I recently edited the tags for and and one of the comments was that the user believed the distinction between and should not be made, as they believed the dividing line between the two to be too fluid. If this is the case, why do we have two tags and could they be merged? If we are to keep two tags, surely we need to maintain a distinction between them somehow?


I don't mind distinguishing from , but I'm not convinced that needs to be distinguished from . Both cases of questions using both tags involve a country interfering with a civil war in another country. As such, both tags make sense on those questions. Is there a problem of people marking regular wars as civil wars?

The bigger problem that I have with is that two of the six questions are just mentions of the USA Civil War. In particular, Why have the Democratic Party and Republican Party switched positions on civil rights since the Civil War? seems to have nothing to do with as a topic. A tag like would make more sense there.

To me, the USA Civil War is history not politics. It's generally mentioned in a historical context and is background for a discussion of some other point in politics. I suppose that it would be possible to ask a politics question about the USA Civil War, but no one has done so yet.


I am the person who was critical of the distinction within the tags only, primarily because it isn't always obvious what is a civil war and what isn't. In cases where it is clear, then by all means people should use one or the other, but in other cases, it can be unhelpful to draw a line.

A few examples bear noting:

  1. The Chinese Civil War was fought from basically 1927 to 1950. During that time, essentially all great powers sent troops to Chinese territory, fought each other and fought the Chinese. We also call it WWII.
  2. While it is clear that there is a war in Syria, it isn't clear that what is happening is meaningfully a civil war only, or should be considered an international war. There are so many actors, and the conflict crosses traditional and legal state boundaries.
  3. Ukraine, and especially the "cession" of Crimea would be almost impossible to designate as either a war or a civil war, if we enforced one topic over the other. In fact, I wouldn't even be surprised if the "Putin trolls" didn't start swarming over the site, if we tried to categorize it one way or the other, with meaningful, enforced distinctions.
  4. The U.S. and English civil wars actually make it hard for many anglophone writers to understand that there is not always a clear distinction, because in the two cases most Anglophones are familiar with, not only were the lines between sides much clearer than they usually are in civil war, but the geography of the wars greatly reduced the level of external interference. Those are not typical of civil wars.

This is a common problem that Political Science is struggling with today. Perhaps someday there will be an accepted non-controversial decision, but until that time it seems wise to maintain both tags, an leave some mushiness in the definitions.

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