History tells us that most of the conflicts that followed the Second World War were interstates conflicts taken place in the third world countries as civil wars. Thousands of books, articles and studies were written in order to explain the causes of these conflicts and the possible ways to prevent them in the future. The result of these publications and researches come to the conclusion that the causes of these conflicts might be for political, social and economic reasons. In this paper, I will look to the role of natural resources as an ignition for civil wars. Furthermore, I will construct this paper by examining natural resources’ effects on the onset and the duration of civil wars through surveying the advocate and the skeptic scholarly work on such theory.
Conflict Onset – Karen Ballentine concludes that the political exclusion for the minorities in an ethnic heterogeneous country proved to be more dominance than natural resources as a trigger for civil conflict. Without totally ignoring their role, they assured that economic grievances are secondary factor toward civil war onset. Ballentine states that “[D]espite the centrally mining dispute to the outbreak of armed violence, the conflict in Bougainville like those in Kosovo and Sri Lanka was one in which political and socioeconomic ‘justice-seeking’ objectives were prominent” (Ballentine, p. 261). She adds that all these findings are applied on all the studied countries (Ballentine, p. 262).
In the beginning of their article, Pierre Englebert and James Ron tried to prove the resource cruse theory by examining the civil war in Congo. While following their study, one can assume that they were hesitant in determining if natural resources competition is the primary cause for civil conflict. Although they support this notion when state that “Greed, in this view, is the prime motivator of civil war, and opportunities for personal or small group enrichment can best explain a rebellion’s emergence” (Englebert and Ron, p. 63). They also do not ignore the main role of political crisis as engine of internal conflicts. So, they basically rebut their previous claim by illustrating that conflict over resources will not start without a political uncertainty. They conclude that “Politics should be privilegded [sic] over economic determinism, because resources are unlikely to trigger civil war in a stable political environment” (Englebert & Ron, p. 64).
Unlike previous scholars, Collier in his article argues that the main cause for the conflict and then the civil war is the absence of the economic development. He also add that religious and ethnic diversity, good political institution, and high military spending do not have major influences in causing violence conflict or civil war. His argument ignores the political reasons of violence and conflict. He concentrates on greed as a cause of conflict with an obvious ignorance to both political and socioeconomic grievances. He claims that rebels use grievances as means for recruitment. Furthermore, he also disregards the role of ethnic and religious diversity as an igniter of the civil war and claims that “Substantial ethnic and religious diversity significantly reduces the risk of civil wars” (Collier, p. 57). I argue that ethnicity and religious differences are more crucial causes for civil war. If one looks at the case of Serbia; Milosevic efforts concentrate about how to revive the ancient ethnic hatred between the Serb and Muslims in general. Six hundred years after the battle of Kosovo; Milosevic adopted a mechanism to reactivate the memories of the defeat in this battle and the murder of Lazar – a “chosen trauma”. He bring Lazar’s tomb from the exile and put his body in a coffin and make tour to all Serbians villages in order to remind them of their grievances (helplessness, humiliation, and shame).
Collier also adds that “political and ethnic agendas piggyback onto what is basically an attempt to expropriate resources” (Collier, p. 63). His latter argument is challenged by the new research conducted by Charles Call – Why Peace Fails: The Causes and Prevention of Civil War Recurrence. Call, through a quantitative and qualitative study, concludes that political exclusion is highly correlated with civil war recurrence and, to some extent, onset. The 1970th civil war in Jordan, which exemplified by Call, approved that despite the lack of natural resources, Jordan has experienced a political based civil conflict as result of excluding the Palestinian refugees from participating in governmental positions. The Palestinians tried to overthrow the regime for political gains. Their attempt has nothing to do with economic matters.
Conflict Duration – there is a general agreement among the above mentioned scholars that confirms the role of access to economic resources as reason to extend the duration of the conflict rather than causing it. Easy access to lucrative resources attracts rebels to continue fighting for self-enrichment. Furthermore, rebels’ access to resources can maintain their ability and willingness to fight, hence, continuation the conflict. In addition, profited elites and leaders often employ the conflict to maximize their profits (Ballentine, pp. 267-268). Pugh and Cooper mentioned the regional beneficiaries who are profited by the neighboring conflict as significant spoilers to any peace resolution or ceasefire attempt (Pugh and Cooper, pp. 35-36). Collier et al. in a quantitative study, find that income inequality is highly significant in prolonging. They stated that “[a] ten-point increase in the Gini coefficient (from 41 to 51) increases the expected duration of conflict from 59 months to 144 months”. They also find that ethnic fractionalization is significant in prolonging conflict as well.
Due to previous conflicting arguments; an observer becomes uncertain about the reliability of these findings. I would conclude that there are different variables combined together to initiate civil wars. With respect to all the earlier mentioned arguments; on one hand, I would not separate religious differences from economic inequality, “ethnic ancient hatred” from political exclusion, natural resources from past victimizations as causes for civil wars. On the other hand, conflict duration is also influenced by several factors. Some resources are hard to be exploited by rebels or militias. For example: oil and other minerals require heavy equipment and professional workers. So, we cannot generalize this finding on all types of resources. In short, whether what kind of needs to be fulfilled (political, economic, identity, justice etc.), failing to fulfill them might also prolong the conflict. Therefore, it is advisable while studying any conflict; the researcher put on account those different factors to come up with convinced outcomes. In other words, conflicts and wars are more complex to be determined by one factor. There are many parties involved, each have their own motivations and interests.
- Collier, Paul. Anke Hoeffler and Mans Soderbom. “On the Duration of Civil War”. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 41, no: 3, 2004, pp. 253-273. http://jpr.sagepub.com/content/41/3/253.full.pdf+html.
- Paul Collier, et al. “Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy”. Washington, DC: World Bank and Oxford Univ. Press. Chapter 3 (pp. 53-91). Blackboard. Session 7. Accessed May 2, 2012.
- Pugh, Michael and Neil Cooper with Jonathan Goodhand. “War Economies in a Regional Context: Challenges of transformation”. Blackboard. Session 7.
- Volkan, Vamik. “Bosnia-Herzegovina: Chosen Trauma and its Transgenerational Transmission”. http://www.vamikvolkan.com/Bosnia-Herzegovina%3A-Chosen-Trauma-and-Its-Transgenerational-Transmision.php
- Call, Charles. T. “Why Peace Fails: The Causes and Prevention of Civil War Recurrence”, Georgetown University Press. Washington, DC (2012).
- Karen Ballentine, “Conclusions”, in Karen Ballentine and Jake Sherman (eds), The Political Economy of Armed Conflict: Beyond Greed and Grievance, (Boulder: Lynne Rienner and IPA, 2003), Blackboard. Session 7. pp. 259-283.
- Pierre Englebert and James Ron. “Primary Commodities and War: Congo-Brazzaville’s Ambivalent Resource Curse”. Comparative Politics. Vol. 37. no: 1. (Oct. 2004); Blackboard. Session 7. pp. 61-81.
 Volkan, Vamik. “Bosnia-Herzegovina: Chosen Trauma and its Transgenerational Transmission”. http://www.vamikvolkan.com/Bosnia-Herzegovina%3A-Chosen-Trauma-and-Its-Transgenerational-Transmision.php.
 Call, Charles. T. “Why Peace Fails: The Causes and Prevention of Civil War Recurrence”, pp. 196-209.
 Collier, Paul. Anke Hoeffler and Mans Soderbom. “On the Duration of Civil War”. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 41, no: 3, 2004, pp. 253-273. http://jpr.sagepub.com/content/41/3/253.full.pdf+html. Accessed on May 2, 2012.
 Ibid., pp. 262-263.
 Pugh, Michael and Neil Cooper with Jonathan Goodhand. “War Economies in a Regional Context: Challenges of transformation”. Blackboard. Session 7, p. 18.