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Civil wars -- does intervention help or hurt?

In 2006, Patrick Regan traveled to the Middle East to meet with armed rebels to ask them why they use guns and violence to advance their cause.

Professor of Political Science Patrick Regan is trying to understand whether providing guns – or intervening in some way – causes civil wars. The assumption is that interventions cause civil wars, he says, and he’s seeking to validate that assumption – or not. “The questions evolved for me over a period of time,” he says. “How do external interventions in civil wars affect the outcomes of those wars? And can, or do, effective interventions prevent civil wars from ever happening?”

No one has really looked at this before, Regan says, but he has $100,000 in funding from the government that will allow him to gather and analyze data on all military and diplomatic interventions in a number of countries at high risk for civil war. Results will be used by the Political Instability Task Force, a panel of scholars and methodologists that develops models to assess countries’ prospects for major political change and identify key risk factors for U.S. policy makers. 

Regan says structural poverty born of discrimination is at the root of conflict and civil wars, and he hopes the knowledge gained from his research will translate into a better world. “It’s not impossible to combat the root causes, and policy is a large part of it,” he says. “There are choices.”

Learn more about Patrick Regan, his research and his most recent book, Sixteen Million One, about the causes, consequences and possible solutions to civil wars.

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Last Updated: 5/14/09