The Tragedy of Anarchy: A Realist Appraisal of the Environmental Dimensions of Civil Conflict

Meghan Spilka O’Keefe


This paper adds to the existing literature regarding the environmental-dimensions of conflict by proposing a model that explains how resource-based conflict can occur by using the basic tenets of realism to identify environmental dimensions of civil war. What makes the argument distinctive from other scholars is the chain of causality that is identified. A chain of causality is observed in which the condition of anarchy produces resource shortages. It is argued that this condition gives rise to the ‘tragedy of the commons,’ which produces resource scarcities, security dilemmas and resource-based hostilities. Security dilemmas, it is argued, can fuel resource-motivated violence, and prisoner’s dilemmas can perpetuate insecurity and violence among participants. The paper concludes by suggesting that if leaders and policy-makers address the causal role that the environment plays in conflict, they might be able to prevent conflict or better foster lasting peace.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.