Monday, March 09, 2015

Oil Prices and Interstate Conflict in Latin America

A blog post at The Monkey Cage by Maria Snegovaya makes the case for seeing Russia primarily as a petrostate to understand its behavior. It's an interesting thesis but then I read this:

Jeff Colgan of Brown University analyzed militarized interstate disputes in 170 countries between 1945 and 2001 and found that countries where net oil export revenues constitute over 10 percent of GDP were among the most violent states in the world. Such petrostates showed a remarkable propensity for militarized interstate disputes on average and engaged in militarized conflicts about 50 percent more often than non-petrostates in the post-World War II era. Examples include Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez expelling their U.S. ambassadors, Venezuela’s mobilization for war against Colombia and Iran backing Hamas attacks against Israel during the 2008 oil price peak. Likewise Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 and Libya’s repeated incursions into Chad also happened during the peaks of the oil prices in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Wait a sec. Those Latin America examples are lumped in with the Iran-Iraq war, which killed half a million people? Expelling ambassadors is certainly an interstate dispute but it is definitely not militarized. Plus, Nicolás Maduro just expelled more even after oil prices dropped significantly.

Venezuela's "mobilization for war" requires a lot of context. First, it was in response to Colombia bombing Ecuador with U.S. assistance. Second, it was so obviously a publicity stunt that Colombia didn't even bother responding. Alvaro Uribe was president at the time and hated Chávez, yet knew Chávez was trolling him.

What this suggests to me is that the analysis needs to break "interstate disputes" into different categories based on severity. Given the lack of militarized disputes in Latin America, I think that would provide much more fine-grained comparative results.


Noel Maurer 10:22 PM  

Hello, again!

Jeff is a very good political scientist. His results are not sensitive to the definition of militarized interstate dispute.

"Militarized interstate disputes" are not, as you point out, the same as war ... they involve only the threat of war or, in the broadest definition, any deliberate violation of sovereignty by one state against another.

You can find Jeff's work here:

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