attention to their possible shortcomings and speculating about possible
reasons for their discrepant conclusions. Second, it examines the degree to which the discrepant
conclusions result from divergent operational definitions of two terms – that of "civil war,"
which leads to different databases, and that of "negotiated agreement," which leads to different
categorization of outcomes. It explores this question, in part, by applying each study’s
methodology to the other’s database. Third, a hypothesis is proposed to reconcile the two
studies' findings, and preliminary tests of this hypothesis are conducted. Fourth, the article
explores in greater depth those cases of ethnic civil war resolved by negotiated agreement to
determine if they are reconcilable with Kaufmann’s theory. Fifth, it summarizes these findings


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