Economic and Political Causes of Conflict: An Overview and Some Policy Implications

Date: Jul, 2014
CRISE Working Paper No. 81
Author(s): Graham K Brown and Frances Stewart

Civil war continues to be a major feature of contemporary developing countries, and a source of underdevelopment. Although much contemporary conflict seems to be about political, ethnic, or religious differences, in fact these conflicts generally have an economic and a political basis This paper reviews the major theories that  have been put forward to explain this generally harmful and dysfunctional  phenomenon. It covers both theories that emphasise individual motives as the prime explanation of conflict and those that focus more on group motivations.. Horizontal inequalities (or inequalities among groups) form one fundamental economic and political cause. Others include poor economic opportunities and deficient social services leading to a failed social contract, environmental degradation, and the potential enrichment that accompanies some conflicts. These motives have global as well as domestic dimensions.

Appropriate policies depend on the specific situation; notably, which of these underlying causes is most applicable. For prevention, it is imperative to address political as well as economic inequalities. Many of the policies needed for conflict prevention and for the protection of people during war differ from the policies currently advocated (and often required) by the international development community, especially by the international financial institutions. The new security environment has increased the global nature of conflicts and supported governments’ capacity to repress rebellions, but it has not addressed the underlying economic, social, or political causes.

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