Elgar Handbook of Civil War and Fragile States
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Elgar Handbook of Civil War and Fragile States

Edited by Graham K. Brown and Arnim Langer

The Elgar Handbook of Civil War and Fragile States brings together contributions from a multidisciplinary group of internationally renowned scholars on such important issues as the causes of violent conflicts and state fragility, the challenges of conflict resolution and mediation, and the obstacles to post-conflict reconstruction and durable peace-building.
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Chapter 4: Poverty and conflict

Håvard Hegre and Helge Holtermann


When Hobbes (1651 [1968]) wrote Leviathan, civil war was a constant threat in Western Europe. Since then, it has become extremely unlikely. This is not the case in the poor countries of the world, in many of which there is still ‘continualle feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short’ (ibid., p. 186). In this chapter, we look at some reasons why poor countries are conflict prone, and how conflicts contribute to retaining countries in poverty. As Hobbes did, we shall concentrate on internal conflicts, since these conflicts are predominantly fought in poor countries, and since inter-state conflicts often have less devastating consequences. Some of our arguments apply to inter-state conflicts too, however. The spread of internal armed conflicts in the world displays a striking relationship with countries’ level of economic development: civil wars are heavily concentrated in low-and lower-middle-income countries. Figure 4.1 shows the number of direct battle deaths as a share of the population as a function of each country’s poverty level in 1965. We use infant mortality rates (IMRs) as our measure of poverty, defi ne internal armed conflicts as in Harbom and Wallensteen (2010), and take data on battle deaths from Lacina and Gleditsch (2005). (We use IMRs rather than average income or GDP per capita because the IMR covers more countries and reflects the poverty of the median citizen better than GDP per capita, the most common alternative measure. The two measures are highly correlated, though.)

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