The Rebels' Resource Curse Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Estancona, Chelsea
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science
  • This dissertation challenges the conventional assumption that rebel groups become stronger and present a greater threat to the state when they gain access to lucrative natural resources. I argue that militants' ability to first profit from primary commodities and then translate this profit into military and political gains should not be taken as given. I propose that, instead, rebels' success is conditional on both group structure and groups' connection with key actors in the commodity's supply chain. I consider the steps needed for rebel groups to build and maintain commodity markets in order to profit. The first chapter explores the tension between the theoretical gains rebels should make from operating in areas with natural resources and the empirical reality that groups experience much greater variation in their conflict outcomes. I argue that a group's ability to translate primary commodity profit into political gains is conditioned on whether or not the group is centrally controlled. I apply a competing risks model to a new dataset that pairs militant group characteristics with geo-referenced access to natural resources such as petroleum, diamonds, drugs and gold. I find that for groups without strong central organization, increasing access to resource-rich territory decreases the group's chances of survival. I further find that regardless of group structure, primary commodity access decreases the probability that groups will negotiate with the state. To elaborate on this finding, I consider militant groups' relationships with the individuals necessary to produce, transport, and sell primary commodities - their `local investors'. I develop a game theoretic model of negotiation between the state and rebel groups in intrastate conflict when lucrative resources are present, highlighting the importance of rebel partnerships with local investors on this bargaining process. The model's implications suggest that states will seek to undermine relationships between rebels and their local investors by incentivizing local investors to defect from rebel partnerships. I conclude this chapter with a municipal-level test of the effect of the Colombian state's agricultural credit program to coca farmers, demonstrating that this intervention minimized the number of hectares of coca to which the FARC had access. Finally, I consider how exogenous economic conditions such as commodity price shocks affect agreements between militant groups and their relationships with local investors - specifically, their commodity suppliers. I explore the case of coca farmers and the FARC in Colombia in detail, hypothesizing that increased victimization of coca farmers from either the FARC or competing paramilitary groups is the result of volatility in cocaine price. I test these hypotheses with municipal-level Colombian data, aggregated event data about each actors' attacks on civilians, and quarterly U.S. cocaine price data. This evidence from the Colombian case suggests that as militants' increasingly invest in and rely on their primary commodity markets, disruptions to their expected profit can lead groups to engage in costly victimization of suppliers. With these three chapters, I demonstrate that militant groups, like states, can be subject to the resource curse due to institutional weakness or changes to their relationship with the local investors on whom they rely.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Gent, Stephen
  • Bapat, Navin
  • Siegel, David
  • Crescenzi, Mark
  • Ballard-Rosa, Cameron
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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