In stereotypical fantasy, there is normally some sort of revolution in a uni-polar world where the rebels have to fight the evil empire. (This is not always true but its basically what happens) The "empire" either is the only country that exists or sits alone on a continent etc... These are semi-plausible excuses since (I would imagine) in the old times, when the Roman/ Chinese empires had a civil war/ revolutions, they were mostly self contained w/ Romans fighting each other or Chinese fighting each other. While there were foreign/ barbarian mercenaries and such, its not like the leader of the Germans sent in an expeditionary force to provide humanitarian aid or something. Again the no outsiders/ foreigners rule does not always hold true as after the fall of the Ming, the Manchu (who were still apart of the Ming Dynasty but were considered "outsiders") took advantage of the situation to take power.

In our modern world, whenever there is conflict, its used as a proxy war by other powers to push some sort of goal. The powers funnel arms, money and even sometimes troops to accomplish their goal. The war in Yemen has KSA + USA vs Iran. The war in the Ukrainian has western countries pumping in weapons and money and even before that the war in the Donbas region had Ukraine and the West vs the rebel with support of Russia. Syria had Russian + Iran vs the US and some others. Even in tiny countries this happens see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Solomon_Islands_unrest where China + Australia intervened. Would it even be possible in our modern interconnected world for there to be just a civil war in a populated country (think US, China, India, Brazil etc...) without its rivals swooping in to aid a favored side? Would it be possible in the future via some invented technologies?


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    $\begingroup$ (1) The War of Secession in the U.S. of A. happened in very modern times. The rest of the world watched how Americans killed themselves and did not intervene. (2) The Russians fought a very well known and very brutal civil war 1917-1923; while some countries pretended to care, intervention forces were insignificant. (3) The Iran-Iraq war was fought for eight years in the 1980s, and nobody cared much; 500,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed, we don't know exactly how many, because we don't really care about a war between two brown Muslim countries. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 27, 2022 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP How does the Iran-Iraq war apply? Those are and were 2 separate countries, thus not a civil war by any definition. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2022 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman: The title of the question is about "a self contained civil war/ war". $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 28, 2022 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Ah, too many slashes, that title is a little hard to parse... $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2022 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ @yeet1000 Could you change that "whenever" to "sometimes", or justify it with more details of many more conflicts? Could you also clarify the title, for instance by dropping all the slashes, at least? $\endgroup$ Mar 29, 2022 at 18:00

6 Answers 6


Yes, but not often

The issue is globalisation. There is no single advanced country on Earth today that produces everything it consumes / uses. Every country specialises in certain products for export and imports everything else. Which means that any time a country becomes embroiled in a war then it means that sellers in other countries are losing a market, which may be economically inconvenient or disastrous depending on the market. Even worse is where a war-affected country is no longer able to export at least one essential commodity. To look at a current example, Ukraine's wheat production is a key part of the global food economy, the cost of food worldwide is going to increase as a result of the current invasion.

Even if a country does not produce critical exports, conflict with or within that nation can threaten to spill over into neighbouring countries and/or endanger trade routes. Furthermore, wars will almost always result in people fleeing the conflict, meaning that nearby countries will need to deal with refugees that are likely to require some initial economic support at least and may represent a security risk. So countries that are nearby or otherwise going to be affected have an interest in trying to shut down a war or try to influence its course so that the final outcome is less bad for themselves. (It's never good.)

Finally, increased global mobility means that there are pockets of people all over the world who are likely to get upset about what is happening in "their" old homeland. Even if governments of other countries do not get involved, individuals in those countries may start organising financial or logistics backing for one side or another and in extreme cases start recruiting combatants. Having to explain the actions of its citizens gives another incentive for otherwise uninvolved governments to try to settle conflicts elsewhere.

However, there are some wars where the rest of the world tends to stand back and do very little other than make some noises in the UN and, in recent times, impose individual sanctions only. The 2021 coup in Myanmar is an example of this - given the ongoing internal hostilities and death toll this may be considered a civil war. Some countries appear to be attempting to gain favour with the military junta through sales of arms and other economic activities, but I suggest that this alone does not make the conflict a proxy war. (I am not attempting to condone or excuse any of the violence in Myanmar or those supporting it, merely define what it is and what it is not.)

The Rwandan genocide in the 1990s is another example of a conflict which does not constitute a proxy war. While there was a United Nations contingent present, political considerations reduced them to a bystander role. The incomprehensible violence that occurred was not promoted by any major foreign power. (Whether the western powers could have reduced the bloodshed if there had been more political will to intervene and/or the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations had not prevented the seizure of weapons before the genocide commenced is a separate issue.)

TLDR - There are wars where major powers try not to get involved, they are the ones that you don't hear much about. However, given the interconnected nature of the modern world economy, many conflicts will have sufficient economic impact that the major nations have an interest in the outcome and will attempt to exert influence.


Large Country

If a small country has a civil war, larger countries get involved to push their own agenda. Often this agenda is to oppose their rival countries who support the other faction of the civil war. For example USA and Russian in Yemen.

It does not really matter to either USA or Russia what happens in Yemen. Yemen is a small far-away country and even if the Russia-supported faction gets into power, Yemen is a small far-away country and has no influence on the USA. The main concern of the USA is (a) to intimidate the Russians and (b) keep happy their allies who are physically closer to Yemen.

However if the USA has a civil war inside itself, and the war looks undecided -- for example one side has the Land Army and the other has the Water Army and Flying Army -- then the other countries back off.

Former enemies of America are happy for the country to destroy itself. Former allies want to ally with the new America after the war -- whoever wins. The worst thing to happen is to choose sides, then have your side lose, and start as enemies of the new superpower. Better to keep the head down and try to ally with whoever wins.

  • $\begingroup$ "Former allies want to ally with the new America after the war -- whoever wins" I really doubt this if this would be the case for Nato allies i.r.t. the United States. European countries have very clear and well-thought views about democracy. When talking about the current polarized political landscape in the US, it's quite clear which side supports democracy. Also, US membership of Nato also plays a role.. when one of the two parties would advocate distancing US from Nato, Europe would choose side. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Mar 27, 2022 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Goodies I am sure there is an official stance on what to do. But considering half of America has never been in open war with the other half, no one can say for sure whether the stance would go out the window or not. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 27, 2022 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies "it's quite clear which side supports democracy." I'd like to contest that. Without knowing where you stand, I really cannot more than guess which side you're referring to, as I can imagine a person from either side could hold the opinion you express. You might be right one of the sides currently enjoys more support from some countries, notably western European ones, but it's not self evident this would be true 10 or 20 years from now. $\endgroup$
    – EdvinW
    Mar 27, 2022 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ @EdvinW The American civil war I am talking about is not intended to be between the Democrats and the Liberals. That notion was invented in the comments. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 27, 2022 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ Backing up your answer: did anyone intervene when Russia "dealt with" the rebels in Chechnya? Of course not, Russia would not take kindly to a foreign intervention on its territory. Is anyone intervening while China "handles" the Uyghur? It's not even clear exactly what's going on, and no Western power dares asking too deeply. Nobody wants to poke a sleeping bear. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2022 at 7:23

For a foreign country to chip in a civil war, there must be some of their interests touched by the war that they want to protect.

For example resources like water, oil, minerals, transit rights, are good reason to take a side in a civil war. Even for banana plantations governments have been thrown away...

If none of them are present, the only interest a foreign country might have is to sell weapons to both parties, possibly in a way that keeps the balance and ensure future weapons sales.


Would it even be possible in our modern interconnected world for there to be just a civil war in a populated country (think US, China, India, Brazil etc...) without its rivals swooping in to aid a favored side?

Gang wars.


The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre was the murder of seven members and associates of Chicago's North Side Gang that occurred on Saint Valentine's Day 1929. The men were gathered at a Lincoln Park, Chicago garage on the morning of February 14, 1929. They were lined up against a wall and shot by four unknown assailants, two dressed as police officers. The incident resulted from the struggle to control organized crime in the city during Prohibition between the Irish North Siders, headed by George "Bugs" Moran, and their Italian Chicago Outfit rivals led by Al Capone.[1]

Organized criminal groups have jurisdictions over which they exert control, just as sanctioned political groups do. Sometimes the one merges into the other, as when groups that seem to be terrorist groups (or perhaps originated as such) fill a void and provide governmental services for the people in their territory. Sometimes the groups are not gangs operating illegally in the context of a standard government, like the gangs of old Chicago or modern Los Angeles. Warlords might be all there are, like in the Somalia of Black Hawk Down or fallen Libya.

There can definitely be violent conflicts in such scenarios: a splinter group or rival group wants to take control and the two groups clash. This could be called a gang war.

Outside groups are unlikely to get involved with internecine warfare confined to a city or territory - especially if all parties are considered criminal groups.

  • $\begingroup$ The funny thing about the St Valentine's Day massacre is that we still remember it. Nowadays, seven gang members being killed in Chicago is just called 'saturday'. $\endgroup$
    – DrMcCleod
    Mar 28, 2022 at 18:54

Tributary state wars

If the world has one dominant state, but not just one state. There are still numerous other independent states.

The dominant state may behave like China did in the past (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tributary_system_of_China) --as long as the other states pay tribute, conflicts between these states may be ignored by the dominant state.

The dominant state could also prevent other states from intervening and have a policy of allowing internal conflicts to progress unimpeded.


Nuclear deterrence? If India and Pakistan had a nuclear war, subject to diplomacy having made both of them somewhat isolated if it wasn't spilling over, I doubt anyone else would want to get involved. Quite the opposite, other nations would probably broadcast how NOT involved they were. Ditto a (say) UK civil war.


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