One of the first articles talking about the resource curse was written by Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner in 2001 – they posited a link between an abundance of resources and less developmental growth. As discussed in our second lecture on the causes of conflict
, Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler published a famous 2004 paper on greed vs. grievance
as reasons to start a war; they linked the greed hypothesis to a surplus of valuable resources.
Rebels, the logic went, can loot these resources and use them to finance their rebellions. This argument received a lot of attention at the time, and the resource curse became linked to greed discourses that claimed that the presence of valuable resources can make it harder to main peace and resist conflict onset.
This interpretation was not without challengers, however. One of these came from James Fearon, a political scientist who, with David Laitin in 2003, promoted an alternative explanation for conflict onset: weak states
and the opportunities
they provide to rebel groups. In 2005, Fearon expanded this argument in response to greed discourses by writing that, without weak state control, rebels would never have had the opportunity to loot resources and fund themselves. For him, this explains why resource-rich countries with stronger state structures see less violence than resource-rich but unstable states
Other factors that complicate these arguments include what kind of resource we're talking about. Agriculture, oil and minerals may all affect conflict differently, and may intersect with different socio-political factors in unpredictable ways. There's also a different between diffuse resources
, which are spread over large areas (fields, forests), and point resources
, which are extracted at particular sites (mines, oil refineries). You can't loot all resources in the same way, either – diamonds are easier to steal than oil.
But even with these disputes in the literature, it became clear that researchers needed to start paying closer attention to resources in conflict. Siri claims that from 50-60% of global conflicts since 1963 have involved natural resources, with a high percentage of these found in Africa.
Broadly speaking, these researchers became interested in any conflict in which resources were a prominent factor. The war might be over resource control, but it could also be financed by resources. There have also been many conflicts over land rights and how land is to be used – farmer vs. herder conflicts are a prominent example of this.
Once these became a popular area of study, different researchers started to specialize in particular resources so as to learn more about the complex dynamics involved. Oil and diamonds were popular subjects, with both receiving national and even Hollywood attention (Syriana
(2005), Blood Diamond
(2006)), but forests, mines and crop fields were also studied.