Here's a Recipe for Failure in Ukraine

Intervention is much more likely to succeed, he added, if more than one country is involved, so that the selfish interest of one nation is not viewed as the reason for the action. Any country that survives the cruelty and heartache of a civil war is going to need a lot of help to recover, and it is best if that help comes from many sources.

"Democracy isn't prefabricated," he said in the interview. "You don't just plop down a constitution and a capital and call it a democracy. You have to build it, you have to frame it in the right way, so having people around who can give you advice from different voices in the democratic community seems to help it take root."

His work, as well as that of many others, is particularly timely because civil wars are becoming far more common. And they always seem to pull neighboring countries, some of which are likely competitors for resources, into the war.

"Civil war is no longer these pristine conflicts that are encapsulated in one country," he said. "They are actually international events that other states get involved in, other states have interest in, and sometimes they pursue their own national interest within the civil war context that has nothing to do with the different sides in the civil war. They are just using them."

In the sad story of Ukraine, only one country so far has acted entirely on its own, and that is Russia, and Colaresi suspects Russia and the people of Crimea will pay a high price for that down the road.

Not everybody in Crimea loves Russia, he said, and the eventual government that rises there will be suspect.

There is much at stake in Ukraine, and many nations would undoubtedly like to shape its future to serve their own interests. A better course, Colaresi said, would be to work together.

It's likely most Americans agree with that. But history suggests it's probably not going to be that tidy.

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