Reappraising the greed and grievance explanations for violent internal conflict

Abstract

Two phenomena have been recently utilised to explain conflict onset among rational choice analysts: 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. Central to grievance are concepts of inter-ethnic or horizontal inequality. Identity formation is also crucial to intra-state conflict, as it overcomes the collective action problem. Conflict can rarely be explained by greed alone, yet, the greed versus grievance hypotheses may be complementary explanations for conflict. The greed explanation for conflict duration and secessionist wars works best 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 degradation of the social contract is more likely in the context of poverty and growth failure. The paper provides a synthesis of the greed and grievance hypotheses, ending with comments on post-conflict reconstruction.

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