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Too Poor for Peace? Global Poverty, Conflict, and Security in the 21st Century

Author: Stewart M. Patrick, James H. Binger Senior Fellow in Global Governance and Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program
April 23, 2009
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


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).

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