Natural resource exploitation has been extensively analysed as a potential source of conflict and a constraint on peace and stability. Studies have continued to demonstrate how ineffective or inequitable arrangements for resource extraction can reignite or exacerbate conflict, perpetuating social and economic grievances and horizontal inequalities. There appears to be relatively little literature and few empirical studies assessing the positive contribution of natural resource exploitation to peacebuilding processes. Evidence of this link is currently limited to isolated, ad hoc case studies, which typically emphasise the complex and ‘messy’ dynamics of the relationship between resource exploitation and conflict at the local level and conclude contextual factors are important in determining the success or otherwise of donor interventions in this area.
In spite of limited ‘concrete’ evidence there is considerable consensus that well-managed natural resource exploitation can under certain conditions support wider peacebuilding processes. In this regard, the question of what constitutes ‘proper management’ becomes critical, and has been central to recent debates about the role of natural resource exploitation in peacebuilding. A good deal of analysis has focused on the factors influencing natural resource management, specifically, how the nature of institutions, the local resource economy, and relationships between stakeholders may influence peacebuilding outcomes at the local level.
A number of recent donor post-conflict assessments and policy papers have analysed the potential role of natural resources in supporting (or undermining) peacebuilding, and there is ongoing research being undertaken in this area. Well-managed natural resource exploitation can contribute to peacebuilding by:
- helping fulfil basic needs and generating livelihoods opportunities in the immediate post-conflict period
- stimulating the economy and generating tax revenue (which can support state-building)
- strengthening wider governance by promoting transparent institutions
- possibly promoting collaboration and cooperation between formerly or potentially antagonistic social groups at the community level.
Whilst issues around natural resource exploitation are considered an important element of all post-conflict peacebuilding interventions, they are seen as particularly important in countries that have experienced resource-related conflicts: where natural resources have had a determining role in conflict, they may also be crucial in determining the prospects for peace.