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Alliance Formation in Civil Wars

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  • Date Published: November 2012
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107683488

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About the Authors
  • Some of the most brutal and long-lasting civil wars of our time – those in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Lebanon, and Iraq, among others – involve the rapid formation and disintegration of alliances among warring groups, as well as fractionalization within them. It would be natural to suppose that warring groups form alliances based on shared identity considerations – such as Christian groups allying with Christian groups, or Muslim groups with their fellow co-religionists – but this is not what we see. Two groups that identify themselves as bitter foes one day, on the basis of some identity narrative, might be allies the next day and vice versa. Nor is any group, however homogeneous, safe from internal fractionalization. Rather, looking closely at the civil wars in Afghanistan and Bosnia and testing against the broader universe of fifty-three cases of multiparty civil wars, Fotini Christia finds that the relative power distribution between and within various warring groups is the primary driving force behind alliance formation, alliance changes, group splits, and internal group takeovers.

    • The manuscript's approach to civil war alliances spans political science subfields and involves a range of methodologies
    • Theoretically, it engages the neorealist literature within international relations, as well as the identity, ethnicity and coalition literatures within comparative politics and political economy
    • Empirically, it closely engages with four comprehensive comparative case studies of multiparty civil wars (the Afghan civil wars of 1978–1989 and 1992–1998 and the Bosnian civil wars of 1941–1945 and 1992–1995) that involve both qualitative and quantitative analysis of primary data collected in the field
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    • Winner of the 2013 Gregory M. Luebbert Award, American Political Science Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Although many scholars have studied the origins of interstate alliances, no one has answered the question of how warring groups choose their allies in civil wars – until now. Using insights from realist international relations theory, Fotini Christia convincingly shows that balance-of-power considerations drive the alliance decisions of armed groups, which simultaneously try to maximize their chances of victory and their share of the spoils. When these two goals conflict, groups switch sides with little conscience or consistency: today’s valued friends are often yesterday’s deadly foes. Drawing on extensive field work in Afghanistan and Bosnia, as well as statistical analysis of all multiparty civil wars, Christia’s fine book is a model of multimethod research that will make a lasting contribution to the literatures on alliance formation and civil wars."
    Alexander Downes, George Washington University

    "Christia provides a rigorous and compelling explanation for the puzzle of alliance formation and group fragmentation in multiparty civil wars. She demonstrates that they are driven by balancing rather than ideological or identity considerations, and shows that ‘identity narratives’ are ex-post instrumentalizations. A striking demonstration of how to blend theories of international relations with in-depth field research in hard places, this book is an important contribution to our understanding of the dynamics of civil wars."
    Stathis N. Kalyvas, Yale University

    "Just when it seemed that the balance of power had become an old-fashioned concept in international politics, it turns out that it is alive and well as the crucial factor shaping alliance strategies in today's civil wars. Although warring groups from the Balkans to Afghanistan may justify their alliances in terms of shared cultural identities, Fotini Christia shows that choices of friends and foes are in fact decisively shaped by tactical calculations based on power politics. Her diverse research skills, ranging from field interviews with ruthless warlords to statistical analyses of civil war datasets, make this a lively and rigorous contribution to the study of war."
    Jack Snyder, Columbia University

    "The overarching argument put forth by Christia is that rebel groups, driven by elite desire to survive and achieve postwar political control, will choose to align with other warring actors that will improve their chances of victory … the detailed accounts presented in the case studies are a welcome and valuable contribution to this new literature. Summing up: recommended."
    M. Olson Lounsbery, East Caroline University, Choice

    "Although some may argue that Christia’s neo-realist framework is not comprehensive because it undervalues the ideological and psychological dimensions of civil wars, the author’s argument is both persuasive and fundamental to understanding alliance formation and disintegration. The author’s observation in the book’s conclusion that the alliance shifts in Iraq’s Anbar province in favour of the Iraqi government (and then against it) have been driven by relative power considerations seems to be borne out by events since the book’s publication. Anyone interested in or responsible for policies aimed at resolving multi-party civil wars stands to gain from close consideration of Christia’s argument."
    H. R. McMaster, Survival

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2012
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107683488
    • length: 360 pages
    • dimensions: 231 x 155 x 23 mm
    • weight: 0.52kg
    • contains: 19 b/w illus. 11 maps 15 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Context and Theory:
    1. Literature and research design
    2. A theory of warring group alliances and fractionalization in multi-party civil wars
    Part II. Afghanistan:
    3. The Afghan Intra-Mujahedin War, 1992–8
    4. The Afghan Communist-Mujahedin War, 1978–89
    5. The theory at the commander level in Afghanistan, 1978–98
    Part III. Bosnia and Herzegovina:
    6. The Bosnian Civil War, 1992–5
    7. The Bosnian Civil War, 1941–5
    Part IV. Further Extensions:
    8. Quantitative testing on the universe of cases of multi-party civil wars.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Adversarial Cases and Complex International Environments
    • Civil War and Peacebuilding
    • How Wars End
    • Nationalism & Nation-Building
    • Peace, War, and Security
    • Seminar in peacebuilding
  • Author

    Fotini Christia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Fotini Christia is Associate Professor of Political Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received her Ph.D. in Public Policy at Harvard University in 2008. Her research interests deal with issues of ethnicity, conflict and cooperation in the Muslim world. She has done extensive ethnographic, survey and experimental research in Bosnia-Herzegovina and is presently working on a field experiment in Afghanistan that addresses the effects of development aid on post-conflict governance and state building. Her current Afghanistan research project, on which she is co-principal investigator, draws upon a randomized impact evaluation of a $1 billion community-driven development program. Professor Christia has received support for her research from the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, the London School of Economics International Growth Center, the UN's World Food Program and the World Bank, among other institutions. She has published work in publications such as Science, Comparative Politics and the Middle East Journal. She has also written on her experiences in Afghanistan, Iran, the West Bank and Gaza and Uzbekistan for Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe. She graduated magna cum laude with a joint B.A. in Economics and Operations Research from Columbia College and an MA in international affairs from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.


    • Winner of the 2013 Gregory M. Luebbert Award, American Political Science Association
    • Winner of the 2014 Distinguished Book Award, Ethnicity, Nationalism and Migration Section, International Studies Association

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