What are They Fighting for? Conflict Issues and the Resolution of Civil War

Project overview

Project Leader

Project Period

  • 2019-2022

Project Participants

Project Description

What are the issues that parties fight civil wars over? How do the issues at stake influence the possibilities of conflict resolution? Surprisingly, we have little knowledge in these regards, even though all civil wars involve contested issues: the specific demands, grievances, or desires that warring parties have chosen to go to war over, and despite issues being one of the three cornerstones of the concept of conflict. In recent years, our knowledge of what types of parties engage in and how they behave in conflict has grown rapidly, supplying us with a vital understanding of how to approach the resolution of civil wars via the other two cornerstones of conflict theory. Similar strides have not, however, been taken regarding the issues at stake: a glaring gap that impedes our possibilities to understand and resolve civil wars. In fact, if we do not know what the parties are fighting for, we cannot assess if conflict resolution efforts adress the correct issues or not.

This project’s purpose is consequently to delve deeper into the question of conflict issues in civil wars. To do this we will (1) create a theoretically derived and empirically validated typology of conflict issues (2) based on the typology, create and disseminate a global dataset on conflict issues, and, (3) use these theoretical and empirical insights to examine – qualitatively and quantitatively – how the question of conflict issues affect possibilities for conflict resolution.

This project is crucial for research on civil wars. We adress questions that are vital for conflict resolution and provide the research community with two public goods – our typology and our dataset – that promise to open up new research avenues. A deepened understanding of how issues affect conflict resolution is central also for policy actors. Thus, the project strengthens our ability to solve one the largest current threats to human security – civil war – and thereby contribute towards a more peaceful world.

Related Publications

  • Johan Brosché and Ralph Sundberg, 2023, “What They Are Fighting For: Introducing the UCDP Conflict Issues Dataset” Journal of Conflict Resolution DOI: 10.1177/00220027231218633/Wallensteen, Peter (2019) Understanding Conflict Resolution: War, Peace and the Global System, Fifth Edition Sage, London.

  • Brosché, J., M. Legnér, J. Kreutz, A. Ijla. 2017. “Heritage under attack: motives for targeting cultural property during armed conflict” International Journal of Heritage Studies 23 (3):248-260.
  • Brosché, Johan and Höglund, Kristine. 2016. “Crisis of Governance in South Sudan: Electoral Politics and Violence in the World’s Newest Nation” Journal of Modern African Studies 54(1):67-90. 
  • Wallensteen, Peter and Therése Pettersson (2015). “Armed conflicts, 1946-2014” Journal of Peace Research 52 (4): 536-550.
  • Wallensteen, Peter. 2014. “Theoretical Developments in Understanding the Origins of Civil War”, in Newman, Edward, & Karl DeRouen, Jr. (eds.) Routledge Handbook of Civil Wars. New York and London: Routledge
  • Brosché, Johan & Daniel Rothbart. 2013. Violent conflict and peacebuilding: The continuing crises in Darfur. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Sundberg, Ralph and Erik Melander. 2013. Introducing the UCDP georeferenced event dataset. Journal of Peace Research, 50(4), 523-532. 
  • Sundberg, Ralph, Kristine Eck and Joakim Kreutz. 2012. Introducing the UCDP non-state conflict dataset. Journal of Peace Research, 49(2), 351-362. 
  • Wallensteen, Peter (1981) “Incompatibility, Confrontation, and War: Four Models and Three Historical Systems, 1816—1976” Journal of Peace Research, 18(1), 57–90.  

Main Financial Support

  • Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation
Last modified: 2023-12-05