Civil war is armed fighting between the government of a state and one or more opposition groups concerning the government and/or territory of the state. Civil wars are distinct from interstate wars, that is, wars between two or more states. The criterion that the government of a state is one of the warring sides is necessary to distinguish civil war from other forms of organized violence within states, occurring between nonstate actors. In practice, the government side may be very weak and lack control outside the capital, and which side constitutes the government may shift during the conflict. Civil wars are political conflicts about central elements of the state, which is why the definition requires that there is a clear issue of contention, or incompatibility, concerning the government, that is, the type of political system, the replacement of the government, or the change of its composition; or over territory, that is, the constitutional status of a specified territory within the state (secession or autonomy). That armed fighting is part of the definition of civil war ensures that civil war is different from one-sided killings of civilians, such as genocides. For political strife to qualify as civil war the level of fighting must be substantial.
John Wiley & Sons, 2014.