Five years ago, the World Bank published Breaking the Conflict Trap, a groundbreaking book identifying intrastate war as a critical barrier to poverty eradication in a large cohort of developing countries (Collier et al., 2003). Too Poor for Peace? Global Poverty, Conflict, and Security in the 21st Century picks up where Paul Collier and his colleagues left off, this time focusing on the impact of poverty on violent conflict. The book's broad thesis is that alleviating poverty in the 21st century is not only a moral but also a security imperative.
"Extreme poverty literally kills," write editors Lael Brainard and Derek Chollet (p. 3). This claim is true both directly-through hunger, malnutrition, and disease-and indirectly, by leaving poor countries vulnerable to domestic upheaval and war and by generating transnational threats that endanger regional and international security. At the same time, the poverty-insecurity nexus constitutes a "tangled web," with overlapping threads of intervening variables and strands of reverse causality. Poverty and violence reinforce one another, but their specific relationship is mediated by context-specific drivers ranging from resource scarcity to weak institutions to malignant political leadership to demographic trends. Like spiders' webs, each country is unique; there is no single route to prosperity (or penury), no single pathway to peace (or war).