Abstract

Theories of “greed” and “grievance” have been highly influential in interpreting the motivations of oppositional parties in civil wars around the world. Greed theorists emphasize material factors, especially the availability of primary commodity resources that can be seized and used to fund insurrection; while grievance theorists emphasize conflicts between social identity groups. Often such outlooks take a reductionist tone and ignore or dismiss considerations outside of their preferred explanatory framework. In the current article, I examine the Syrian war as a novel case study and evaluate the applicability of greed and grievance theories for clarifying the motivations underlying this conflict after the militarization of the uprisings in late 2011. The conclusions show that neither of these theories is sufficient in isolation, and indeed, that there are important contributing factors in the Syrian case that have not been highlighted by either the greed or grievance theorists. Based on this analysis, the article calls for cautious and robust attention to the rich details of each conflict case, bringing to bear a full toolbox of analytical strategies and the recognition that no two wars are the same.

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