Does Contemporary Armed Conflict have 'Deep Historical Roots'?



James D. Fearon , Stanford University

Date and Time

October 8, 2014 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM



RSVP required by 5PM October 07.




We assess the degree of persistence in armed conflict in particular places over the last two centuries.  At the regional level, we find some evidence of anti-persistence, consistent with Tilly's arguments about war and state-building: Eastern and Western Europe had large amounts of conflict from 1815-1945 and almost none after, whereas Africa, Asia, and the Middle East had moderate amounts before and large amounts after.  Within regions, by contrast, we find that places that experienced colonial and imperial wars before 1945 (or before 1914) were more likely to have civil wars after independence.  The degree of persistence is not much affected by controls for durable features that may affect conflict levels in both periods (such as initial population, land area, ethnic diversity, terrain roughness, income, and colonial power), suggesting that at least some of the effect is due to conflict in one period causing conflict later.  We can rule out persistence being due to long-lasting ethnic feuds, and find little evidence that places with more developed pre-colonial states were consistently more likely to have fought with colonizers and then with other groups after independence.  There is some evidence that colonizers fought where there happened to be groups with greater martial cultures or traditions, and that these may have persisted to some degree post-independence.


Speaker Bio: 

James D. Fearon is Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University.  His research focuses  on political violence – interstate, civil, and ethnic conflict in particular – although he has also worked on aspects of democratic theory and the impact of democracy on foreign policy.  He has published numerous articles in scholarly journals, including “Self-Enforcing Democracy” (Quarterly Journal of Economics), “Can Development Aid Contribute to Social Cohesion after Civil War?” (American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings), “Iraq’s Civil War” (Foreign Affairs), “Neotrusteeship and the Problem of Weak States” (co-authored with David Laitin, in International Security), “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” (co-authored with David Laitin, in American Political Science Review), and “Rationalist Explanations for War” (International Organization).  Fearon was elected member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002.  He has been a Program Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research since 2004.  He served as Chair of the Department of Political Science at Stanford from 2008-2010.  


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