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Poverty and Civil War: What Policymakers Need to Know

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Publication Date: December 2006

Publisher(s): Brookings Institution

Author(s): Susan E. Rice; Corinne Graff; Janet Lewis

Topic: International relations (War)
Social conditions (Poverty and homelessness)

Keywords: global poverty; transnational security threats; africa growth and development

Type: Other


From Sierra Leone to Tajikistan and Indonesia's Aceh Province, civil war has erupted in countries suffering from persistent poverty or sharp economic decline. These conflicts sap already depleted national resources and further cripple the fragile economies of some of the world's poorest countries, while claiming millions of innocent lives. They may also suck in neighboring countries, exacerbate regional instability, and require costly military intervention by outside powers. Civil wars often have significant security implications for more distant peoples as they are ideal incubators of transnational security threats such as terrorism, weapons proliferation, criminal activity and infectious disease.

These and other cases of civil conflict may each in isolation offer policymakers some useful insights. Yet, viewed together, they beg an overarching question: is there a significant and demonstrable link between income poverty and the risk that a country will slide into civil war? Could U.S. foreign policy benefit from greater emphasis on promoting economic growth and alleviating poverty? The answers to these questions bear directly on several current challenges to U.S. national security from the Middle East to South Asia and Africa.