Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Paging Patrick J. and The Best Friend

TD and I were talking this morning as we listened to NPR's report on the turmoil in Tibet. We start talking about other recent instances of unrest and violence: Darfur, Rwanda, Basque, the neverending Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He posits that at least in developing countries like Africa, if we could solve the problem of hunger, then people would fight less. "Hungry people revolt" or something to that effect. He has something there, of course. Scarce resources exacerbate the factionalism caused by underlying ethnic or religious tensions, as A fights B for scarce resource C, be that land, water, food, etc. And later today I got tipped off to this article in The Arabist that reports that Egypt is in an uproar over food shortages, and Tony Karon says it's possible that this will lead to the overthrow of the Egyptian government.

It's an interesting empirical question though: hunger, or extreme lack of resources and the resultant fighting over such resources by ethnic/religious factions is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for uprising, but how many genocides or revolutions have occurred in absence of conflict over scarce resources? Is religious/ethnic conflict enough? Surely, but these motives are hard to tease apart when they correspond to issues of ownership over any type of resource, particularly land. It's not so much that one is a proxy for another, but rather that the causes of unrest and violence are complex and multi-faceted and thus solutions must necessarily also be complex--distributing food to blighted war-torn countries is just the first step. Also, I am so pessimistic as to believe humans capable of great violence over ideologies, identities, animus. The Crusades come to mind. Political principles and conflicting ideas over sovereignty and independence are plenty enough reason to start a war, or at least be a main cause: The Civil War, Basque separatism for another. The tricky thing is, resource-access/political power/sovereignty are all bound in each other, and thus all confluent causes of conflict.

Patrick, what do you think? You are Mr. Grad Student in Political Science doing work on conflict and intervention. Also, TBF, don't you policy analysis in conflict resolution and stability operations? I am speaking as the most uninformed lay person who reads the newspaper now that I no longer use my almost-minor in international relations. My readers would benefit from your expertise.


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