Income varies considerably within countries and the locations where conflicts emerge are rarely typical or representative for states at large. Yet, most research on conflict has only examined national income averages and neglected spatial variation. The authors argue that civil conflicts are more likely to erupt in areas with low absolute income, even if a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is not necessarily low, and in areas with large deviations from national averages. The authors test these hypotheses empirically using spatially disaggregated data on the location of conflict outbreaks and per capita income estimates. The authors find that areas with absolute poverty indeed see more outbreaks of conflict, and they find some evidence that inequality increases the risk of conflict. Subnational information can improve on conventional country-based measures and help our understanding of how local features and variation can give rise to mobilization and violence.
Kenneth Boulding’s (1962) notion of a loss-of-strength gradient (LSG) has been successfully applied to explain the military reach of states. The capability of a country (a.k.a. its national strength) is largest at its home base and declines as the nation moves away. Capable states are relatively less impeded by distance and can therefore influence more distant regions. Given armed conflict, battles are expected to occur in areas where the projected powers of the antagonists are comparable. When the aggressor’s projected power is greater than the national strength of the defender, the latter side should give in without violence. This paper is a first attempt to apply Boulding’s theory of international power projection to the study of civil war. Using new data on the point location of conflict onset and a variety of measures of state and rebel strength, this paper tests empirically one corollary of the LSG model: that civil wars in general locate further away from the capital in more powerful regimes.