Review: How Civil Wars Start – And How to Stop Them, by Barbara F. Walter

Barbara Walter’s book has a promising beginning. An academic who has been studying civil wars for some time now, she tries to come up with an explanation for why civil wars happen. A lot of what she learns is very interesting. For example, economics — apparently — has very little to do with this. And there are several ratings systems that can give one an indication of the risks of civil war in any particular country.

She reviews some of the better known civil wars in recent times including Rwanda, Bosnia, Northern Ireland and so on. The book is clearly building up to a discussion of the United States in recent years and that comes sooner rather than later. This is the part of the book that is weakest — especially a long section of fiction that imagines civil war breaking out in the USA in 2028 under President Kamala Harris (and no, I don’t think Kamala Harris will be US president then either).

The bulk of the book is about the US and it feels rather long-winded. Some of the discussion of the civil wars in other countries feels more cursory. For example, her explanation of why the IRA and the British government came to the negotiating table is superficial and inaccurate.

The main argument about the risk of civil war in the US is, however, a convincing one. This is a chilling book.