Revisiting the Greed and Grievance Explanations for Violent Internal Conflict
Author: Syed Mansoob Murshed, Mohammad Zulfan Tadjoeddin
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This Journal of International Development article assesses two recent explanations for the onset of internal conflict: greed and grievance. The former reflects elite competition over valuable natural resource rents. The latter argues that relative deprivation, and the grievance it produces, fuels conflict. However, this article argues that neither the presence of greed or grievance is sufficient for the outbreak of violent conflict. Violent conflict requires institutional breakdown, or the failure of the social contract.
Pure versions of the greed hypothesis are, on their own, unsatisfactory explanations for the causes of conflict. In reality the competing greed versus grievance hypotheses may be complementary explanations for conflict. The greed explanation for conflict duration and secessionist wars works in cross-country studies, but has to make way for grievance-based arguments in quantitative country case studies. Grievances and horizontal inequalities may be better at explaining why conflicts begin, but not necessarily why they persist. Neither the presence of greed or grievance is sufficient for the outbreak of violent conflict, something which requires institutional breakdown, which we describe as the failure of the social contract.
The breakdown of the social contract captures institutional malfunctioning and it is also crucial in transforming grievances into collective violence. A failing social contract may be the real signal of the risk of civil war.
- In certain instances, where there are substantial quantities of natural resource wealth, greed may be the dominant factor prolonging conflict, but without group formation (for which some historical grievances are important), violent collective action cannot take place.
- Some societies, despite having conditions pre-disposing them to civil war, such as horizontal inequality, polarisation and natural resource rents, do not descend into conflict.
- For the forces behind either greed or grievance to take the form of large-scale violence there must be other factors at work, specifically a weakening of the ‘social contract’. This is similar to the weak state capacity, and by implication poor institutional quality.
- Even if rents from capturable resources do constitute a sizeable prize, violent conflict is unlikely to take hold if a country has a framework of widely agreed rules.
- Such a viable social contract can be sufficient to restrain, if not eliminate, opportunistic behaviour such as large-scale theft of resource rents, and the violent expression of grievance.
The degradation of the social contract is more likely in the context of poverty and growth failure.
- As yet, no empirical models at the level of cross-national analysis exist to properly test for the relative power of greed vis-a-vis horizontal inequality type grievances in explaining conflict onset.
- Greed and grievance can and do co-exist; because one breeds the other a model of their simultaneous determination is required, along with the contribution of poverty (which is chiefly about the lack of growth) and institutional quality.
- Furthermore, the existing econometric literature regarding the causes of conflict allows us to infer little about the true nature of the causal links between the phenomena examined.
- The most robustly significant predictor of conflict risk and its duration is some indicator of economic prosperity. At a higher income people have more to lose from the destructiveness of conflict; and higher per-capita income implies a better functioning social contract, institutions and state capacity.
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Murshed, S. M. and Tadjoeddin, M. Z., 2009, 'Revisiting the Greed and Grievance Explanations for Violent Internal Conflict', Journal of International Development, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 87-111
Syed Mansoob Murshed