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Managing complexity: addressing the civil conflict component of international-civil militarized conflicts (I-CMCs)

Andrew Owsiak (Department of International Affairs, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA)
Paul F. Diehl (Independent Scholar of International Relations, Champaign, IL, USA)
Gary Goertz (Independent Scholar, Ann Arbor, MI, USA)

International Journal of Conflict Management

ISSN: 1044-4068

Article publication date: 26 May 2023

Issue publication date: 15 January 2024




The purpuse of this study is to answer the following two questions. Do conflict management efforts mitigate the recurrence and severity of civil conflict? If so, how? Do some conflict management strategies fare better than others in these tasks? This study theorizes about the connection between the costliness of a conflict management strategy – with respect to both the disputants and third parties – and civil conflict outcomes. This theory produces two contradictory predictions: that more costly strategies either increase or decrease violence. This study not only adjudicates between these two possibilities but also incorporates the role of timing. The early use of more costly strategies, for example, may encourage disputants to reduce violence in civil conflicts.


To evaluate the predications that the authors derive from their theoretical argument, the authors quantitatively analyze the effect of conflict management strategies’ relative cost on various measures of civil conflict recurrence and severity. The authors first identify the set of international–civil militarized conflicts (I-CMCs) during the period 1946–2010. I-CMCs contain two dimensions – interstate and intrastate – making them the most complex and dangerous form of militarized conflict. To each I-CMC, the authors then link all third-party attempts to manage the I-CMC’s civil conflict dimension. Finally, after developing quantitative indicators, a series of regression equations explore the relationships of primary interest.


Two main findings emerge. First, when third parties use a relatively more costly conflict management strategy to manage a civil conflict (e.g. a peace operation or military intervention, as opposed to mediation), the severity of the conflict increases, while conflict recurrence rates remain unchanged. Second, this study uncovers a trade-off. The early use of a relatively more costly management strategy lowers a civil conflict’s severity in the short-term. It also, however, increases the likelihood – and speed with which – civil conflict recurs. The timing of certain conflict management strategies matters.


Scholars typically isolate conflict management strategies in number (i.e. consider efforts as independent of one another, even those within the same conflict) and kind (i.e. examine mediation but not peace operations). This study, in contrast, includes the following: the full menu of conflict management strategies available to third parties – negotiation, mediation, adjudication/arbitration, peace operations, sanctions and military intervention – over a lengthy time period (1946–2010); theorizes about the relative merits of these strategies; and considers the timing of certain conflict management efforts. In so doing, it highlights a policy trade-off and proposes promising areas for future research.



This research has been supported by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace. The authors would like to thank Yahve Gallegos and George Williford for this assistance in compiling and analyzing the data.


Owsiak, A., Diehl, P.F. and Goertz, G. (2024), "Managing complexity: addressing the civil conflict component of international-civil militarized conflicts (I-CMCs)", International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 192-214.



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