This is a great conversation. I’d love to put in my two cents since political violence is my main research interest. Before I add anything else, it should go without saying that true causal claims about civil wars are nearly impossible. Oh, and ISQ isn’t a no-name journal.

When we talk about “greed vs. grievance” I think it’s important to disentangle the literature to talk about the different levels of actors in civil wars. Are we talking about the literature on why individuals choose to fight? Or are we discussing the state level?

If we’re talking about individuals, I’m somewhat unconvinced by the external validity of the greed arguments. The approach came out of many African state collapse cases that dominated cases in the literature. When you look at a variety of cases and think more broadly about participation in violent conflict, there’s a lot more variance. Not to completely discredit this approach, but the causes of participation are much more complex. Here’s a study about Afghanistan that finds no evidence that insurgent support is driven by unemployment and poor job prospects. Likewise, surveys of ex-combatants in Colombia have shown mixed results. (Insert all the necessary caveats about survey research here). At the group level, there may be more of a case, but natural resource reliance is not an exogenous variable.

At the state level, most of the evidence for greed comes from the early 2000’s – including some of the most well-known pieces on civil wars, Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War and Greed and Grievance in Civil Wars. These are large, cross-national regressions that help with the correlates of civil war, but they suffer from a wide variety of issues if we try and take these as causal explanations. Extant cross-country regressions assume random effects and are run on panel datasets with short time dimensions: they can be affected by unobserved, country-specific and time-invariant heterogeneity. They also often fail poolability tests. I can’t access the two I linked right now, unfortunately, but these are just broad comments I’m remembering from my courses.

What does this all mean for the main discussion, that disruption by liberalization increases the chances of violent conflict occurring? I would think that the likelihood of the existence of a meaningful causal increase in risk of violent conflict due to economic liberalization is low, especially with the Bazzi and Blattman piece /u/besttrousers posted. At the margins, it might increase individual incentives to fight in existing conflicts. Could countries do a better job to build safety nets for those who are negatively affected by trade? Yes. Does this mean it’s worth avoiding trade deals or free trade more broadly? No. Is it silly to say NAFTA caused refugees? Yes.

Paraphrasing the blog post I linked earlier by Paul Staniland, one of the foremost present-day civil war scholars: trying to build arguments that apply to all civil wars may “simply be impossible, or likely to descend into lowest-common-denominator claims that don’t advance much knowledge.” The argument that disruption by liberalization increases the chances of violent conflict occurring in any sort of meaningful way feels dubious to me. Especially when in the long term, trade would help with the issues surrounding the strongest correlates of civil war: low income and poor growth.