Monday, May 12, 2008

Natural resources and civil war

My third research blogging post takes a real quick look at What Do We Know about Natural Resources and Civil War? by Michael Ross, year 2004. It is a review of several other studies; work by Paul Collier, Anke Hoeffler and James Fearon seems to have been among the most influential and the work of Le Billon - which I blogged about this March - is reviewed too.

The studies vary widely in scope and methodology: Covering from 27 to 262 civil wars, spanning various intervals from 1945 to 2000 and approaching issues such as missing data in entirely different ways. But a set of common issues and conclusions are identified.


Ross discusses causality issues that any investigation on environment-conflict links should pay attention to. I.e. "reverse causality": Years of unrest could drive off manufacturing businesses in turn leading to a higher dependence on exporting natural resources. Which then in turn could fuel outright conflict. Also, we are reminded how both resource dependence and war can be caused by a third variable. Or several variables. Many states dependent on the export of some local commodity have several other issues: poverty, corruption, harsh government etc. All of which could inspire conflict.

Some of the studies reviewed are criticized for using a very broad variable; "primary commodities". Other studies produce more significant correlations using finer definitions; oil, gems etc.

Common conclusions

One conclusion from a Collier & Hoeffler study seems a bit math-naive (which may be why I tend to pay attention):
[...] data suggest that resource dependence has a non-linear effect: it increases the likelihood of conflict until the resource exports-to-GDP ratio is 32%; beyond this point it diminishes the likelihood of conflict.

  • Oil increases the likelihood of conflict, particularly separatist.

  • Lootable commodities such as gems and drugs tend to lengthen existing conflicts.

  • There is no link between legal agriculture and civil war. (Despite most wars being fought in countries with large agricultural sectors.)

In some cases though, it appears diamonds have shortened wars by facilitating military victories.

Ross, M.L. (2004). What Do We Know about Natural Resources and Civil War?. Journal of Peace Research, 41(3), 337-356. DOI: 10.1177/0022343304043773

(pause) by kevindooley

Search This Blog