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When Fighting Becomes an End in Itself: Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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A book talk with Jason Stearns, Director of the Congo Research Group, NYU

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"There should be more conceptual books on this topic, and this is one of them. Haven’t you wondered why this war drags on for decades, without resolution? Start your quest for an answer here."
Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

Well into its third decade, the military conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been dubbed a “forever war”—a perpetual cycle of war, civil unrest, and local feuds over power and identity. Millions have died in one of the worst humanitarian calamities of our time. The War That Doesn’t Say Its Name investigates the most recent phase of this conflict, asking why the peace deal of 2003—accompanied by the largest United Nations peacekeeping mission in the world and tens of billions in international aid—has failed to stop the violence. Jason Stearns argues that the fighting has become an end in itself, carried forward in substantial part through the apathy and complicity of local and international actors.

Stearns shows that regardless of the suffering, there has emerged a narrow military bourgeoisie of commanders and politicians for whom the conflict is a source of survival, dignity, and profit. Foreign donors provide food and urgent health care for millions, preventing the Congolese state from collapsing, but this involvement has not yielded transformational change. Stearns gives a detailed historical account of this period, focusing on the main players—Congolese and Rwandan states and the main armed groups. He extrapolates from these dynamics to other conflicts across Africa and presents a theory of conflict that highlights the interests of the belligerents and the social structures from which they arise.

Exploring how violence in the Congo has become preoccupied with its own reproduction, The War That Doesn’t Say Its Name sheds light on why certain military feuds persist without resolution.



Order The War That Doesn't Say Its Name: The Unending Conflict in the Congo from Princeton University Press.



Jason Stearns is Assistant Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University and is Director of the Congo Research Group at New York University. He has worked for the International Crisis Group, the UN Group of Experts on the DR Congo, and the Rift Valley Institute. He is author of The War That Does Not Say Its Name: The Unending Conflict in the Congo (Princeton University Press, 2022), as well as Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (Public Affairs, 2011).






Leslie Johns is a professor of political science and law at UCLA. She is also Associate Director of the Burkle Center for International Relations.

Her research focuses on international law, organizations, and political economy.

In 2022, Cambridge University Press published her newest book, Politics and International Law: Making, Breaking, and Upholding Global Rules. You can access related news stories on the book's Twitter account: @PoliticsIntlLaw

Her work appears in the American Political Science Review, International Organization, Journal of Conflict Resolution and the Journal of Politics. Her first book–Strengthening International Courts: The Hidden Costs of Legalization–was published in 2015 by the University of Michigan Press. She received the Michael Wallerstein Award for political economy in 2017.

She is a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a former research fellow at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University (2012-2013 and 2021-2022).