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The Dark Side of Transnationalism: Civil War in the Post-Cold War Era

Friday May 4, 2012, from 14:00 to 16:00
Room Fred Halliday - IBEI (1st Floor)
Research seminar
Jeffrey T. Checkel (Simon Fraser University)

Civil war has become the dominant mode of organized violence in the post-Cold War international system.  Equally important, this form of ’internal warfare’ is rarely internal, with 55% of all rebel groups active since 1945 having transnational linkages. Indeed, civil wars nearly always create opportunities and incentives for outside actors to intervene; these actors may be other states, rebel groups, transnational civil society, or the international community, and this intervention may be malign (fanning the war) or benign (transnational NGO’s targeting the use of child soldiers).  Moreover, such wars are often fueled by cross-border flows of goods, including material (weapons), money (diaspora financing) and human (new recruits for rebel groups).  Finally, civil wars can spur social mobilization across borders – by strengthening senses of community among ethnic co-brethren, say.

This presentation explores the relation of the transnational to the local in the context of civil war.  How do we conceptualize this transnational dimension?  In material or social terms?  How does it affect civil war dynamics?  By bringing new material resources into play?  By affecting cost/benefit calculations?  By promoting learning among actors?  Under what conditions do transnational factors increase or decrease levels of civil violence?  What is the nature of the causal connection between the transnational and the local?

I argue that to address these issues requires three moves.  Theoretically, the finding of transnationalism’s importance in civil war needs to be linked to existing literatures in other subfields that have extensively conceptualized and empirically documented such non-state dynamics; key here is work on transnational politics in IR theory and sociology.  Analytically, one needs a more robust understanding of causality, where the goal is the measurement of causal mechanisms and not simply establishing causal effects.  Methodologically, the central challenge is practical – to measure mechanisms in action.


Seminar IBEI Checkel

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