Are existing models of civil war onset speciﬁc enough to explain why some conﬂicts turn into wars while others stay nonviolent? While it is often assumed that violent and nonviolent conﬂicts are qualitatively diﬀerent and have diﬀerent causes, that assumption is rarely tested empirically. We explore this question with reference to conﬂicts over self-determination. Using new data, we investigate the role of ethnic grievances in why nonviolent separatist conﬂicts emerge and why some of them subsequently escalate to violence. We ﬁnd evidence that political exclusion and lost autonomy—two grievance factors commonly associated with ethnic war—are associated with the onset of nonviolent separatist claims, but that both factors also help to explain why nonviolent conﬂicts escalate to violence. Our results sup-port grievance-based explanations of ethnic war and highlight the need to focus on processes of conﬂict escalation to improve the speciﬁcity of models of civil war onset.
Authors: Micha Germann (University of Bath) and Nicholas Sambanis (Penn)