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What Do We Know about Natural Resources and Civil War?


  • Michael L. Ross

    (Department of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles,


Since the late 1990s, there has been a flood of research on natural resources and civil war. This article reviews 14 recent cross-national econometric studies, and many qualitative studies, that cast light on the relationship between natural resources and civil war. It suggests that collectively they imply four underlying regularities: first, oil increases the likelihood of conflict, particularly separatist conflict; second, ‘lootable’ commodities like gemstones and drugs do not make conflict more likely to begin, but they tend to lengthen existing conflicts; third, there is no apparent link between legal agricultural commodities and civil war; and finally, the association between primary commodities - a broad category that includes both oil and agricultural goods - and the onset of civil war is not robust. The first section discusses the evidence for these four regularities and examines some theoretical arguments that could explain them. The second section suggests that some of the remaining inconsistencies among the econometric studies may be caused by differences in the ways they code civil wars and cope with missing data. The third section highlights some further aspects of the resource-civil war relationship that remain poorly understood.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael L. Ross, 2004. "What Do We Know about Natural Resources and Civil War?," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 41(3), pages 337-356, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:41:y:2004:i:3:p:337-356

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