When is a civil war no longer a civil war?

Throughout the fifteen years of the Lebanese Civil War, armed forces from at least five nations participated in the fighting, amidst and alongside warring Lebanese factions. So many foreigners joined the war that many Lebanese claimed the conflict was no longer a civil war, but an interstate conflict playing out on Lebanese soil. Yet, most foreign participants in Lebanon’s war—the United States, Israel, Syria, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, among others—never questioned the “civil war” designation.

“Civil war” is hardly ever a neutral term. Those who use it—or deny its applicability—are usually making a political argument. My dissertation, The Lebanese Wars: Civil Conflict and International Intervention, 1975-1985 demonstrates how the term “civil war” served competing political agendas among participants in Lebanon’s conflicts. 

Viewing the war through an international lens, I relate two interconnected narratives: how U.S., Syrian, and Israeli military interventions in Lebanon changed between 1975 and 1985 and how these interventions changed the course of the war itself. In The Lebanese Wars, I explain how the first ten years of Lebanon’s civil war raise an important question with far-reaching implications: when is any civil war no longer a civil war?

My project engages with two distinct intellectual traditions: the history of U.S. foreign policy and the history of the modern Middle East. The Lebanese Wars advances my arguments about the nature of civil war and international intervention, but the work itself is an argument for challenging traditional disciplinary divides. I prioritize U.S. and Lebanese sources, with Israeli and Syrian perspectives offering context and evidentiary support.

Civil conflict and intervention will remain a feature of the international system for the foreseeable future. Thus, the history of intervention, its successes, its failures, and its unforeseen outcomes will remain an essential area of inquiry. The Lebanese Wars and future works like it will contribute to the foundations of new and better understandings of the common history between human beings in far-flung parts of the globe.