Do natural resources fuel violent conflicts? The presence of valuable commodities is widely considered to have pernicious effects on civil wars. For instance, many bloody civil wars take place in areas where high-value commodities are present, whether it be coca in the Andes, diamonds in the Sub-Sahara, or opiates in Asia. A few scholars have extended their arguments about the centrality of resources to conflict by dismissing the role of grievances in civil wars. Recent scholarship, however, has raised concerns about these claims.
My research questions the conventional wisdom about the nexus between resources and civil wars by examining the links between opium and militarized conflict in Burma’s Shan State. Shan State offers nearly ideal conditions for assessing the proposed links between resources and violence. It holds the distinction of being one of the world’s most productive opium-growing areas since World War Two and has experienced multiple, long-running armed conflicts.
Drawing on unique data often overlooked or unavailable, I find that the proposed nexus between natural resources and civil wars is misleading. Rather than being the cause of conflict, opium is both a response to violence and a source of finance for it. I also show how opium can create incentives for moderating violence. In conclusion, I will discuss the implications of my findings for scholarship and drug control efforts.