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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .


Rethinking the Economics of War: The Intersection of Need, Creed, and Greed
Cynthia J. Aronson and I. William Zartman (eds.)

(Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington, DC, 2005) 320 pp, PB 15.50, ISBN 978-0801882975

Conflict research in the Cold War era chiefly concentrated on the political and ideological motivations of armed conflict. Inclusion of an economic perspective was limited to the role of poverty and inequality as underlying grievances that contributed to essentially political conflicts, with the resources required to sustain conflict also characterised as means to political ends. From the mid-90s, research began to emerge largely in response to the appearance that resources were emerging ?not as a means to an end but as the very object of struggle? (3), particularly in African countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Scholars such as Keen (1997) Berdal (1998) and Malone (2000) made seminal contributions to what has become known as the ?greed versus grievance? debate. The most influential scholarship in this field emerged from the work of Oxford economist Paul Collier who, while initially arguing against grievances as a root cause of conflict (1999, 2000), has since developed a more nuanced approach to the relationship between greed and grievance (2003).

This book therefore draws on this innovative scholarship in attempting to expand understandings of the interaction between explanations of the role of resources and greed in maintaining conflict with more established grievance-based explanations, thus taking a combined need, creed and greed approach, advanced originally by Zartman. In doing so, the book consists of ten chapters, situating previous thinking in the field and approaching the debate through a number of country case studies, including those that initiated interest in the economics of a war agenda (Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and some lesser known studies (Lebanon, Peru, Colombia and Afghanistan), none of which began as greed-based conflicts. Crucially, it also provides some policy considerations from some earlier scholars (Malone and Sherman) in terms of responding to economic agendas in civil wars. However, the case studies presented are not an international conflict inventory. Rather, each represents a conflict within which primary commodity-based economic resources ?played an important and observable role in the nature, duration, and intensity of conflict? (8) but were not, in themselves, of principal importance ? diamonds (Sierra Leone and Angola), oil (Angola, Lebanon and Colombia), minerals (Democratic Republic of the Congo), drugs (Lebanon, Peru, Colombia and Afghanistan), land acquisition and expatriate remittances (Lebanon), coffee (Colombia) and arms (Afghanistan).

This book, by presenting research from other scholars in the field, not only builds on previous path-breaking research by Collier, Keen, Malone and Berdal et al., but also offers a refreshing and more nuanced approach to the greed versus grievance debate through the need, creed and greed lens. In illustrating how violent conflict can be sustained by economic motivations, particularly when facilitated by global trading opportunities, it highlights ?the ongoing relevance of economics, politics and history to the understanding of internal armed conflict? (22), thus providing a stimulating and much-needed contribution to the literature of a complex field.


Dr. Sandra Buchanan, INCORE Associate, University of Ulster



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