May 10, 2008

Is Lebanon in a Civil War?

Abu Muqawama's friend and colleague Bech has taken issue with the assertion that yesterday's events in Lebanon can be described as "civil war." (See the third comment in this post.) Hizbollah, he argues, had clear and limited objectives it was seeking to accomplish. They were also very careful in who they targeted and disarmed. But how do social scientists define civil war? Two leading scholars of conflict -- James Fearon of Stanford and Stathis Kalyvas of Yale -- define civil war as, respectively:

"violent conflict within a country fought by organized groups that aim to take power at the center or in a region, or to change government policies" ("Iraq's Civil War," Foreign Affairs, March/April 2007)

"armed conflict within the boundaries of a recognized sovereign entity between parties subject to a common authority at the outset of the hostilities" (The Logic of Violence in Civil War)

Now yesterday's violence -- and the ongoing clashes -- in Lebanon certainly fit both of those descriptions. But both of those definitions are pretty broad, prompting one of this blog's readers to define civil war along the lines of pornography -- we know it when we see it. Along the same lines, as Fearon notes, political scientists sometimes use the threshold of 1,000 dead to determine whether or not it's a civil war. (Only a dozen or so were killed in yesterday's fighting, right?) This figure strikes Abu Muqawama as completely arbitrary, perhaps underlining just how difficult it is to determine whether or not fighting merits description as a "civil war."

What Abu Muqawama does know is that neither Hizbollah's limited political objectives nor the skill with which they accomplished those objectives have anything to do with whether or not their actions yesterday can be described as civil war. (Sorry, Bech.) We assume most state and non-state actors who seek to achieve a political aim through violence -- which Hizbollah did yesterday, successfully -- are pursuing limited goals. And as the Clausewitz running through that last sentence typed hits Abu Muqawama on the top of his head, he comes to the conclusion that a) yesterday was war as it was an act of force designed to achieve a political end and that b) since it took place within Lebanon's boundaries it constitutes a civil war.

Thoughts and disagreements? That's why we have the comments section.

Update: Nicholas reports from de Prague (by the HSBC, in Hamra) that Sukleen is out picking up trash and normalcy seems to have returned to the neighborhood. Any other first-hand reports are welcome. Meanwhile, a quick glimpse at headlines from rival perspectives: as-Safir asks "What's Next?" following yesterday's fighting while L'Orient-Le Jour talks of yesterday's victory for Hizbollah as Pyrrhic.