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Resolving Civil Wars before They Start: The UN Security Council and Conflict Prevention in Self-Determination Disputes


A large literature has demonstrated that international action can promote the resolution of civil wars. However, international actors do not wait until violence starts to seek to manage conflicts. This article considers the ways in which the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reduces the propensity for self-determination movements to escalate to civil war, through actions that directly pertain to the disputing actors or that indirectly shape actor incentives. It examines the relationship between the content of UNSC resolutions in all self-determination disputes from 1960 to 2005 and the onset of armed conflict in the disputes. The study finds that diplomatic actions that directly address disputes reduce the likelihood of armed conflict, and that military force and sanctions have more indirect preventive effects.

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Duke University (email:; University of Maryland, Peace Research Institute Oslo (email:; University of Maryland (email: Authors are listed in alphabetical order; equal authorship is implied. The data collection for this project was funded through a grant from the Folke Bernadotte Academy. The authors would like to thank Andrea Ruggeri, Lee Seymour, Megan Shannon and Jacob Kathman for their feedback, as well as participants in workshops at the University of Amsterdam, University of Essex and the Folke Bernadotte Academy. An earlier draft of this article was also presented in 2013 at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association. Data replication sets are available at and online appendices are available at

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