Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 17 > Issue 2

Strategic Civil War Aims and the Resource Curse

Jack Paine, Department of Political Science, University of Rochester, USA, jackpaine@rochester.edu
Suggested Citation
Jack Paine (2022), "Strategic Civil War Aims and the Resource Curse", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 17: No. 2, pp 183-221. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00020065

Publication Date: 28 Apr 2022
© 2022 J. Paine
International relations,  Autocracy,  Civil conflict,  Formal modelling,  Game theory
Civil warformal theoryoilresource curse


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In this article:
Contributions to Existing Research 
General Model of Strategic Civil War Aims 
Equilibrium Analysis 
Countervailing Effects of Oil Production 
Theoretical Implications for the Mixed Oil Curse 
Where Do We Find A Resource Curse? 


Does oil wealth promote or inhibit prospects for civil war? Empirical evidence relating oil to civil war onset is mixed, and depends on the aims of the rebellion: although separatist civil wars (in which rebels aim to create an autonomous region or independent state) occur more frequently in oil-rich regions, oil-rich countries experience fewer center-seeking civil wars (in which rebels aim to capture the capital city). This article provides a new theoretical framework in which the challenger strategically chooses its civil war aims. I first incorporate strategic civil war aims into a formal bargaining model with commitment problems. Then, I derive two countervailing theoretical effects of economic activities, such as oil production, that provide an easy source of government revenues: a conflict-suppressing revenue effect (more money for the government) and a conflict-enhancing predation effect (more for the rebels to capture). Finally, I highlight two reasons that the magnitude of the oil predation effect is larger for separatist than for center-seeking challengers, which connects the theoretical implications to the motivating empirical pattern. First, a strategic selection effect for ethnic minorities: governments face more severe commitment problems toward small ethnic groups — who prefer separatist over center-seeking civil war. Second, a geography of rebellion effect: oil-funded repression more effectively deters center-seeking challenges than peripheral insurgencies.