Veto Players and Civil War Duration


  • Previous versions of the article were presented at 2004 annual meetings of the Western Political Science Association and the Peace Sciences Society and the 2005 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. I thank the following people for helpful comments and assistance: Mark Culyba, Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, Andrew Enterline, Kristian Gleditsch, David Lake, Roy Licklider, David Mares, Will Moore, Irfan Nooruddin, Idean Salehyan, Barbara Walter, Kelly Wurtz, and the anonymous reviewers at AJPS.

David E. Cunningham is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138-3099 (


Civil wars show a remarkable variation in how long they last. Some end within days; others continue for decades. What explains the extreme intractability of some wars while others are resolved quickly? This article argues that conflicts with multiple actors who must approve a settlement (veto players) are longer because there are fewer acceptable agreements, information asymmetries are more acute, and shifting alliances and incentives to hold out make negotiation more difficult. This veto player approach to explaining variation in civil war duration is tested using a new dataset containing monthly data on all parties to each civil war begun since World War II. The statistical analysis shows a strong correlation between the number of veto players and the duration of civil war.