Tropical Timber and Armed Conflict

Jan 2005 – Dec 2005

MA Thesis in Political Science at the NTNU.
PRIO supervisor: Nils Petter Gleditsch, CSCW

Since the mid 90s the research on the relationship between natural resources and civil war took off. Previous work done on natural resources’ relationship with conflict and civil war has used only one variable to indicate natural resources. For instance Collier and Hoeffler (2001) use the measure ratio of primary commodity export to GDP.

But in the later years several scholars have been looking at whether all types of resources or only a subset of them are linked to conflict. Studies have shown that only studying natural resources by using one variable can very inaccurate. Due to the fact that many of the natural resources gathered in a variable, such as the one used by Collier and Hoeffler, have different qualities and will therefore act in relation with conflict. Surface diamonds are for example much easier to extract than deep-shaft diamonds. To be able to benefit form the rent from oil one need highly advanced technology and knowledge compared to timber logging. Resources such as diamonds and drugs would be easier to smuggle compared to oil and timber. Because of these types of differences it will be more useful to study the specific natural resource by itself rather as one group.

I’m aiming to identify the specific qualities that timber has and then relate this to how it can be used in a conflict situation.

  • Timber is easy to extract, it can be done with simple tools and not much know-how is needed.
  • It can be easily transported on crude roads or rivers if these exist.
  • Timber cannot easily be concealed and smuggled out of the country.
  • Different types of timber have different weight-to-value-ratios, some quite high and others very low.
  • Timber can be used in several end products and is therefore quite popular.

I will look at three different mechanisms that can link timber to conflict: Greed, Grievance and livelihood.

As a starting point I want to use the debate whether it is greed or grievance that will cause natural resources to influence a conflict. Greed can be defined as the wish to fight over the income/rent from natural resources, and to use this income/rent either as financial support in the conflict or for personal gain. Grievance means that a corrupt, incompetent or repressive regime or ruling elite uses the income from natural resources to keep the opposition down. The wealth and power gap between the ruling elite and the ruled increases, which in turn may cause anger amongst the opposition and a wish to overthrow the regime. The third aspect I’m looking at is livelihood. Timber and forest is often very important for the livelihood for indigenous people. When timber companies or the state choose to log timber in the area they live, this can cause disturbance among indigenous people and create conflictTo test the relationship I will use the Uppsala/PRIO conflict data together with timber data set that I have created and some other variables known to affect conflict.Most of the data I will be using will be on a country level, but aggregated data is often more accurate. I will there for add a variable indicating the relationship between forest cover in the entire country and forest cover in the conflict zone. This will give us some idea whether the more forested areas are more likely to experience conflict.

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