Adaptive Agents, Natural Resources, and Civil War

Ravi Bhavnani,
Department of Political Science, Michigan State University

Jonas Nart
Department of Mathematics, ETH Zurich

Rick Riolo
Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan

Why do high risk levels for civil war identified in previous research as low per capita income,a large population, rough terrain, petroleum, and political instability often fail to generate conflict, while ostensibly low risk levels can result in conflict? The inability of models driven by aggregate, system-level variables to explain this empirical puzzle motivates our focus on individual behavior in this article. We model the incidence of civil war by focusing upon: (i ) government and rebel allocation of revenue (ii ) peasant support for the government or rebels; and (iii ) the nature of the physical landscape the type, size, and location of resource deposits. In an effort to address this puzzle, we identify non-linearities in the behavior of key agents, find agrarian economies to be equally susceptible to the onset of conflict as diamond-rich economies, and distinguish between disparate events that comprise a conflict- episode.