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Digging Deeper: Don’t Blame Your Resources, Blame The Environment

This article analyses the arguments linking resource scarcity to violent conflict. It is structured around the assumption that by focusing on the economic, political, and social conditions of a specific country, the relationship between resource scarcity and violent conflict could be better explained. The author argues that certain conditions in recourse-scarce countries can explain why violent conflict may break out, and arranges these conditions into three hypotheses:

  • A country that shows high levels of corruption, weak political institutions or excluded ethnic groups will experience violent conflict.
  • A country with high poverty and/or high levels of agricultural dependence will experience violent conflict.
  • A country that experiences violent conflict has a low level of human ingenuity.

These hypotheses were tested by examining thirty-one countries with limited resources: fifteen that experienced violent conflict and sixteen that didn’t experience violent conflict.

Interestingly, the findings pointed to two lesser-known factors of violent conflict in resource-scarce countries: agricultural dependency and higher education. The author found that agricultural dependence, poverty, and low attendance of higher education (i.e. universities, colleges, trade or technical training) are strong indicators for violent conflict. Comparably, agricultural independence and increased attendance in higher education are strong indicators that a resource-scarce country will not experience violent conflict.

Furthermore, ties between climate change and violent conflict were found. The research showed that a country’s dependence on agriculture is directly related to their vulnerability to climate change. If the changing climate further lowers agricultural yields, then an already desperate country or region would be in dire need of additional food and economic aid, providing greater incentive to use violent methods to obtain their agricultural needs.

 

Relevance

The research ties environmental concerns and the importance of higher education to the field of Peace and Conflict Studies. Although the article doesn’t address the overall question of whether resource scarcity causes conflict, related contributing factors suggest a connection —a resource-scarce country’s dependence on agriculture contributes to an increased probability of violent conflict.

Education is considered a universal human right and draws generous funding in the humanitarian aid world. More attention can be drawn to the education-conflict correlation, especially the benefit of continuing education to higher levels.

Talking Points

  • In resource-scarce countries, agricultural dependence and poverty contribute to violent conflict.
  • In resource-scarce countries, agricultural independence decreases the likelihood of violent conflict.
  • In resource-scarce countries, low attendance levels in higher education contributes to violent conflict.
  • In resource-scarce countries, high attendance levels in higher education decreases the likelihood of violent conflict.

Practical Implications

This study provides evidence of the link between the environment and conflict. More attention could be given to the agricultural sustainability of conflict prone areas by increasing agricultural training programs and redirecting funding to related projects. In that regard humanitarian and development organizations benefit from the insights. Additional benefit could be seen in encouraging education beyond the secondary (high school) level. This could be applied in tandem with the above initiatives by supporting agriculture related technical training in addition to increased access to higher education.

 

Key Findings: Agricultural dependence, poverty, and low attendance of higher education (i.e. universities, colleges, trade or technical training) are strong indicators for violent conflict. Comparably, agricultural independence and increased attendance in higher education are strong indicators that a resource-scarce country will not experience violent conflict.

Key Words: resource scarcity, violent conflict, climate change, resource conflict

Citation: Bretthauer, J. M. (2014). Conditions for Peace and Conflict Applying a Fuzzy-Set Qualitative Comparative Analysis to Cases of Resource Scarcity. Journal of Conflict Resolution. 59(4), 593-616.

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