Civil wars are hugely important events in the cultural and political histories of people and states. In this sample essay, we’ll explain how civil wars can be extraordinarily violent and characterized by extreme discrimination and prejudice on behalf of the victors. Sadly, civil wars are often sparked by conflicts over natural resources and the ways in which a country’s wealth can cause tension between areas of the country.
Civil wars and natural resources
A civil war is characterized by the fact that the war is fought within a nation between two factions within the nation. The causes of a civil war can be over political reasons due to disputes in the way a country should be run. The goal of a civil war is usually to determine which side will take control over the other. Also the goal could for an underrepresented group of individuals to gain autonomy or more equal representation. In recent decades civil wars have shifted into becoming a conflict less over political reasons but more so for control over natural resources over a country. Civil wars can have drastic consequences for a country’s political parties, natural resources and on state formation within the nation itself.
Civil wars start with political division
Political divisions have frequently been the cause of civil wars in the past. If factions within the government have difficulty coming to an agreement the conflict may arise to a civil war if it is not resolved. The political division within the government at times come from a faction of the government wanting to make changes while the leading party wants to maintain the status quo. An example of the way in which political divisions can lead to civil war can be found in the most prolific civil war, the American Civil War was fought because two factions of the government were in opposition over the practice of slavery. While the violence in the war was geared to achieve political goals not all civil wars are as political.
Civil war can be differentiated by other forms of political violence, in which groups of people or a form of political party resort to violence to achieve political goals. Political violence can come in the form of genocide, counter-insurgency or torture. Civil war can be differentiated from other forms of political violence as at times it involves the division of a country itself. Civil wars have largely been found to be over natural resources which other forms of political violence are not. “According to Collier and Hoeffler states that rely heavily on the export of primary commodities face a higher risk of civil war than resource-poor states” (Ross, 35). Civil wars tend to disproportionately affect weaker, poorer countries rather than established, richer nations. Rather than other forms of political violence which may target a specific group, civil wars target a whole entire population who may have a different political ideology from them.
Civil wars and national resolution
Through a form of political violence, civil wars can lead to drastic consequences for the citizens of its nation. Civil wars can also shape the way a nation is shaped. In order to resolve a civil war at times resolutions can be made which result in the formation of new nations with the division of a nation. This has occurred in mainly African civil war conflicts in which new nations have emerged as a result of the conflict. In his comparative study of Africa and Eurasia he found that these continents were more likely to be involved in a civil war conflict which led to the formation of new countries.
“We argue that, despite important differences between the two historical experiences, conditions surrounding state formation in Africa and post-Soviet Eurasia have inhibited the formation of stable and legitimate states and have made war more likely” (Beissinger, np).
The conflicts in Africa that have led to the formation of new states have largely been a cause of a fight over food and water security, and other natural resources especially in impoverished countries.
Civil wars have largely resulted from a fight over natural resources.
“The “natural resources” that cause these problems are largely oil and hard-rock minerals – including oil, gold, coltan, diamonds, and other gemstones…Resource-related conflicts may pose special problems for the states of Africa” (Collier, 3).
State formation can occur if a faction within the group would like control over the natural resources of country. By creating a whole new nation the faction can have complete power over the resources which leads to increased wealth. A weak government which improperly manages its natural resources through corruption or other forms of mismanagement can lead to civil war within the country. Civil wars over natural resources are often led by greed and personal gain rather than political decisions over what is best for the country as leaders attempt to control the resources while they spill the blood of their citizens.
Sudan: A case study
Sudan is an example of a country in which factions within the country have attempted to form its own nation for the purpose of controlling the resources of the country. According to data collected by Ross, South Sudan’s oil is the coveted resource that has led to a conflict that has been in existence since 1983. Sudan was embroiled in its first civil war in 1955 when a faction in the government wanted more representation and autonomy when it felt the government was making decisions not in their favor. The second civil war which began in 1983 was fought over control of the oil in the southern region of Sudan.
These conflicts led to the formation of a new nation, South Sudan. Although South Sudan obtained its goal of independence from Sudan, conflicts continue to occur with Sudan over control of the oil and the formation of a pipeline whose control is also disputed. Sudan demonstrates the way in which a civil war can be fought over natural resources and leads to the formation of a new nation despite its continued instability.
Another African country which has been plagued by civil war is Sierra Leone. The civil war began in 1991 and was over diamonds in the region. It was in response to the government’s mishandling of the natural resources of diamonds in the region when a rebel faction began taking over the control of the diamonds. The civil war finally ended after a decade once outside western nations such as the United Kingdom at first assisted Sierra Leone make a deal with the rebel faction and once this was ineffective eventually assisted in crushing the rebel faction. The example of Sierra Leone demonstrates the way in which ineffective handling of a nation’s resources can also contribute to civil war within a country.
Although civil wars are the most common occurring forms of conflict they are the least publicized in comparison to conflicts between two different nations. As researchers have found in their studies of civil war conflicts the most common cause of civil war conflicts in the modern world have been conflicts over natural resources. The mismanagement of these resources causes strife as many underdeveloped countries governments are incapable of being able to adequately manage its resources. These conflicts last decades as countries have difficulty negotiating or coming to terms over valuable resources.
These conflicts lead to the formation of new nations which physically alter the global landscape. In being able to determine the causes of civil wars, policy changes can be put into place in order to be able to prevent them. By understanding that natural resources can lead to civil wars the United Nations can work with developing nations to be able to assist them with managing their natural resources leading to decreased chances of the nation becoming involved in a civil war. These policies could save the lives of millions and allow developing nations to continue their development without the regression that a civil war brings.
Collier, Paul. Breaking the conflict trap: Civil war and development policy. World Bank, 2003.
Beissinger, Mark R., and Crawford Young. Beyond State Crisis?: Postcolonial Africa and
Post-Soviet Eurasia in Comparative Perspective. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson
Center, 2002. Print.
Ross, Michael. “Natural resources and civil war: an overview with some policy options.” Draft report
prepared for The Governance of Natural Resources Revenues Conference, sponsored by
the World Bank and the Agence Française de Développement, Paris. 2002.