Do Ceasefires Kill?

When violent conflicts erupt, the international community inevitably calls for a cease-fire.  But is it possible these ceasefires actually worsen later violence?  Yes, according to John A. Stevenson, a political science doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago.  Here’s an excerpt of Stevenson’s recent article for Slate:

My research on all 174 of the internationally recognized new states that have emerged since 1900 and scores of mass killings reveals that international involvement to temporarily address the symptoms of the violence—the mass death of civilians—increases the likelihood of greater violence and destruction. That is because cease-fires do nothing to eliminate the root causes of violence against civilians. Instead, both sides use the pause in killing to solicit diplomatic and military aid while planning and preparing their next wave of attacks.

According to the 2012 Human Security Report, between 1950 and 2004, 62 percent of cease-fires succeeded with no resumption of conflict in the next five years. The success of two-thirds of cease-fires would seem to support their use. Yet, in the civil wars that begin in new or young states, cease-fires typically succeed only after many that do not. In the interim, the belligerents busy themselves rooting out or killing their civilian rivals.

(HT: The Daily Dish)


Does not bode well for the Korean cease-fire, which the US will inevitably be involved with once it boils over.


Edward Luttwak made the same point in an article titled "Give War a Chance" in the July/August 1999 issue of Foreign Affairs.

"Give War a Chance." Foreign Affairs. 1 July 1999. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.


I'm curious: in this sort of conflict, exactly how does one define a 'civilian'?

steve cebalt

In the long march of history, peace rarely solves anything. Ask Neville Chamberlain. Sad to say, but war solves problems. Peace? Not so much. Since this is an economics forum, I think it's a valid point, insofar as so much of our economy and way of life has been fueled by war and the tools of war and defense. Consider Syria right now; the US chose to bargain (with Putin as the broker) to remove chemical weapons (an impotent overture toward peace); so, the regime in Syria switched to starvation as a weapon instead of chemicals, and thousands are dying right now as a result. A more forceful intervention from the US may have saved lives. Similarly, the US has been feckless with Iran on nuclear deals that leave Iran in position to develop nukes in the backyard of our best ally, Israel. We'll see how that works out but the outcome does not look promising. The Cold War was a war of two contrasting economic systems competing for world dominance. In the US, periods of prosperity are often the result of war, and war is our perpetual condition. There's a reason for that. Economics is, as much as anything else, the study of war -- the cost of war and the price for peace.



"increases the likelihood of greater violence and destruction". Compare to what? I don't understand how the counterfactual is constructed in this case.