Civil Conflict and International Intervention

Tu 3p-5p
749 Barrows
Course Description

Civil conflict, committed primarily by non-state actors, often results in international intervention in some form. This course, then, focuses on two themes: first, why does civil conflict occur? What motivates individuals and groups to resort to violence? What tactics do they use? How do they expect to succeed? Second, why do international actors intervene in civil conflict? What are their aims in intervening? Are they successful in those goals or in others? 

This course is designed to help you: (1) understand the causes, strategies, and outcomes of civil conflict, (2) think about the ways in which international actors intervene, (3) broaden your theoretical framework in international relations more generally, (4) engage with the existing work in the field and begin high-level research on civil conflict and international intervention.Much of the current literature on civil conflict and international intervention focuses on rationalist explanations, although it also draws in normative and psychological explanations. While some portray civil conflict as irrational, with individuals motivated primarily by fear, hatred, or revenge, for instance, much of the field adopts the perspective that civil conflict is rational. 

We will focus on this perspective in order to understand the existing work. Specifically, we will delve into the perspective (1) that civil conflict are rooted in situations in which the preferences of individuals over territory, policy, or government composition differ from those of the government and when those individuals can overcome the collective action problem to form a militant group, and (2) that fighting takes place due to information asymmetries, commitment problems, or indivisible issues that make a peaceful deal difficult. Students, however, are more than welcome to challenge and critique the rationalist perspective, along with the specific studies that we will examine. The rationalist perspective also pervades much of the literature on international intervention, which we will then explore. We will look at a variety of types of international intervention, and, because this is an even newer literature, we will empirically explore new questions on these topics.


This is a seminar course, and so student preparation and participation is crucial to its success.The assigned readings are all required, although we will discuss which to focus on each week in 

class. In addition to normal summary notes, I suggest that you think about how each reading relates to those previously covered; whether the question answered is what you expect; whether the claims are believable, logically consistent, and/or surprising; what other types of evidence or arguments might convince you more of the results. The written assignments are designed to help you engage with the material even beyond participation to develop a strong sense of the work on this topic and to develop your own research to fill the gaps therein. All of them should be composed of concise prose. Please use standard formatting and be sure to document all sources for the written assignments. You may use the citation style you prefer as long as it is complete and consistent. Of course, absolutely no plagiarism will be tolerated, so be sure to correctly quote and cite direct text used, as well as to cite all ideas, arguments, and evidence that you draw from others.

Your grade will be determined by participation (10%), three written comments (30%), empirical presentation (10%), and the research project (50%).