Resources curse, cooperation blesses?

TW: military conflict in Sudan / South Sudan, military conflict in Israel/Palestine

I’ve mentioned before how there’s a long-standing idea within the social sciences that countries with more of certain resources are actually more vulnerable to certain economic and social problems, which is often referred to as the “resource curse“. It’s interesting to keep that idea in mind while watching the political situation along the border of Sudan and South Sudan unfold. Indeed, competition over the various undeveloped oil reserves along their border did initiate what’s essentially a war between the two states. But what’s more, the need to cooperate to allow oil extraction and shipping (and consequently, sales) to occur has been credited with facilitating a ceasefire, as both countries demilitarized the zone around Jau to permit some industrial development.


(A map of the contested areas approximately a year ago, from here. Jau is located northeast of Heglig, marked in red on the map. Over the past year, the border has inched north, as South Sudan has reclaimed many areas with significant support for its government and attractive oil reserves.)

This is particularly interesting to look at in comparison to Israel and Palestine, as the conflict between them shares many similarities with Sudan and South Sudan. Both instances involve a complex conflict between different factions which invoke questions of the areas’ ethnic, religious, and national identities in post-colonial contexts. The most sizable difference – that South Sudan successfully transitioned from resistance movement to separate state while Palestine has yet to – seems likely to be a temporary distinction, as Palestine seems increasingly likely to attain statehood.

But in spite of all those admittedly broad similarities, today, the international press lamented that President Obama, while visiting both Israel and Palestine didn’t draw the Israeli government to the negotiating table or otherwise recast the situation in a way that makes continued settlement and a third intifada less likely. As international interest in forcing a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine has declined, the disincentives against conflict have also diminished, resulting in Israel being led into an even more total state of war. Israel hasn’t had to offer an olive branch in so long, it might have forgotten how.

In light of that, it seems like two pertinent questions should be asked. Firstly, what will happen along the Sudan / South Sudan border when oil production is more established or when extraction has  effectively bled the region dry? The modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict suggests that this basis for peace is innately unsustainable over a long enough term. Ideally, now that some degree of peace has been established, it’s time to work out how to extend that peace.

Secondly, what could provide Israel and Palestine with a common goal with both groups would prioritize over continued conflict? The story in Sudan and South Sudan should give us hope – the circumstances can and eventually will change. Still, it’s worth asking what can be done to hurry that along.

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One thought on “Resources curse, cooperation blesses?

  1. […] counterbalance to that very real and very recent history of inequality. While shared resources are not necessarily a definitive source of conflict, the “resource curse” perspective on productive areas of the world remains fairly […]

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