Chapter Summary

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, students will be able to:

  • Describe and define the different kinds of political violence common in LDCs
  • Explain how political violence, crime and state failure impact development in LDCs
  • Explain and evaluate arguments that are critical of the thesis that these factors cause underdevelopment
  • Illustrate these arguments in the case of Somalia

Chapter Summary

This chapter focuses upon the impact of violence and state failure on development. Both political violence and criminal violence are included in this chapter; gender violence will be covered in Chapter 12.

Political violence can include interstate violence (when states use force against each other) or intrastate violence (civil violence). When political violence is sustained it can be considered a war; experts often use a baseline of 1,000 combat-related deaths to statistically define a war.

Several patterns of political violence in LDCs are noted. First, intrastate violence is more common than interstate violence. Second, the number of LDCs experiencing intrastate violence rose from 1947-1989, while interstate violence remained steady. Third, since the end of the Cold War, the number of LDCs experiencing intrastate violence has declined dramatically. Regionally, LDCs in Asia were more likely to experience interstate wars than LDCs in either Africa or Latin America.

Civil conflict was the most common kind of conflict, but also they are harder to resolve and on average longer than interstate conflicts. Having a civil war also made it more likely that another would recur. There are different types of civil conflicts: conflicts for the control of the government (governmental wars) and wars that demand independence from the government (secessionist wars) are the most common kinds today. Secessionist wars are rarely successful, but two examples of successful ones in Africa are the Eritrean War of independence and the recent independence of South Sudan.

Criminal violence can be organized or unorganized. Organized is carried by out gangs of at least moderate size, while other kinds of criminal violence is considered unorganized. The effects of criminal violence vary by region: homicide is low in the Middle East and much of Asia, but higher in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. In Latin America, a large number of homicides are related to organized violence, while in Africa they are mostly unorganized. Latin American homicides are largely attributable to the trafficking of drugs, while in Africa they are more commonly related to personal disputes.

State failure happens when a state loses its monopoly on the use of legitimate violence within its territory. The state loses its ability to function, being unable to maintain public order, extract revenue or provide social services in virtually all of the country’s territory. Some see failed states a significant security threat to the West.

One way of measuring state failure is through the Failed State Index. The index combines several factors such as poverty among societal groups, political corruption, human rights violations to generate a score for each country. Somalia has received the highest score and is the iconic example of a failed state. Some criticize this index as being more a measure of underdevelopment rather than state failure. Still, most observers agree that the number of failed states is increasing.

Violence and state failure are obvious contributors to social and economic underdevelopment. Armed conflict increases child and maternal mortality rates and displaces the population. Refugees cross borders to escape violence while in other cases; people flee their homes but remain in their own country, becoming internally displaced persons.

War also has economic costs. First, war disrupts production. Second, war physically destroys buildings, equipment and other things necessary for production. Third, few people will invest in conflict zones. Fourth, those killed in war are human capital needed for effective development. Fifth, by decreasing trust, war increases transaction costs even after the conflict ends. Sixth, by boosting defense spending, even after the war, money that could have been spent on social or economic development is spent on the military.

Economist Paul Collier notes that civil war is development in reverse. Seventy three percent of people in the “bottom billion” live in societies that recently experienced civil war. Mozambique is used to illustrate some of these effects: one-third of all shops and half of all government buildings were destroyed during the 1975-1992 war. One-third of all its citizens became refugees or were internally displaced. Foreign debt reached 500% of GDP despite increased taxation.

Criminal violence also presents obstacles for development. Violence increases the burden on health systems. Widespread crime deters investment and tourism. Extortion of businesses becomes more likely. Society spends more on policing and private security in high crime environments. Social trust deteriorates as well. From an institutional perspective, organized crime frequently seeks to compromise the justice system, sometimes spurring overreaction by police or the establishment of vigilante groups.

Critics of the thesis that conflict causes underdevelopment point out that here, as with other factors under investigation, the causality may be reversed. Poverty may cause conflict by creating a large pool of people who have little to lose by taking up arms. A second set of criticisms relate to the fact that prevention of violence is expensive.

Some analysts also contend that societies can economically rebound from conflict quickly. While living standards are impaired, economic growth can recover quickly. Further, conflict can produce positive change since the infrastructure that was destroyed can be replaced with newer, more efficient versions. Additionally, old economic institutions and elites can be re-shaped by the conflict process itself, opening up the possibility of establishing more competitive economic systems.

Finally, war may be useful in the state-building process according to political scientist Charles Tilly. Bellicist theory argues that the creation of modern Western European states was driven by competition to produce more efficient economic and political systems that could defend themselves and expand at the expense of their less efficient neighbors. Weak states were thus absorbed into stronger states, creating more stability and prosperity.

Somalia is used to illustrate the contending explanations. There civil war resulted in the inability to establish a new government as well as the secession of various areas of the state. State failure led to not only civil war but famine and widespread violence. Still it is possible that the colonial experience of Somalia had a role since its pre-existing clan divisions were exacerbated by the fact that there were two different colonial rulers in different areas. Further, even after independence, Somalia experienced effects of the Cold War rivalry, being in turns supported by the USSR and then the US. Somalia’s recurrent droughts and limited agricultural production due to an arid environment must also be considered.