Does the way wars end affect post-conflict development?

06 March, 2017

What happens when a war ends? Is it back to business as usual? Does economic growth resume? What about the distribution of incomes and the impact on human wellbeing? These are the questions we have explored in a recent study.

Some wars end in a decisive victory for one side, as in Sri Lanka’s long war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil (LTTE); some continue at a low level over a long period and (hopefully) eventually peter out, like some of India’s tribal conflicts; and some end in a peace agreement between the warring parties. The Guatemalan Peace Agreement of 1996, reached after almost four decades of fierce conflict, is an example. An important question is whether the different ways wars end affect subsequent developments.  Are wars more likely to recur with one type of ending? Does the subsequent pattern of social and economic development differ?

The question of whether conflicts are likely to recur with different types of war-ending has been investigated quite thoroughly. Interestingly, the findings seem to have changed over time: in earlier periods a decisive victory appeared most likely to lead to sustained peace although the results depended on whether the government or the rebels won (Fortna 2004; Quinn, Mason and Gurses, 2007; Kreutz 2010), but more recently, wars with peace agreements show a much lower rate of conflict recurrence (14%) compared with an overall rate of recurrence of 45% (UNDP 2008).

The second question – whether development paths are affected by how wars end – has been given much less attention.  This is the question we have been investigating (Stewart and Daga 2017). We looked at wars that ended after 1990 and did not recur, and we analysed economic development in the five years following the end of the conflict.  The number of cases was quite small – in seven countries there was a decisive victory by one side or the other and six had negotiated peace agreements. We did not analyse cases where low-level conflict persisted.  We adopted two methodological approaches: econometric investigation; and paired case studies, in three regions – sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. 

The small numbers and acute data deficiencies make it difficult to come to decisive conclusions. Yet despite this, there are some headline results: the ‘victory’ countries mostly show faster growth and better performance in reducing infant mortality. But the peace agreement countries – as one might expect – are better at sharing the fruits of growth, have higher social expenditure (financed partly by greater aid inflows), and appear to have better inequality indicators. 

From a policy perspective these (tentative) conclusions suggest that national and international policy-makers should focus especially on distribution in countries where the war ended with victory, and give more attention to economic growth in those countries where the wars ended in a negotiated settlement.

Of course, the likelihood of conflict recurrence also needs to be factored in. If victory countries continue to have a higher rate of recurrence, then this will worsen their good growth performance. Indeed their higher recurrence rate recently may be due to worse distribution, especially where this is a matter of distribution among the groups that were in conflict; securing improvements in the sharing of resources in these countries may be critical for reducing recurrence and sustaining the good growth that we observe.

Fortna, V (2004), ‘Does peace-keeping keep peace? International Interventions and the duration of peace after civil war’, International Studies Quarterly 48: 269-92.

Kreutz, J (2010) ‘How and when armed conflicts end: introducing the UCDP data set’ International Journal of Peace Research 47: 243-50.

Quinn, JM., TD Mason and M Gurses (2007) ‘Sustaining the peace: determinants of civil war recurrence’ International Interactions 33: 167-93.

Stewart, F, and R Daga (2017) ‘Does the way civil wars end affect the pattern of post-conflict development?’, Oxford Development Studies DOI: 10.1080/13600818.2016.1263727

UNDP (2008) Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: New York, NY: UNDP.

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About the author(s)
Frances Stewart
Professor Emeritus of Development Economics

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