James Fearon (2004) offers an intricate explanation for why some civil wars last longer than others called Sons of the Soil (SOS). He argues that the conflict involves a minority ethnic group and a majority ethnic group over natural resources or territory. These conflicts are hard to stop because of a commitment problem as the government has enduring interests in the territory or resources. Consequently, the minority ethnic group cannot trust the government not to renege on it`s promises.
The explanation of SOS is convincingly supported by statistically significant finding in Fearon`s (2004) analysis. This thesis takes on several questions that remain unanswered. The SOS explanation has never been retested rigorously, nor has the SOS variable been tested in a dataset with a lower battle-death threshold despite the fact that these wars are supposedly low-intensity conflicts. Further, Fearon and Laitin (2011) offer an updated list of SOS wars, which has never been tested.
One strong feature of SOS wars is that they involve territory. Could it be that territorial conflicts last longer rather than any special dynamic relating to SOS? Moreover, since these wars are supposed to be small wars without much political consequence to the international system, perhaps these wars tended to be more ignored by the international community, particularly during the Cold War when large wars would have received more attention from superpowers? By following the logic of the SOS explanation these wars can only end in military victories because of a commitment problem between the belligerents, but how have these wars actually ended?
The empirical findings of this thesis suggest that SOS wars may in fact not be as robust the explanation for why some civil wars last longer than others as initially thought. Several of the SOS wars seem to be over governmental power and not over territory as the explanation suggests. Interestingly, it seems that the change in the international system has led to SOS wars being actually shorter than other types of civil wars. Also, few SOS wars have ended in military victory, while most of them have actually ended in peace agreements, ceasefires or other outcome. Thus, the SOS wars does not seem to follow the pattern of the explanation of SOS. One wonders whether or not the features of the SOS dynamics are found in all long civil wars and not the other way around, an issue for future research to examine.