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Culture Conflict Regional Stability

Time to Abandon the Greed-Grievance Debate

Police confront rioters during 2012 Rohingya riots in Burma. Image: Hmuu Zaw/Wikimedia

Over the past ten years, the question of whether violent conflicts are the result of genuine grievances or the product of an environment in which rebellion is an attractive and/or viable option has been  at the heart of a fierce theoretical controversy known as the greed versus grievance debate. The debate was sparked when Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler claimed that rebellion cannot be explained by grievances resulting from ethnic animosities or economic and political inequalities, because situations in which people want to rebel are ubiquitous, whereas the circumstances in which people are able to rebel (weak states, rough terrain, the presence of lootable resources etc.) are sufficiently rare to constitute the explanation.

This claim and its morally charged phrasing in terms of “greed” and “grievance” posed a tough challenge to the dominant view of many political scientists and to conventional wisdom more generally. While many scholars subsequently shifted their attention to studying the opportunities for conflict, others put their efforts into finding better ways to measure people’s grievances. An award-winning book on Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War, published in 2013, testifies to the fact that the jury in this debate is still out.

Categories
Government Security Religion

Gambling for Peace in Southern Thailand

Pai Mosque, courtesy of Iceway/Wikimedia Commons

Insurgencies and local resistance to Buddhist-Thai rule have plagued the predominantly Malay-Muslim provinces of southern Thailand for well over a century. In response, Bangkok has used a mixture of economic development, military action, the restructuring of regional governance, and a series of secret talks with a range of insurgent groups. These attempts to stymie recurring upsurges in ethnic violence have unfortunately met with only limited success.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the latest effort to enter into a formal dialogue with one of southern Thailand’s leading separatist groups, the Barisan Rovolusi Nasional (BRN), has also experienced its fair share of troubles. Yet, if the next Thai government succeeds in reviving the now-troubled talks and brings a degree of political stability to the embattled South, then the efforts of the now-deposed Yingluck Shinawatra government may not have been in vain.

Categories
Security Human Rights Conflict

Shocking Satellite Photos Open New Avenues for Conflict Prevention and Response

Before-and-after images posted by Human Rights Watch show buildings destroyed or severely damaged by violence that began on March 20, 2013 in Meiktila, Myanmar.
Before-and-after images posted by Human Rights Watch show buildings destroyed or severely damaged by violence that began on March 20, 2013 in Meiktila, Myanmar.

Within a week after sectarian riots and arson attacks tore through central Myanmar, conflict monitors and human rights advocates could see the damage via satellite images and tally the number of buildings burned and acres destroyed. In the not-so-distant past, similar data collection required weeks or months of field surveying and interviews with victims and observers; in some cases, post-conflict documentation was delayed for years by government prohibitions on investigations, as well as ongoing violence and safety risks. But the use of geospatial technology such as satellite imagery is rapidly changing human rights monitoring and conflict prevention work, making detailed documentation of violence and rights abuses possible almost in real-time.

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Uncategorized

China’s Challenge in Northern Myanmar

Myanmar welcoming the Thai Prime Minister. Photo: Peerapat Wimolrungkarat/ Abhisit Vejjajiva

Northern Myanmar is strategically important to Beijing as a supply corridor and as a buffer between China’s ethnically diverse southwestern provinces and southern Myanmar. The heightened tension in northern Myanmar in the past several years presented Beijing with challenges regarding border security and maintaining a balance between Naypyidaw and various ethnic forces with strong connections to Beijing.

While Beijing remains the most important mediator in the ethnic conflicts, its broader strategic interests in the country played a part in Beijing’s reluctance to openly engage with ethnic forces involved in the fighting. With Naypyidaw gradually gaining support from the West, Beijing has to contend with Western threats to its energy and transport interests and with ethnic issues threatening stability along its border.