What Causes Civil Wars?

What Causes Civil War?

Between 1945 and 1999, about 3.33 million battle deaths occurred in the 25 interstate wars that killed at least 1,000 and had at least 100 dead on each side.” (Fearon and Laitin 2003) This quote reveals that although civil wars are only occurring in a relatively small geographical area of the world they are a major cause of death in todays world. The hypothesis for this essay is there are many factors that contribute to the cause of civil war. While the thesis for this essay is the combined factors of mountainous terrain, natural resources, level that a state has democratized, economic growth and ethnicity and religion all contribute to the commencing of a civil war, with specific attention being placed of civil wars in subsaharan Africa in the years 1945-1999 . I chose subsaharan Africa as it has a high occurrence of civil wars in recent years, with almost a third of its’ countries having active civil wars during the mid-1990s. (Blattman and Miguel 2010) I will be using Fearon and Laitin (2003) definition of civil war:
They [civil wars] involved fighting between agents of (or claimants to) a state and organized, nonstate groups who sought either to take control of a government, to take power in a region, or to use violence to change government policies.
The conflict killed at least 1,000 over its course, with a yearly average of at least 100.
At least 100 were killed on both sides (including civilians attacked by rebels).
All the civil wars that will be looked at in this essay will all fit the criteria listed above.
The main argument to this theory is that ethnicity is not a major cause of civil war. This is argued in Fearon and Laitin (2003, 2007), Blattman and Miguel (2010), Montalvo and Reynal-Querol (2005) and Bruckner and Ciccone (2010), however Haynes (2007) claims that ethnicity was a significant cause of civil war in subsaharan Africa. Fearon and Laitin (2003) create a number of hypothesis linking ethnicity to the causes of civil war, for example “countries with an ethnic majority and a significant ethnic minority are at greater risk for civil war” (Fearon and Laitin 2003 p.78), they then attempt to disprove each hypothesis and hence show ethnicity is not a major factor in the cause of civil wars. Although it is a rather unorthodox method of presenting a point of view it does in fact logically show that ethnicity is an insignificant factor in causing civil wars compared to other factors, such as the level of democracy in a state or economic growth, which play a much greater role. Haynes (2007) makes a weak argument that ethnicity is a leading factor in the cause of civil wars and is hypocritical on a number of occasions in his article, for example he claims that is the economy is productive and ethnic groups consider they are well represented on a political level then peace can be maintained. By stating this Haynes (2007) is implying that levels of democracy and economic growth are more important to avoiding a civil war than ethnicity.
In this essay I am going to argue that the independent variables: mountainous terrain, certain natural resources such as diamonds or oil, level of democracy in a state, economic growth and productive and to a lesser extent ethnicity and religion, combined together to form the causal mechanism and result in the dependent variable of civil war.
Mountainous terrain is a key ingredient needed for insurgents and rebels before they resort to taking up arms against their state. “Insurgency is a technology of military conflict characterized by small, lightly armed bands practicing guerrilla warfare from rural base areas.” (Fearon and Laitin 2003 p.75) Mountains allow a relatively low number of insurgents, compared with government forces, to commence guerrilla war against the state from the safety of rough terrain that is often inaccessible to the state army as it is usually a great distance from the seat of power in a state and poorly serviced by roads. (Fearon and Laitin 2003) Mountains provide a safe haven for rebels, hence they act as an encouraging factor for them to start a civil war.
The variety of natural resources available in a country can also increase the likelihood of internal conflict. Rebels are provided with an opportunity for rebellion as these resources can be used to generate finance for the purchase of arms and pay the wages of insurgents. ( Montalvo and Reynal-Querol 2005) “Land that supports the production of high-value, low-weight goods such as coca, opium, diamonds, and other contraband” (Fearon and Laitin 2003) can be harvest easily by insurgents and used for their own benefit. The presence of oil in a state, although it generates major income for a state it usually leads to a weak government and neglect of a state’s infrastructure as the government doesn’t depend on citizens taxes to raise revenues. This neglect of a state’s citizens due to the presence of oil can drive some citizens to rebellion as “oil revenues raise the value of the ‘prize’ of controlling state power” (Fearon and Laitin 2003 p.81) This was a factor in the cause of civil war in subsaharan country of Sudan. ( Haynes 2007)
The regime type of a country must be taken into account when studying the causes of civil wars. Countries which operate under authoritarian regimes are far more likely to enter into internal conflict than countries which have been stable democracies for at least two years. Minority people living in countries with authoritarian regime are more likely to join together and attack the government as they are of the opinion that they are not represented properly at bureaucratic level. Blattman and Miguel (2010 p.28) state that “regimes with restricted competition and some repression of political participation (anocracies) exhibit the highest relative risk of war, especially those regimes classified as partly democratic”. “The authoritarian nature of successive governments” (Haynes 2007 p.314) in Sudan was most certainly a major cause of its’ three decade civil war which started in the 1970s. Countries that meaningfully democratize, so that an increasing number of citizens feel they are properly represented by those in power can dramatically reduce the possibility of civil war. (Haynes 2007)
Poor economic growth and prospects can often speed up the on set of internal conflict in a country. Haynes (2007) claims that economic and developmental failures that occur under regimes that do not have the ability to deal with them have been a significant cause of civil war in Africa. Blattman and Miguel (2010) state that internal conflict is more likely to occur in countries that are poor with low per capita income and slow growth income, are more susceptible to negative income shocks and have weak state institutions that cannot deal with these factors. Most households in subsaharan Africa rely on rain-fed agriculture as their only income so when drought occurs this causes large reductions in income. Blattman and Miguel (2010) created a formula to measure income growth for subsaharan households by measuring rainfall levels in the region, they hypothesis that “a five percent drop in income growth increases the likelihood of a civil conflict in the following year by up to ten percentage points, or nearly one half” (Blattman and Miguel 2010 p.25) this highlights the significance that income shocks have on the commencing of civil wars in subsaharan Africa. This argument is also backed up by Bruckner and Ciccone (2010) who claim that international commodity prices play a significant part in causing civil war in Africa, their empirical results highlight that negative shocks to commodities do make civil war more likely, for example “between 1981 and 2006, a 20% year-to-year drop in countries’ export indices raised the probability of war outbreak by around 2.8 percentage points” (Bruckner and Ciccone 2010 p.531) If the economic prospects of a country are low with a bleak future then many young people see the only option available to them is joining an insurgent group and fighting for change with the hope that it will bring them a more prosperous future.
A persons ethnicity is not a significant cause for them to take up arms against a state even if they are in a minority, however many rebel groups found themselves around ethnic groups as it enables easier organization, identification and can have members from various classes in society, hence the wealthy provide the capital and the poor provide the labour for the conflict. Fearon and Laitin (2003) claim that ethnic diversity only causes civil war indirectly in circumstances where is causes low per capita income or a weak government. Fearon, Kimulikasara and Laitin (2007) researched whether countries, whose leader was a member of a minority ethnic group in that state, were more likely to engage in internal conflict. However, they came to the conclusion that countries with this criteria were only marginally more prone to civil war, further proving that ethnicity is not a major factor the causes of civil war. Blattman and Miguel (2010) suggest that the consistent use of ethnic data in research on the cause of civil war is because it is straightforward to calculate, rather that because it gives overwhelming convincing results. The civil war in Uganda although fought along ethnic lines began as a response to the state being unable to “establish an effective administrative structure” (Haynes 2007 p.310) or maintain any stable economic development for the impoverished Acholi. Ethnicity therefore cannot be considered to be a major factor in causing civil wars.
To conclude it is clear that there are many different factors that contribute to the causes of civil war and as each state is different it is very difficult to predict when a civil war is going to begin. Poor terrain, abundance of natural resources that are easily harvested and sold as contraband, authoritarian regimes or weak democratic government and low per capita income along with a weak economy that relies on factors such as rainfall, all contribute to civil war outbreaks in subsaharan African countries such as Uganda and Sudan. Much of the literature on this topic is based on ethnicity and how it contributes as a factor in causing civil wars. However it seems that much of the recent research on this topic is proving that ethnicity is in fact a weak root cause of civil war as can be seen in the outbreak of civil war in the homogenous country of Somalia. Although it is difficult to gather reliable data on why people resort to taking up arms against their own state this is an area in which more research most be done in order to lower the risk of further civil wars beginning in already struggling nations especially nations of subsaharan Africa.

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