Greedy outsiders or rentier effect? National resource abundance and international conflicts onset



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This study analyzes the effects of natural resources on international conflicts. There is no shortage of brilliant works on the effects of natural resources on domestic conflicts. The same, however, does not apply to the study of the association between resources and international conflicts. This is especially valid regarding the deficiency of large N studies. It seems that too much emphasis on the Malthusian idea of scarcity has been partially responsible for this outcome. Therefore, the current paper detaches itself from the traditional approach and relies on the concept of resource abundance instead. Inspired by the resource curse literature, the switch to abundance introduces the lateral pressure and the rentier state theories into the study of the linkages between natural resources and international conflicts, the primary contributions of this paper. A fundamental byproduct of this theoretical shift is the ease with which empirical studies of the subject matter can be conducted, and this paper attempts to be an early concrete example in this regard.

There are two causal mechanisms devised to connect natural resources to international conflicts. In the first of them, termed as the “greedy outsiders mechanism,†resource-rich states become the direct targets of foreign nations because of the potential benefits such resources offer to challengers. In the second one, referred to as the “rentier effect,†resource-rich states indirectly become susceptible to involvement in interstate conflicts due to increased military expenditures, less accountable governments and domestic instabilities. I turn to the lateral pressure and the rentier state theories respectively to examine the two mechanisms in question. There is overall support for the related hypotheses developed in this paper. Most measurements for natural resources are positively and significantly associated with international conflicts. Empirical tests show that resource-rich states are more likely to be targeted, and among the potential initiators one can single out contiguous states and major powers. When it comes to the indirect rentier effect, there appears a variation between two categories of natural resources - energy and minerals. Only energy variables significantly increase the level of military expenditures for country-years, which in turn gives rise to more frequent militarized disputes between states involving the use of force.

Despite the finding that energy earnings result neither in higher levels of domestic instability nor in more autonomous governments, I explore the possibility that these two variables’ effects on interstate conflicts are still conditional on the increased levels of energy. New relationships emerge when intervention is interpreted this way. Domestic instabilities and more autonomous governments result in more international conflicts if they happen to exist in energy-rich nations.



International conflict, Natural resources