Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2011

Why Do Some Oil Exporters Experience Civil War But Others Do Not? A Qualitative Comparative Analysis of Net Oil-Exporting Countries

Matthias Basedau, Thomas Richter

January 2011

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


According to quantitative studies, oil is the only resource that is robustly linked to civil war onset. However, recent debates on the nexus of oil and civil war have neglected that there are a number of peaceful oil-rentier states, and few efforts have been spent to explain why some oilexporting countries have experienced civil war and others have not. Methodologically, the debate has been dominated by research using either quantitative methods or case studies, with little genuine medium-N comparison. This paper aims to fill this gap by studying the conditions of civil war onset among net oil exporters using (crisp-set) Qualitative Comparative Analysis (csQCA). Considering a sample of 44 net oil exporters between 1970 and 2008, we test conditions such as oil abundance (per capita) and dependence, the interaction of ethnic exclusion and oil reserve locations (overlap) as well as the type of political regime (polity). Our results point to a combination of necessary and sufficient conditions that has been largely ignored until now: low abundance is a necessary condition of civil war onset. Two pathways lead to civil war: first, a combination of low abundance and high dependence and, second, a combination of low abundance and the geographical overlap of ethnic exclusion with oil reserve areas within autocracies.