America is close to being at high risk of a civil war, a UC San Diego political scientist said Sunday night on CNN.
“If a second civil war happens in the United States, it’s going to look very different from the first, and it’s going to look more like a siege of terror,” said Professor Barbara F. Walter, whose upcoming book on the subject was quoted Friday in The Washington Post.
“We all wish that the United States was a strong democracy, but the reality is just not so,” the Del Mar resident said Sunday.
She said academics now classify the United States for the first time as an anocracy — a hybrid of democracy and an autocratic state — adding: “We are no longer considered the world’s longest democracy. That ended in January 2021.”
Her latest book — “How Civil Wars Start, and How to Stop Them,” coming out in January — is blurbed by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of “How Democracies Die.”
“When one of the world’s leading scholars of civil war tells us that a country is on the brink of violent conflict, we should pay attention,” the pair say. “This is an important book.”
On CNN, Walter said the public shouldn’t think of a second Civil War in 19th-century terms, “large armies in gray and blue uniforms, meeting each other on battlefields.”
Twenty-first century civil wars tend to be decentralized, she said, interviewed via Skype.
“They tends to be fought by lots of small factions, militias, paramilitary groups who use different types of tactics — insurgency, guerrilla warfare, terrorism,” she said.
Walter, 57, said a second U.S. Civil War would look more like recent ones around the world.
“Think about Northern Ireland. Think about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” Walter said. “That’s the type of violence we’re likely to see here in the United States. And that violence is likely to last for decades. And be almost equally as destructive.”
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank noted that Walter, who teaches in the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UCSD, serves on a CIA advisory panel called the Political Instability Task Force that monitors countries around the world and predicts which of them are most at risk of deteriorating into violence.
“By law, the task force can’t assess what’s happening within the United States, but Walter, a longtime friend who has spent her career studying conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Rwanda, Angola, Nicaragua and elsewhere, applied the predictive techniques herself to this country,” he wrote in an opinion piece that drew close to 7,000 comments.
On Sunday, Walter said she’d been on that CIA task force four years.
She said the two best predictors of whether violence is likely to happen is whether a nation is an anocracy and “whether ethnic entrepreneurs have emerged in a country that are using racial, religious or ethnic divisions to try to gain political power.”
She said it was amazing that both factors currently exist in the United States, “and they have emerged at a surprisingly fast rate.”
CNN’s Holmes asked Walter whether such a ship can be easily turned around.
She says she’s done a lot of research on how to escape that “conflict track.”
“We know that the countries that escape this track invest in good governance,” Walter said in the four-minute segment. “And if they don’t do that, they tend to experience repeat violence over time.”
In fact, according to a 2014 study issued by The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, “Evidence suggests that … mixed regimes [or “anocracies”] are relatively unstable: over the last 50 years, they were 10 times more likely to experience intrastate conflict than democracies, and two times more than autocracies.”
That study focused on the Middle East and North Africa. Walter thinks such lessons also apply to the United States.
Countries put on the CIA’s watch list are at “high risk of descending into instability or political violence.” The CIA won’t apply those standards to the United States, but Walter does.
She told KPBS Midday Edition on Jan. 7 that the Capitol violence was part of a string of terrorist attacks or plans to instigate terrorist attacks seen in recent years.
“Almost all of it has been coming from the far right,” Walter said. “And in fact, the Department of Homeland security in 2019 deemed far right domestic terror as the greatest threat to the United States…. I think this is simply a very clear and obvious continuation of that.”