What is the role of natural resources in the incidence of civil wars?
Natural resources have been regarded as the impetus for cooperation or conflict between the power holders and also play an essential role in the post-conflict processes (Johnson 2021). The contemporary understanding of society has revealed that natural resources have a strong connection with the civil wars. However, the causal mechanisms around this developed correlation are not well understood (Kalu 2021). This ambiguity lies due to the lack of availability of data. Since the 1900s, the research has focussed on the identification of causes of civil war and has identified that natural resources are one of the primary motivating factors (Bhattacharyya and Mamo 2021). The primary natural resources that have been linked with the civil war historically include oil and hard rock minerals. However, it is important to understand that natural resources are not the only causes of war in a conflict but often play a supplementary role (Akpan and Umoh 2021). Also, it is to be established that the dependence on natural resources does not make a conflict inevitable. A civil war is defined as a war between the citizens of the same country (Rüegger 2019). However, the war that is associated with the natural resources has not been limited to civil wars but has also given rise to international conflicts like World War II, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the invasion of Kuwait are some examples (Ostaszewski 2019). This essay will provide an evidence-based discussion to explore the role of natural resources in the incidence of civil wars. This article will highlight what the current evidence suggests about the role and importance of natural resources in civil wars and how they have impacted the countries involved and the rest of the world. This essay will also outline the theoretical aspects that identify the role of natural resources in development of civil wars and apply examples to provide an evidence-based discussion.
Civil war results in high costs for the bystanders as well as the participants of the war. The private gain of the rebels helps them to get over the collective action plans, and hence, a civil war is identified as a "quasi-criminal" activity (Gurses 2018). As per Collier and Hoeffler, it has been identified that the states that are associated with heavy exports of primary commodities are at a greater risk of civil war than the countries with limited resources (Dunne and Tian 2019). This is also consistent with the finding that the oil-exporting states are also at a greater risk of experiencing civil war with longer wars in the region. The presence of mineral resources in the conflict zone has also been associated with the increase in conflict in the geographical zone (Conard et al. 2019). However, the agreement of scholars on why the presence of natural resources has these impacts is diabolical. Therefore the theories that link natural resources to civil war have to be developed with greater persuasion. This can be done by focussing a greater discussion on endogeneity and spuriousness. This will help in establishing a correlation between the civil war and natural resources. A civil war can only come to be with the history of hostilities, and thus it is important to deduce the nature of civil war and its association with natural resources. This will also help in the development of suitable policy interventions (Bribena 2021).
The origins of a civil war in association with the availability of natural resources have been linked through several mechanisms (Conard et al. 2019). One of the causal hypotheses that are most popular is defined as the “looting mechanism” and was developed by Collier and Hoeffler. According to this approach, the incidence of a civil war can be associated with two primary categories. First, the motive of grievance of the rebel organisations and secondly, funding (Vesco et al. 2020). The natural resources can act as a source of funds and can thus help in meeting the needs of the seeking groups resulting in the incidence of a civil war. When rebels extort money out of natural resources firms, these firms are unable to relocate and have to succumb to the tragedies. Therefore, the states that have more natural resources are more vulnerable to civil wars (Ahram 2019). Hence, the primary commodity exports on the conflict risks are highly significant and considerable. Another mechanism that is often used to understand the relationship between natural resources and civil war is the “grievance” mechanism. This mechanism suggests that the resource extraction results in the development of a grievance in the local population. This grievance is generated due to exploitation of their labour, misuse of the land, imposed environmental hazards, labour migration, and social disruptions in the community (Pengl and Cederman 2022). These grievances can eventually lead to a civil war in the region. Both these mechanisms of civil war origin that are associated with the natural resources are innate to the geopolitical boundary of the specific region (Steinberg 2019). However, a civil war in conjunction with the natural resource wealth may also emerge if the resources that are located in the periphery of one country or that are in a population associated with an ethnic minority can result in the demand of an individual nation. These are associated with separatist tendencies in the masses. The importance of oil as a resource has been highlighted by some scholars like Karl Terry, that asserts that the presence of oil wealth results in an increase in the probability of civil war as it weakens the bureaucratic capacity of the governments (Ghatak and Karakaya 2021). This may result in the facilitation of the origins of a civil war. Eventually, the literature indicates that the dependency on the finances and the looting of the rebels through the direct and indirect means have been identified as one of the primary reasons associated with the incidence of civil wars in the regions (Ali et al. 2022). Therefore, it can be asserted that the origins of a civil war are closely associated with the presence of natural resources and are impacted by several factors that may result in the initiation of a civil war.
The United Nations identifies that environmental factors and natural resources are rarely the only cause of violent conflict (United Nations 2019). However, the stressors associated with the resource utilisation and sharing of natural resources are associated with being a significant driver of civil war and conflict. The report by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it was revealed that in the last sixty years, about 40% of the civil wars had been linked to the natural resources (United Nations 2019). It is paradoxical that the countries that have been abundant with natural resources have faced major economic distresses throughout history and are also associated with civil distress. The economic performance of countries with large mining industries was assessed by the World Bank (Ericsson and Löf 2019). The findings revealed that in the countries that had intermediate mining sectors, that is, they controlled 6%-15% of all exports, the GDP per capita dropped by 1.1% on average every year (Öhler et al. 2019). In contrast, in the countries that had large mining industries, that is, they had more than 50% of exports, the GDP per capita of the country fell by 2.3% annually (Ericsson and Löf 2019). A higher reliance on minerals and oil export of a country has also been associated with greater child mortality rates. For every increase in the mineral exports by five points, there was an increase in the mortality of children below the age of five by 12.7 per thousand (Addison and Roe 2018). Whereas, with every five-point increase in oil dependence, the mortality rate of children under the age of five years increased by 3.8 per thousand (Pengl and Cederman 2022). This needs to be associated with the incidence of civil war. That is, poverty in a country is directly associated with the incidence of a civil war (Öhler et al. 2019). The rebel groups of a region have a greater chance of creating unrest and giving rise to a civil war when there is widespread poverty. The counties that identify as the mineral dependent states are classified as the highly indebted poor countries by the World Bank. This impact was associated with the economic effects of the country alone (Ericsson and Löf 2019). This also needs to be connected with the fact that when the growth of a country becomes negative, there is a greater chance of a civil war. This has been consistent in the examples of Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the GDP growth was -5.56% and -1.34%, respectively, before the civil war (Öhler et al. 2019).
High dependence on natural resources has an impact on the government of the states as well. Extensive dependence on natural resources influences the governments and makes them more susceptible to conflict. This happens through three main mechanisms, which are state weakness, corruption, and reduced accountability (Henri 2019). Evidence suggests that when a government is largely dependent on natural resources such as minerals, oil, and timber, there is a greater chance for them to be corrupt. The nature of this form of corruption is associated with the volume of revenues and the high volatility of the resource revenues of the region (Zallé 2019). The volatile nature of the markets for natural resources can result in market shocks and further pushes the risk of civil war in the regions. Principally, it is expected that the government should be able to buffer their economies against market shocks (Farzanegan et al. 2018). The case of Angola presents a classic case where the corruption driven by natural resources became the root cause of civil war in the region. In the year 2001, the International Monetary Fund indicated that about one billion dollars eroded from the government funds of Angola (Arslanalp et al. 2022). The majority of this deficit was associated with the oil dependence and oil revenues in the country. The inefficiencies of the government working and the development of the civil war in conjunction with the dependence on natural resources are also evidenced in the case of Sierra Leone (Mlambo 2022). The alluvial minerals that are scattered in the country led to poor territorial control in the region and eventually caused a civil war. Resource abundance and secession movements also need to be taken into consideration for the natural resources. The regions that have been impacted by the resource inspired insurrections are inclusive of several elements that distinguish them from the non-rebellious regions (Zallé 2019). The civil war in Sudan was also driven in part by the dispute of distribution of benefits and the mineral wealth in the region and impacted the working of the government (Eshun 2022). This indicates that the availability of natural resources in a region has a severe impact on the governance and on the chances of the development of a civil war.
The question of why natural resources, in particular, have such a major impact on the incidence of civil war in a nation can be explained by two primary reasons. First, natural resources are a source of major profit. Secondly, the production of natural resources is tied to a specific location and thus cannot be specifically moved (Arslanalp et al. 2022). This results in making the natural resource firms highly susceptible to looting and further development of the civil war. Multiple examples are present in history that show how to rebel organisations have created an unrest in the regions (Mlambo 2022). These include UNITA in Angola, where diamonds worth millions were sold in the 1990s, the northern alliance of Afghanistan allowed annual sales of $40-60 million of lapis lazuli, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia sold timber and rubies, etc. (Theodosiou 2019). These examples indicate an improved understanding of certain factors that can help in deducing the nature of civil wars and their association with the natural resources. The countries that are rich in natural resources are often associated with the history of imperialism of, war, and conflict. Many of these conflicts have been directly associated with the world war II and have remained to be unresolved since. The looting of the natural resources of the countries, which became the primary agenda of the imperial powers during the world war led to the development of political and social unrest in the regions (Oligbi and Agara 2021). This also resulted in increased development of the rebel groups and fighting for a share of the profits that are earned through the export of the natural resources. In the current context, while the dependency on the natural resources impacts the governance of these regions, the international policies that fail to focus on the civil conflicts that are associated with the natural resources (Theodosiou 2019).
Natural resources have been closely associated with the incidence of civil wars and geopolitical unrest in the countries. However, while this correlation has been established, the causation of these factors has not been deduced with clarity. While it is implied that the natural resources alone are never the sole cause of a civil war, they are, however, one of the major contributing factors. The impact of war is on the involved individuals as well as on the bystanders. Yet, its incidence indicates a negotiation and beneficial aspects, mostly economic for the engaged individuals. The incidence of a civil war in places that are rich in natural resources has been primarily associated with the actions of rebel groups, poor management of resources and environmental and land deterioration and poor governance. The United Nations has also identified the stark correlation between natural resource wealth and the incidence of civil wars and has identified that in the last sixty years, about 40% of civil wars have been associated with the natural resources. This essay explores and summarises the links between the presence of natural resources and the incidence of civil wars. Based on the assessment in this essay, it can be concluded that natural resources play a prominent role and act as one of the key factors involved in a civil war. It can also be asserted that the civil war incidence is associated with multiple factors that are impacted by the natural resources. These include poor governance and high dependency on the natural resources. This makes the country's economy volatile and further facilitates the rise of civil war. High dependency of the economy on the natural resources is also related to the high infant mortality rates and general unrest in the nations. This essay outlines the theoretical aspects that identify the role of natural resources in development of civil wars and provides examples to provide an evidence-based discussion. This essay asserts that it is important to consider how many of these wars are a direct result of the imperial tendencies that emerged in the second world war. This discussion also concludes that natural resources play a significant role as being the factors associated with the incidence of a civil war.
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