Conflict Trap or State Building? International Wars, Civil Conflicts and Social and Political Preferences

Pauline Grosjean (University of San Francisco)

Abstract: The political legacy of conflict is the object of intense debate between proponents of two opposing models. The Conflict Trap model argues that conflicts lead to political and social disintegration. In the other camp, the State Building model asserts that inter-group competition and warfare build social capital and form the cement that binds nations. This paper uses new evidence from a survey conducted in 35 countries to shed light on how the experience of conflict shapes political and social preferences. The investigation covers World War II, recent international conflicts and civil wars. International conflict is associated with survey responses towards higher legitimacy of national institutions in countries that were victorious -consistent with the state capacity model; but the effect is not robust within countries. In contrast, civil conflict and being on the losing side of an international war are associated with lower perceived legitimacy and effectiveness of national institutions- a result consistent with the Conflict Trap model and that is robust within country. The paper also finds that conflict spurs collective action. Again, the nature of such action depends on the nature of the conflict. Civil war and losing an international conflict lead to collective action that is associated with further erosion of institutional trust. The results also echo an emerging literature that highlights the resilience of social norms and the long-term influence of violent events.

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