Of rulers, rebels, and revenue: State capacity, civil war onset, and primary commodities

Cameron G. Thies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Scopus citations


This article investigates the relationship between civil war onset and state capacity through a focus on the role of primary commodities. This is accomplished by moving the focus of the civil war literature away from an almost exclusive concern with the incentives of rebels to a consideration of both rebels and rulers as revenue seeking predators. This predatory theory approach expects that higher levels of state capacity should deter civil war onset, while civil war onset should reduce state capacity. Further, natural resource rents are expected to enhance state capacity, rather than increase the likelihood of civil war onset. In order to deal with the endogeneity posed by including fiscal measures of state capacity in single equation models of civil war onset, this study employs a simultaneous equations framework. This framework allows us to capture the effects of civil war onset on state capacity and vice versa, as well as the effects of primary commodities on both endogenous covariates. The main findings from the statistical analyses include: state capacity does not affect civil war onset, but civil war onset reduces state capacity; and primary products directly affect only state capacity - they do not directly affect civil war onset, as found in previous contributions to the literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-332
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Civil war onset
  • Natural resources
  • Predation
  • Primary commodities
  • Resource curse
  • State capacity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations


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