A new federally funded research project at The University of Texas at Dallas aims to identify the most effective strategies for ending the deadliest type of war: civil conflicts that involve other countries.
Dr. Paul Diehl, Ashbel Smith Professor of political science in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, recently received a grant from the U.S. Institute of Peace to study methods for reducing violence in internationalized civil wars, such as those in Yemen, Syria and Ukraine.
Interventions in these conflicts often focus on either the civil or the international aspects of conflict, Diehl said. He added that research rarely addresses the dual challenges of internationalized civil wars. The new project, which also involves researchers from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Georgia, aims to understand how to manage both at the same time.
"We'd like to identify pathways to transform hostile relations into peaceful ones. Realistically, that's not going to happen in all or even most conflicts, but if you can find ways that ameliorate the situation and reduce the frequency or severity of confrontations, that's progress," Diehl said.
Internationalized civil conflicts have the most fatalities, last the longest and are the most difficult to resolve because of the challenges involved in reducing violence within a nation as well as between rival states, Diehl said. Civil conflicts often spill over into other states with refugees flowing across borders and other countries taking sides. Diehl said only 13 percent of efforts to reach compromises are successful in internationalized civil wars.
The study will examine what efforts have worked in order to determine the best approaches and timing for a series of conflict management approaches, including interventions, sanctions, negotiation/mediation and peacekeeping.
Diehl, associate provost and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at UT Dallas, has written extensively about the causes of war and conflict management between countries.
"You can't really look at these separately," he said. "Do you try to solve the civil war? Or do you try to work on the interstate level and hope that mitigates the civil war? Or, do you work on both at the same time?"
The team began work on the project in January and expects to complete the research phase by mid-2020. Researchers have four main goals:
- Identify models for successful conflict management, particularly ones that can reduce hostility and violence simultaneously in internal and interstate disputes.
- Create a barometer that can measure changes in civil conflict levels, serve as an early warning indicator and assess the impact of conflict-management attempts.
- Provide conflict-management data that will be available to scholars and policymakers.
- Make policy recommendations for resolving internationalized civil wars.
The grant will support research assistants at each of the participating universities. At UT Dallas, Yahve Gallegos, a political science PhD student, will analyze case studies and collect data for the project.
"My own research focuses on varying types of civil conflict in authoritarian regimes," Gallegos said. "My primary reason for choosing UT Dallas for graduate school is its strong emphasis on research and the possibility of working on a wide range of research projects like this one. Having the ability to work with someone like Dr. Diehl is a nice bonus."
The U.S. Institute of Peace, created by Congress in 1984, is dedicated to the proposition that a world without violent conflict is possible, practical and essential for U.S. and global security. Congress appropriates the institute's funding -- $37.8 million in 2018 -- to ensure that it remains nonpartisan and independent of outside influence. The institute has a bipartisan board of directors that includes the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the president of the National Defense University.