Civil conflict has systematically been related to measures of social grievance such as inequality, political repression, and ethnic and religious divisions, rather than to economic conditions. Rebellion is seen as the ultimate protest movement. However, these objective grievances and hatreds are not usually the cause of violent conflict. Civil wars occur where rebel organisations are financially viable, when they have opportunities to raise revenue. What motivates civil wars: greed or grievance? Why is rebellion not like protest? What conditions make predatory rebellions profitable?
By analysing the pattern of conflict during the period of 1965-99 in 47 countries, this World Bank document claims that, although grievances and hatreds can generate intense conflict, they provide no explanatory power in predicting rebellions. Political conflicts generated by social complaints do not tend to escalate into violent conflict. The sole exception to this is that in situations of ethnic dominance – with or without democracy – minorities (or majorities) may take to the gun. By contrast, economic characteristics (dependence on primary commodity exports, low average incomes, slow growth, and large diasporas) are all significant and powerful predictors of civil war.
Because the economic dimensions of civil war have been largely neglected, both governments and the international community have missed substantial opportunities for promoting peace. Other findings include:
- Conflict is not caused by divisions, rather it actively needs to create them. Thus, the war produces the intense political conflict, not the intense political conflict the war
- The motivation of conflict is unimportant; it is the feasibility of predation which determines the risk of conflict
- Countries that have a substantial share of their income (GDP) coming from the export of primary commodities are radically more at risk of conflict. An economy which is dependent upon them offers plenty of opportunities for predator rebellion
- Low income is another important risk factor. It lowers the capacity of governments to spend on defense making rebel predation easier
- Diverse societies have a much lower risk of rebellion than homogenous societies (with the sole exception of ethnic dominance)
- Rich diasporas are dangerous because they can afford to finance vengeance and above all, they do not have to suffer any of the awful consequences of renewed conflict because they are not living in the country.
Since to date conflict prevention has paid scant attention to these causes of conflict, there is probably considerable scope for policy, both domestic and international, to prevent civil conflict more effectively. Policy implications include:
- Policies for conflict prevention and for post-conflict have to be treated differently
- To reduce the risk of conflict, governments and the international community can defuse the risk from their primary commodity exports, generate rapid growth, and provide credible guarantees to minorities
- In post-conflict societies where people have got used to violence, habits of peaceful conflict have to replace those of violent conflict
- Peace campaigns also have to target diasporas.