Ideas to Action:

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Research Seminar Series (RSS)

Civil War: Need, Creed, and Greed

Thursday, October 21, 2004 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Professor I. William Zartman, Jacob Blaustein Professor of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, presented Civil War: Need, Creed, and Greed. Ibrahim A. Elbadawi, Lead Economist, Development Economics Research Group, World Bank, served as the discussant.

ABSTRACT: One does not have to be a Marxist or an economist to recognize that all conflicts are about resources. But one does not have to be a pastor or a psychologist to recognize too that all conflicts are about identity. Nor does one have to be a humanist or a political scientist to see that all conflicts are about basic needs. Thus to claim that conflicts are matters of greed, or rights, or grievances is profoundly uninteresting. The interesting questions are how these factors relate to each other in causing and sustaining conflict, and how, not whether, conflict is related to these three factors. Are they sequential or phasal, or always concomitant, and under what conditions? These questions are important not only for the analytical understanding of the nature of conflict but also for devising appropriate policies to reduce conflict.

In sum, the model of internal conflict begins with state neglect at a time of rising expectations, producing a fact and a sense of deprivation, or grievance, in the first act termed Need. This feeling is mobilized into conflict by political entrepreneurs who cultivate and build on the fact and perception of targeted deprivation of an identity group, moving the conflict into the second act termed Creed. Identity is not only the basis of conflict; it is also a means and the source of other means necessary to sustain the conflict. In the course of confrontation, the conflict may move to victory for one side or another, or to resolution. But if it bogs down, falling short of resolution and outrunning its resources, it can lead to a search for means that replaces the original search for ends, moving both parties into the third act termed Greed. Greed, in the third stage, deforms and obscures the original bases in Need and Creed, and hijacks the conflict from social (group) to personal (individual) benefits.