Armed Conflict and the Environment

Book chapter

Gleditsch, Nils Petter (2005) Armed Conflict and the Environment, in War: SAGE Library of International Relations. London: SAGE (252–274).

Read this publication at the Norwegian National Library

Reprinted from Journal of Peace Research 35(3), May 1998: 381-400.

Conflict over scarce resources, such as minerals, fish, water, and particularly territory, is a traditional source of armed struggle. Recently, wideranging claims have been made to the effect that environmental degradation will increase resource scarcity and therefore contribute to an increase in armed conflict. So far, there has been much controversy and little relevant systematic study of this phenomenon. Most scholarship on the relationship between resources, the environment, and armed conflict suffers from one or more of the following problems: (1) there is a lack of clarity over what is meant by 'environmental conflict'; (2) researchers engage in definitional and polemical exercises rather than analysis; (3) important variables are neglected, notably political and economic factors which have a strong influence on conflict and mediate the influence of resource and environmental factors; (4) some models become so large and complex that they are virtually untestable; (5) cases are selected on values of the dependent variable; (6) the causality of the relationship is reversed; (7) postulated events in the future are cited as empirical evidence; (8) studies fail to distinguish between foreign and domestic conflict; and (9) confusion reigns about the appropriate level of analysis. While no publications are characterized by all of these problems, many have several of them. This article identifies a few lights in the wilderness and briefly outlines a program of research.

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