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Geography, Rebel Capability, and the Duration of Civil Conflict


  • Halvard Buhaug

    (Centre for the Study of Civil War (CSCW) International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Oslo, Norway)

  • Scott Gates

    (Centre for the Study of Civil War (CSCW) International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Oslo, Norway, Department of Sociology and Political Science Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim)

  • Päivi Lujala

    (Department of Economics Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim Centre for the Study of Civil War (CSCW) International Peace Research Institute PRIO, Oslo, Norway)


Why do some armed civil conflicts last longer than others? Drawing on a contest success function model, we show that geographic factors (such as location, terrain, and natural resources) interact with rebel fighting capacity and together play a crucial role in determining the duration of conflict. Using precisely dated duration data in event history models and geographic data for the conflict location, we find that conflicts located at considerable distance from the main government stronghold, along remote international borders and in regions with valuable minerals last substantially longer. In addition, we find that rebel military capacity in its own right increases the prospects of a civil conflict ending within a short time period. Our findings imply that the distances an army must travel to project power, rebel fighting capacity, and characteristics of conflict region affect how a civil war is fought and who will prevail.

Suggested Citation

  • Halvard Buhaug & Scott Gates & Päivi Lujala, 2009. "Geography, Rebel Capability, and the Duration of Civil Conflict," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 53(4), pages 544-569, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jocore:v:53:y:2009:i:4:p:544-569

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    Cited by:

    1. J. M. Quinn, 2015. "Territorial contestation and repressive violence in civil war," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 26(5), pages 536-554, October.
    2. Ore Koren & Benjamin E. Bagozzi, 2016. "From global to local, food insecurity is associated with contemporary armed conflicts," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 8(5), pages 999-1010, October.
    3. Dominic Rohner & Mathias Thoenig & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 2013. "War Signals: A Theory of Trade, Trust, and Conflict," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(3), pages 1114-1147.
    4. repec:eee:jeeman:v:89:y:2018:i:c:p:46-70 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Morelli, Massimo & Rohner, Dominic, 2015. "Resource concentration and civil wars," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 32-47.
    6. repec:bpj:pepspp:v:18:y:2012:i:3:p:7:n:11 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Burton Lucy & Johnson Shane D. & Braithwaite Alex, 2017. "Potential uses of Numerical Simulation for the Modelling of Civil Conflict," Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 23(1), pages 1-39, January.
    8. Dominik Noe, 2013. "Determinants of the duration and ending of terrorist and other non-state armed groups," Courant Research Centre: Poverty, Equity and Growth - Discussion Papers 140, Courant Research Centre PEG, revised 19 Sep 2013.
    9. Jimenez-Ayora, Pablo & Ulubaşoğlu, Mehmet Ali, 2015. "What underlies weak states? The role of terrain ruggedness," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 167-183.
    10. de Juan, Alexander, 2012. "Mapping Political Violence – The Approaches and Conceptual Challenges of Subnational Geospatial Analyses of Intrastate Conflict," GIGA Working Papers 211, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies.

    More about this item


    geography; civil war; disaggregation; duration; resources;


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