Stable States

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Civil wars are less common than they used to be:

Of 150 large intrastate wars since 1945, fewer than 10 are ongoing. Angola, Chad, Sri Lanka and other places long known for bloodletting are now at peace, though hardly democratic. And recently civil wars have been ending sooner. The rate at which they start is the same today as it has been for 60 years; they kick off every year in 1 to 2 percent of countries. But the number of medium-to-large civil wars under way – there are six in which more than 1,000 people died last year – is low by the standards of the period. This is because they are coming to an end a little sooner. The average length of civil wars dropped from 4.6 to 3.7 years after 1991, according to Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, a professor at the University of Essex.

So far, nothing has done more to end the world’s hot little wars than winding up its big cold one.

From 1945 to 1989 the number of civil wars rose by leaps and bounds, as America and the Soviet Union fueled internecine fighting in weak young states, either to gain advantage or to stop the other doing so. By the end of the period, civil war afflicted 18 percent of the world’s nations, according to the tally kept by the Centre for the Study of Civil War, established at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, a decade ago. When the cold war ended, the two enemies stopped most of their sponsorship of foreign proxies, and without it, the combatants folded. More conflicts ended in the 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall than in the preceding half-century. The proportion of countries fighting civil wars had declined to about 12 percent by 1995.