Live and Let Live: Explaining Long-term Truces in Separatist Conflicts

Article by Kolby Hanson

Policymakers and scholars generally assume that, unlike in interstate wars, in civil conflicts opposing forces cannot simply ‘agree to disagree:’ in order to stop fighting, one side must collapse, disarm, or concede. I argue that this assumption largely holds for centre-seeking conflicts, but not for separatist conflicts. Because separatist conflicts involve more geographically contained fighting and more limited stakes, rebels and states can more easily transition into cooperation. To test this argument, I create an original worldwide dataset of long-term truces in civil conflicts (1989–2015). That is, cases in which governments and rebels transition from open fighting to peaceful cooperation for an extended period without either side collapsing, disarming, or conceding. Overall, I find strong support for the main contention: while such truces are exceedingly rare in centre-seeking conflicts, they have happened in more than one-third of separatist conflicts since 1989. Even where rebels are strong or have little public support, separatist aims open space for containment and cooperation. These findings help fill in the empirical gaps between war and peace and document cases of peaceful cooperation without disarmament or political reform. They also highlight key differences between peacebuilding in centre-seeking and in separatist conflicts.

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