Book Launch - Rethinking the Economics of War: The Intersection of Need, Creed, and Greed

November 01, 2005 // 3:00pm4:30pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Africa Program

Cynthia J. Arnson, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
I. William Zartman, The Johns Hopkins University, SAIS
Marc Chernick, Georgetown University
Cynthia McClintock, The George Washington University

The Latin American Program hosted a discussion of the newly-published book, Rethinking the Economics of War: The Intersection of Need, Creed, and Greed, co-edited by Cynthia J. Arnson, deputy director of the Latin American Program, and I. William Zartman, director of the Conflict Management Program at SAIS.

Arnson outlined the historical origins of the economics of war debate. During the Cold War, economic factors such as poverty and inequality were viewed as underlying causes of grievance that fueled rebellions with political aims; that is, the quest for resources served principally as a means to an end defined in political terms. Since the end of the Cold War, and largely in response to the 1990s conflicts in Central Africa, economic resources came to be seen as an issue defining the objectives or ends of violent internal conflict. The control of territory and populations acquired economic as well as strategic or military significance, with elites and armed factions waging war as a path to personal enrichment.

Arnson traced the evolution of scholarship on economic agendas in civil wars, highlighting especially the work of British political scientist David Keen and World Bank economist Paul Collier. Both played down grievance-based explanations for civil war, focusing instead on what Collier referred to as "opportunities for primary commodity predation" and those factors that made wars feasible or durable. Arnson underscored the degree to which the current book takes the insights on war economies while incorporating political, social and historical factors as well.

Cynthia McClintock, professor of political science at The George Washington University, traced the convergence of need, creed and greed in Peru's war against Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). McClintock emphasized need-based explanations of the origins of the insurgency, indicating that the insurgency first took root in the countryside in Peru's poorest region, later spreading to urban areas as the country experienced an economic decline that was extreme even by Latin American standards. She also said that Sendero's Marxist principles and Maoist ideology appealed to those who had been victimized by poverty and inequality, at a time of expanding educational opportunities due to other government reforms.

Although Sendero earned substantial income from coca in the late 1980s, McClintock said, the conflict never entered a greed phase in which resources became the objective of armed struggle. Sendero's "strategic defeat" followed the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzmán, and was due in part to new government investments in social programs. Sendero has regrouped in coca-growing areas, McClintock affirmed, but not in ways that constitute a threat to the Peruvian state.

Marc Chernick, professor of government at Georgetown University, discussed the greed debate with reference to Colombia's sixty-four-year conflict. He said that Collier's emphasis on greed, not grievance, is attractive to governments, as it allows them to de-legitimize insurgents and characterize conflicts such as Colombia's as avarice- and drug-fueled. Under greater scrutiny, however, Chernick argued that greed actually reveals little if anything about the causes of wars or how they end.

According to Chernick, the Colombian conflict has changed drastically over time, with the country going through strikingly different periods of commodity booms (particularly coffee) and resource extraction. Although the FARC guerrillas have built a major army by relying on criminal activities centered on the cocaine trade, Chernick argued that drug-related or other income does not fully explain the existence and persistence of conflict in the country. He insisted that the FARC has maintained its political agenda for an extended period of time, and that the guerrillas would seek to offset reductions in their income from narcotics with other resource-generating activity, including kidnapping.

I. William Zartman described all conflicts as rooted in basic needs, identity, and resources. To make a claim that only one aspect is at play is misguided as well as uninteresting. What is more important, he argued, is how the three factors are related and how those relationships change over time. Although not all poverty leads to conflict, Zartman emphasized the motor role of deprivation of basic needs in generating conflict. Issues of identity or creed become a factor when deprivation gets framed as discrimination against a particular group identified in ethnic, racial, or religious terms. Resources, too, constitute one of the stakes over which conflict is fought. The role of a political entrepreneur is critical to understanding how subjective reactions are turned into the objective conditions of conflict.

Once conflict has begun, it can produce one of several outcomes: a clear set of winners and losers; a stalemate where grievances can be addressed; or an "S5 Situation," defined as a soft, stable, self-serving stalemate. An S5 situation arises when parties are unable to prevail over one other but are not necessarily suffering, as each party has its own territory and resources to ensure survival. It is at this stage, Zartman argued, that greed enters the equation: parties are more and more reliant on resources to keep the conflict going, but as they improve their fortunes, they pay less and less attention to grievances. Conflicts become very difficult to resolve once they have entered the greed phase. Because of the potential for self-sustaining deadlock, Zartman advocated efforts to address grievances at an early stage.

Rethinking the Economics of War: The Intersection of Need, Creed, and Greed is distributed by The Johns Hopkins University Press. The price is $55.00 for hardcover and $22.95 for paperback.


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